What Is the Dukan Diet?

Dukan diet

 Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Dukan Diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-protein weight loss program that was created in the 1970s by former French physician, Dr. Pierre Dukan, to help patients with obesity lose weight. At the time, the primary diet prescribed for weight loss consisted of low calorie, small-portion meals, which was difficult for his patients to follow. 

Dr. Dukan's plan shifted to focus on lean protein, which reduces hunger and makes the program easier to stick with. Over the next 20 years, he continued to fine-tune the diet. Then in 2000, Dr. Dukan published the Dukan Diet in the book, "Je ne sais Pas Maigrir (I Don't Know How to Get Slimmer)," which became an instant best-seller in France. 

By the time "The Dukan Diet" book was released in the United Kingdom in 2010 and the United States in 2011, it made the New York Times best-seller list, sold over seven million copies around the world, and was translated into more than 14 languages, according to the Dukan Diet website.

The four-phase program has reportedly helped Kate Middleton lose weight before the royal wedding and has also been linked to other celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, though these reports are speculative.

The Dukan Diet is based on the premise that you don't lose weight when you are hungry. It provides specific lists of foods that are allowed in different phases with a focus on lean proteins and fat-free dairy, which boost satiety. The Dukan Diet plan includes four phases: Attack, Cruise, Consolidation, and Stabilization. The first two phases focus on weight loss and the other two focus on maintaining it.

According to proponents of the Dukan Diet, you can expect to lose up to four to six pounds in the first week during the Attack Phase, and two pounds a week during the Cruise Phase. During the Consolidation and Stabilization phases, you will focus on weight management.

But the diet has been widely criticized as a fad diet and health professionals say it increases the risk of chronic kidney disease and may worsen cardiovascular health. Dr. Dukan stopped practicing medicine in 2014, following formal complaints that were filed against him by the French National Order of Doctors.

The U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Dukan Diet number 39 (out of 39) in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 1.8/5. Its low ranking is based on the diet's strict rules and potential for not meeting a person's nutritional needs.

What Experts Say

"Protein is one of the most satiating nutrients, so you’ll likely feel full on this program, but there are a lot of 'food rules' to follow. The diet is heavy on animal proteins—chicken, eggs, dairy, beef, fish, etc.—making it difficult for plant-based eaters."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

The Dukan Diet allows 68 low-fat, protein-rich foods in the first phase with 32 non-starchy vegetables added during the second phase.

The majority of calories and nutrients on the Dukan Diet come from protein, which is more filling than carbohydrates with fewer calories than fat. In addition to diet, the plan encourages physical activity, particularly walking and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Unlike other low-carb diets, the Dukan Diet is also very low in fat. As Dr. Dukan stated in his book, the fat content in foods is "the overweight person's most deadly enemy." This, of course, is unsubstantiated by research, since studies show that a balanced diet including healthy fats not only promotes weight loss but is integral to maintaining optimal health.

A unique component of the Dukan Diet is the "True Weight" calculator, which factors in your weight history, gender, age, bone structure, and other parameters to determine a realistic weight-loss goal that can be maintained for life.

What You Need to Know

More information about the Dukan Diet is available on its website, which offers personalized coaching for $30 a month. In addition to the seminal "The Dukan Diet Book," Dr. Dukan has also published "The Dukan Diet Made Easy" and "The Dukan Diet Cookbook," which offer detailed outlines of the diet plan during different phases.

The Dukan Diet does not require fasting or complicated meal timing, but it does restrict different foods to certain days. The following four phases are the pillars of the Dukan Diet.

Phase 1: Attack

The first phase of the Dukan Diet lasts two to seven days, depending on how much weight you need to lose. During the Attack Phase, you can eat unlimited lean protein—lean beef, skinless poultry, seafood, and eggs—along with limited low-fat dairy, a small amount of olive oil for greasing pans, and 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran a day.

The diet refers to this as "Pure Protein" days. You'll also be advised to drink six to eight glasses of water a day.

Phase 2: Cruise 

This phase begins as early as day two of the diet or as late as day eight (under medical supervision for people who need to lose 40 pounds or more) and lasts for up to a year.

During the Cruise Phase, you will continue to eat the foods in the Attack Phase with specific vegetables added in, such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, and mushrooms. You will also increase oat bran to two tablespoons per day. Some days in this phase are "Pure Protein" days and others are "Protein/Vegetable" days.

Phase 3: Consolidation

Once you reach what Dr. Dukan calls your "true weight," the consolidation phase begins. The length of this period depends on the amount of weight you have lost, with five days of consolidation for every pound dropped.

During the Consolidation Phase, you will continue to eat the foods from the earlier two phases and add in small servings of fruit, bread, starches, cheese, other cuts of meat, and wine. You will also increase oat bran to 2.5 tablespoons per day. One day each week is devoted to a "Pure Protein" day where you follow the attack phase menu.

Phase 4: Stabilization

The final phase is the weight maintenance part and lasts indefinitely. During the Stabilization Phase, you will follow the Consolidation Phase guidelines but loosen the rules as long as your weight remains stable.

A 2015 study of 51 women who followed the Dukan Diet for eight to 10 weeks found they ate about 1,000 calories and 100 grams of protein a day, and lost about 33 pounds. Dietary intake was high in potassium, iron, and vitamins A, D, and B12, but low in vitamin C and folate.

What to Eat
  • Lean beef, pork, veal, venison, bison, and other game

  • Skinless poultry

  • Fish and shellfish

  • Eggs

  • Non-fat dairy including milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and ricotta (in limited amounts)

  • Tofu, tempeh, and seitan

  • Liver, kidney, and tongue

  • Oat bran

  • Artificial sweeteners

  • Shirataki noodles

  • Diet gelatin

  • Lemon juice

  • Pickles

  • Olive oil

  • Leafy greens, like spinach, kale, and lettuce

  • Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts

  • Bell peppers

  • Asparagus, artichokes, cucumbers, and celery

  • Eggplant, tomatoes, and mushrooms

  • Onions, leeks, and shallots

  • Spaghetti squash

  • Pumpkin

  • Green beans

  • Turnips

  • Carrots and beets (in limited quantities)

What Not to Eat
  • Bread, pasta, and rice

  • Legumes

  • High-fat meats, like bacon

  • Sugar

  • Alcohol

  • Fruit

  • Non-skim dairy

  • Butter

  • Nuts

  • Cheese

  • Fried foods

  • Salad dressing, mayonnaise, and sweetened condiments

  • Potatoes

  • Avocados

The lists above detail what you can and cannot eat during the Cruise Phase, which makes up the majority of the Dukan Diet eating plan. Non-compliant foods are added back in during the Consolidation and Stabilization Phases.

During the Cruise Phase, you will alternate between days of eating just protein ("Pure Protein" days) and eating protein and vegetables ("Protein/Vegetable" days). The plan calls this "alternation" and these cycles are used to boost metabolism and jump-start weight loss. During the Consolidation Phase, one day each week is devoted to Pure Protein.

Alternation cycles range from one to five days of pure protein followed by the same number of days of protein and vegetables. Longer alternation cycles are recommended for people who have a lot of weight to lose or when weight loss plateaus.

Sample Shopping List

If you decide to try the Dukan Diet you will spend most of your time in the Cruise Phase, which is more relaxed than the Attack Phase but more restrictive than both the Consolidation and Stabilization Phases. The following shopping list includes the basics for what you'll need during the Cruise Phase. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods that work better for you.

Cruise Phase

  • Lean protein (beef, pork, veal, venison, bison, skinless poultry, fish, shellfish)
  • Non-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese)
  • Tofu, tempeh, and seitan
  • Organ meats (liver, kidney, tongue)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts)
  • Other veggies (bell peppers, eggplant, turnips, green beans, spaghetti squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, artichokes, cucumbers, celery)
  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale, lettuces)
  • Onions, leeks, and shallots
  • Eggs
  • Oat bran

Sample Meal Plan

During the Cruise Phase, you will alternate between "Pure Protein" days and "Protein/Vegetable" days. The following three-day meal plan offers suggestions for a few days on the Cruise Phase. Note that some of the Pure Protein meals do contain a serving of a high-protein vegetable for balance. If you do choose to follow this eating plan there may be other meals that are more appropriate for your tastes and preferences.

Day 1: Pure Protein

Day 2: Protein/Vegetable

Day 3: Pure Protein

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • All-you-can-eat of certain foods

  • Filling and satisfying

  • Quick weight loss

  • Focus on weight maintenance

Cons
  • Strict rules

  • Missing nutrients

  • May negatively impact kidney and cardiovascular health

  • Animal protein leaves a substantial carbon footprint

  • Makes some unsubstantiated claims

Though the Dukan Diet has been widely criticized by some health experts as an unhealthy eating plan for weight loss, many people have had success following this program. Review the pros and cons to help you decide whether this is the right diet for you—and be sure to consult with your healthcare provider as well.

Pros

The Dukan Diet is effective for quick weight loss and sets realistic expectations for sustained weight loss with its "True Weight" concept. In addition, the plan allows for unlimited amounts of lean protein, which is filling and means you won't go hungry.

The diet also has a long consolidation phase, which helps with the transition from weight loss to long-term healthy weight maintenance. Our bodies tend to resist maintaining fat loss and having a fairly long period of time focused on keeping weight stable can help keep the pounds off for good.

Cons

The primary concern with the Dukan Diet is that it restricts several foods, which may make it difficult to get adequate nutrition. About half of the days in the weight-loss phase are pure protein with no vegetables allowed, so many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients are lacking.

Supplements are allowed on the plan, but not required. Salt is also minimized on the diet, which reduces the palatability of meals, making it more difficult to stick to.

The diet also introduces some contradictory concepts. For example, vegetables are restricted to low-starch varieties, but fat-free dairy, which is higher in sugar and carbohydrates, is allowed (up to 32 ounces a day).

Dr. Dukan brushes aside the milk sugars in these products, saying the number of sugars is too small to worry about. But then he restricts low-starch vegetables, which are even lower in sugars and carbs.

Additionally, there is increasing concern about the effect of high-protein diets, like the Dukan Diet, on the environment. Crops that support plant-based diets produce fewer gas emissions and have less of an impact than animal farming. For this reason, many environmentalists encourage eating less meat and more plant-based foods.

Is the Dukan Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines include calorie recommendations and tips for a healthy, balanced diet. As a high-protein diet that restricts other important food groups like carbohydrates and healthy fats, the Dukan Diet does not meet federal dietary guidelines.

Based on the most current research, the USDA recommends 5 1/2 ounces (about 3 cups) of protein foods per day for a 2,000 calorie diet. The Dukan Diet has an entire week of eating only protein followed by alternating days of protein only.

For sustainable weight loss, many health and nutrition experts recommend counting calories and creating a sustainable calorie deficit, which means taking in fewer calories than you're using. Use this calculator to determine your daily calorie needs to meet your goals.

Because of the restrictive nature of the Dukan Diet and its emphasis on animal protein, this diet plan is not recommended for long-term weight management and overall health since it does not adhere to USDA guidelines. Furthermore, the Dukan Diet discredits the importance of healthy carbohydrates and fats as part of a balanced diet.

Health Benefits

Though proponents of the Dukan Diet claim that it's an effective weight-loss plan, many find it too restrictive and difficult to follow. It's high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fats, and research shows that high protein diet plans may lead to nutrient deficiencies and health complications including cardiovascular disease.

Health Risks

The main concern with the Dukan Diet and eating too much protein is that the liver and kidneys have to work extra hard to process the byproducts of protein metabolism—and there is a limit to how much protein the kidneys can handle. Dr. Dukan says drinking a lot of water will take care of this problem, but he doesn't provide any scientific references to back this up.

Additionally, there are some statements of "fact" in "The Dukan Diet" book that are either false or highly questionable. For example, Dr. Dukan calls the carbohydrates in root vegetables and whole grains "slow sugars," meaning they break down into sugar slower than refined grains and sugars, but this is misleading. The way a food raises blood sugar depends on many variables.

An additional claim that is not scientifically backed is that the combination of water and pure proteins act powerfully on cellulite.

A Word From Verywell

The Dukan Diet can be an effective way to lose weight quickly since it restricts calories, carbs, and fats. However, a restrictive diet is not one that can be sustained for long-term weight management.

Moreover, not only is Dr. Dukan no longer recognized as a healthcare professional (and is unable to practice medicine), but many of his weight loss claims are unsubstantiated by science. Talk to your doctor about your options—many factors may contribute to weight loss aside from diet, including regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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