What Is the Schwarzbein Principle Diet?

Schwarzbien principle diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

The Schwarzbein Principle Diet is a health and eating program developed by Diana Schwarzbein, MD, a California-based endocrinologist. The five-part program aims to promote weight loss and well-being by addressing the connection between hormones and body fat. Dr. Schwarzbein developed her program after working with patients with diabetes and published a book, "The Schwarzbein Principle: The Truth About Losing Weight, Being Healthy, and Feeling Younger" in 1997.

Dr. Schwarzbein says that eating too many carbs causes insulin levels to spike, leading to insulin resistance and in turn, weight gain. She also links the insulin increase to diseases like arthritis. By cutting back on carbs, Dr. Schwarzbein says that you can lower your insulin levels. She believes that healthy insulin levels and other lifestyle changes create successful weight loss and improved health.

What Experts Say

"The Schwarzbein Principle Diet touts weight loss via meal balance and lifestyle. Experts agree some of the basic principles of this plan are sound, but the focus on weight loss, supplements, and assigning foods labels like 'good' or 'real' can create guilt around eating and limit sustainability."
Willow Jarosh, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

The Schwarzbein Principle Diet is a low-carbohydrate diet with two phases: healing and maintenance. During the healing phase, you decrease your carbohydrate intake. The number of carbs you consume is determined by your weight and activity level. ​

Once you improve your metabolism, you then transition to the maintenance phase. During this part of the program, more carbs are added to your diet. There is no formula for the amount of carbohydrate to consume in this phase. Instead, you learn "instinctively" to eat the right number of carbs based on the way your body reacts to them. If you start to regain weight, you can go back to the healing program.

What You Need to Know

You can eat often on the Schwarzbein Principle Diet: three meals plus two snacks a day.

Dr. Schwarzbein's books (she also has a follow-up, "The Schwarzbein Principle II") include recipes and several weeks' worth of meal plans. The meal plans also include vegetarian options, and you could avoid gluten pretty easily on this plan. But if you have kidney or heart disease, use caution, as too much protein and/or saturated fat could be risky for you.

In addition to nutrition, the other four parts of her program include:

  • Exercise, working up to 30 to 45 minutes of activity a day
  • Stress management
  • Hormone replacement therapy (when necessary)
  • Elimination of stimulants including caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs
Compliant Foods
  • Whole foods

  • Meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products

  • "Good" fats

  • Vegetables

  • Whole grains (in moderation)

  • Fruit (in moderation)

Non-Compliant Foods
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners

  • Refined carbohydrates

  • Processed foods

  • Salt

  • Alcohol

  • Caffeine

Whole Foods

Dr. Schwarzbein advocates eating whole foods only, so nothing processed, prepared, or pre-made. Look for foods without labels, or with a very short list of ingredients (all recognizable as food).

Meat, Poultry, Fish, and Dairy Products

You'll eat plenty of protein on the Schwarzbein Principle Diet, and it can come from higher-fat sources such as red meat, cheese, and cream.

Fats

There are "good" fats on this diet, and Dr. Schwarzbein recommends consuming them freely. They include avocados, eggs, butter, olive oil, mayonnaise, nuts, and nut butters. Hydrogenated fats are considered "bad" or "damaged" and should be avoided.

Vegetables

The focus is on high-fiber, lower-starch veggies such as spinach, and other leafy greens.

Whole Grains

Grains are permitted on this diet, but in whole grain versions only and in small amounts (about 15 grams of carbohydrates per meal in the healing phase).

Fruit

Fruit is permitted within the carb-count limits (which effectively limits some fruits, such as bananas).

Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners

These are not allowed, on the theory that they raise insulin levels too much.

Refined Carbohydrates

Again, these are prohibited because of their glycemic load.

Processed Foods

Avoid all processed foods. These tend to be high in refined carbs, sweeteners, salt, and/or hydrogenated fats.

Salt

Salt should also be avoided.

Alcohol and Caffeine

Dr. Schwarzbein considers these stimulants and says they should be eliminated.

Sample Shopping List

The Schwarzbein Principle Diet includes whole foods without labels. You may wish to visit a grocery store or market with a wide variety of fresh produce and meats since canned, packaged, and processed foods are eliminated. Keep in mind that this list is not a definitive shopping list, and if following the diet, you may find other foods that work best for you.

  • Meat (steak, pork loin, brisket, pork shoulder)
  • Poultry (whole chicken, turkey legs)
  • Fish (salmon, trout, halibut)
  • Diary (cheese, whole milk, cream yogurt)
  • Eggs
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, nut butters, cashews)
  • High fiber, non-starchy vegetables (spinach, asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms)
  • Limited whole grains (brown rice, oatmeal)

Sample Meal Plan

The Schwarzbein Principle Diet includes three meals and two snacks per day. The first stage of the diet is low in carbohydrates meant to heal the metabolism. Meals are focused on healthy fats, protein, and non-starchy vegetables. The diet recommends plenty of water consumption and never skipping meals. During the second stage, participants add in some carbohydrates up to the point that works for their particular body and lifestyle. People with a more active lifestyle should consume a higher amount of carbohydrates. Here is a sample meal plan for the first phase. Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive meal plan, and if following the diet, you may find other meals that work best for you.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Mushroom and blue cheese omelet with walnuts; sliced tomatoes
  • Snack: Walnuts
  • Lunch: Kielbasa sausage; sauerkraut; green beans
  • Snack: Full fat yogurt; raspberries
  • Dinner: Chicken satay with peanut sauce; cucumber salad

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Crustless quiche; sauteed zucchini
  • Snack: Hot artichoke cheese dip; celery, cauliflower, broccoli to dip
  • Lunch: Shrimp and bell pepper lettuce wraps with peanut sauce
  • Snack: Almonds; blueberries
  • Dinner: Beef and vegetable stroganoff; steamed broccoli with butter

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Eggs cooked in butter; sauteed spinach; sliced tomatoes; nitrite-free sausage
  • Snack: Pecan baked brie; celery, cauliflower, broccoli to dip
  • Lunch: Lobster bisque; green salad with avocado oil and red wine vinegar dressing
  • Snack: Boiled eggs; sliced bell pepper; mixed berries
  • Dinner: Barbecued spare ribs; grilled asparagus; green salad

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Emphasis on whole foods

  • No skipping meals

Cons
  • Can be impractical

  • No portion control

  • Progress can be slow

Whole Food Focus

Dr. Schwarzbein's promotes a diet of unprocessed foods and focuses instead on whole foods without labels.

No Skipping Meals

Since missing meals or overly restricting calories can lead to overeating, this is smart advice.

Overall, this diet has some good advice and has apparently worked for Dr. Schwarzbein's patients. However, there are also downsides to this eating plan.

Impractical

Convenience goes out the window on this diet. There is no room for fast food, junk food, or processed foods like frozen microwave dinners. Shopping and prepping whole-food meals takes time, and some ingredients are expensive. You will need to know the carb counts of everything you eat. And finally, if you are part of a full household, this diet might be harder to stick to. When your family members bring "forbidden" foods into the house, it may be hard to avoid them.

No Portion Control

While carbs must be counted and limited on this diet, there is otherwise no portion control or calorie restriction. The meal plans don't include serving sizes, for example. That could mean less success with weight loss if that is your goal.

Slow Progress

You're not guaranteed to lose weight on the Schwarzbein Principle Diet. In fact, if weight loss is your goal, you may need to be patient. It can take months to "heal" your metabolism and achieve weight loss on the program. Then you need to follow the maintenance plan for life. So whether or not this diet works depends on your commitment. Can you stay on this kind of plan forever? Will you go back to your old way of eating out of boredom? When people fall off the maintenance phase of a low-carb diet, the weight usually comes back.

Is the Schwarzbein Principle Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The Schwarzbein Principle Diet is quite similar to other low-carb eating plans. Like those, it is more restrictive than experts usually advise.

The USDA's nutrition guidelines suggest eating a balanced mix of protein, dairy products, fruit, vegetables, and grains. On the Schwarzbein Principle Diet, grains, fruit, and even some vegetables are limited, so the scales are tipped too heavily toward protein and fat.

There are no calorie restrictions on the Schwarzbein diet, as the theory is that macronutrient proportions are what matters, not calorie count. (And the side effect from cutting carbs is generally fewer overall calories.) However, this strategy may not be effective for everyone. The USDA suggests reducing your daily intake if you are trying to lose weight. If you find that a calorie target helps you meet your weight loss goals, use this tool to calculate a goal that's customized to you.

While the Schwarzbein Diet Principle has some healthy aspects, it could be difficult to lose weight when you aren't moderating portions or calories. As well, there is no solid evidence that this diet can improve your metabolism. Some people may not do well with the high level of fat in this diet. Speak to your doctor if you are concerned about your metabolism function.

Health Benefits

Nutrient Dense

Schwarzbein recommends plenty of whole foods while avoiding processed, refined ones. That's a healthy eating policy for anyone, whether you're trying to lose weight or not. And she suggests cutting out caffeine and alcohol and limiting intake of added salt, sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

Increased Satiety

Not only do Dr. Schwarzbein's meal plans include three meals and two snacks a day, but she also counsels readers not to skip meals. The diet is high in foods that are known to keep you feeling full and satisfied with your meals, increasing the chance that you'll stay on the plan.

Health Risks

Side Effects

You may also experience side effects while you follow the Schwarzbein Principle Diet. As with other carb-reducing diets, it's likely that you'll experience constipation. Other side effects include heartburn, bloating, and water retention. Dr. Schwarzbein says if you do experience these side effects, they will pass as soon as you become more accustomed to your new way of eating.

Sustainability

Meal planning, food prep, and cooking could be time-consuming. The diet has a maintenance phase that is meant to be followed for life. The rules of the diet are not too complicated, but they are restrictive (no processed or convenience foods, sugars, or refined carbs at all). But it relies on an intuitive understanding of how many carbs to eat. This could lead to weight cycling.

High in Saturated Fats

While not all fats are considered "good" fats on this diet, many are, even saturated fats (such as those found in meat). And there are no limits on how many "good" fats to eat. For some people, consuming this much fat could be unhealthy.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, whatever diet you choose, each program is designed to help you to eat less. When you consume fewer calories, you lose weight. If the Schwarzbein Principle inspires you and you feel like it's a method you can stick to for life, then it may be the best program for you. But it's a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting any weight-loss plan to make sure it is a good fit for you and your individual needs.

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