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If you’ve never heard of The Dukan Diet but know your diet plans, think of it this way: it’s similar to Atkins but perhaps even less nutritionally desirable. U.S. News & World Report’s Best Diets Annual Report isn’t a fan; of 38 diets it evaluated, The Dukan Diet ranked 37th overall. 
The eating plan was developed by Dr. Pierre Dukan, a French physician who says his diet plan is really just based on Old Stone Age—literally before the Stone Age, millions of years ago. So what could be found with rudimentary tools at best: harvesting and eating wild roots, mushrooms, and berries, and hunted meat—and, if near waters, all kinds of fish. Dukan says this way of eating is nothing new and, he claims, it’s the diet of choice in France. 
All that said, in the Best Diets report The Dukan Diet scored second to last or very near the bottom as heart-healthy, or for people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, or even predisposed to diabetes because of heredity. It also bombed for being an efficient weight-loss diet; too hard to follow, the reports says. 
But, despite earning an overall ranking of 2.1 out of 5, The Dukan Diet scored in the top half of the 38 diets in the Best Commercial category of weight loss; you’ll lose weight if you adhere strictly to it, largely because all you eat is protein and nothing—I mean nothing—else. And, not surprisingly, people lose a lot—10, 15 even 20 pounds—in the very restrictive first phase which Dukan calls the Attack Phase, which we’ll learn more about shortly.
Despite the thumbs-down from U. S. News & World Report’s Best Diets, Dr. Dukan counters that his plan is nutritionally sound, satiating, and—with lots of hydration and exercise—you’ll not only lose weight, you’ll be healthier.
Let’s see if this is true.
Dukan Diet Claims
First, there are very few diets out there that don’t caution you to talk to your doctor about starting this or any other diet. Be wary of the ones that don’t.
But honestly: raise your hand if you’ve talked to your primary care physician before you’ve started any diet.
I thought so.
So, on the Dukan Diet website there’s a small-print disclaimer right on the homepage—albeit at the bottom. Again, not anything new. 
In Dukan’s case—and I have read quite a few of these—not only does its website disclaimer say the information offered is for “educational purposes only” and that you should talk to your doctor before starting this diet, it includes a reference to nutritionists and psychologists, and it specifically cautions diabetics, people with eating disorders, those with heart conditions, and anyone who suffers from depression. There is even a full and detailed Dukan Diet disclaimer website page. 
That said, one would assume folks planning on a very restrictive diet like this—where all-you-can-eat meat, eggs, and fat-free dairy are the only foods you are permitted for the first couple of weeks—would do their homework. Consider this review your assignment: is it right for you?
Dukan says this diet, which has been popular in France for decades, is based on proven nutrition principles with virtually no carbs save a couple of tablespoons of oat bran each day; otherwise it’s laser-focused on proteins only.
Though the diet does recommend you cook your own foods from scratch, there’s no oil allowed at all for cooking meat—so broiling, baking and roasting, I suppose. If you sign up for this diet, there are lots of Dukan Diet recipes to help figure out how best to prepare and cook meals with the limited ingredients.
You also must drink a lot of water; not any different from virtually every diet you have ever been on. At least 8 glasses a day (64 ounces), or half your bodyweight in ounces (weigh 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water a day, for example).
How Does Dukan Diet Work?
The way it works: discover your “True Weight”—which they say is free—by providing information like gender, weight, age, diet and weight loss history, body frame determination, and information on “heredity, morphology, physical activity, food intake, favorite foods, social and domestic environment, and finally motivation.” 
You create an account with your name and email (still free, they say), and then they’ll give you your True Weight and—presumably—a plan before you pay them. I didn’t go this far to see where you must plug in your credit card info, so be careful. It may be clear, but it may not.
So you’re going to give it a go. There are 4 phases:
- The Attack Phase, which kicks you off with rapid weight loss
- The Cruise Phase, where you progress to your goal weight
- The Consolidation Phase, where you remain until you get to your “true weight” goal
- The Stabilization Phase, where you stick with the program to help keep the weight off for good
On the Dukan Diet program you receive virtual weight loss coaching, daily monitoring, and interaction via email with a bot coach; each evening you report everything you ate, your activity, weight and measurements, and you can also whine and vent if you need to. The next morning, you get an email of encouragement and instructions on permitted foods and activity—stuff that presumably you’ll know after week one, so the emails may or may not be superfluous. You have online access to what they call the “Slimming Apartment,” with tools, tips, and hundreds of recipes. They say they will not abandon you through the first three phases (assuming you keep paying the $30 every month, which is likely autopay) unless you cancel the program—which is doable, but some have reported to be frustrating.
So let’s do a deeper dive into the phases.
The Attack Phase
The Attack Phase is similar to the first phase in Atkins but of a much shorter duration, and it depends on age, weight, and how much you need to lose. They say the phase can last 1 or 2 days for people who need to lose less than 10 pounds, 3 to 5 days if you need to lose 15 to 30 pounds, and 7 days if your goal is to lose 40 pounds or more—though they do caution that 7 days on this diet should be approved by your doctor. 
Your body goes into ketosis, which we have talked about in so many low- or virtually-no-carb diets. This phase includes a list of almost 70 meats (animal proteins including seafood and fish, as well as eggs and nonfat dairy. The idea is these foods will make you feel full enough and with all the water you’re supposed to drink you start to quickly lose water weight, because totally eliminating carbs and digesting those proteins produces ketones that are eliminated when you urinate.
You’re also supposed to get exercise daily in the Attack Phase. They suggest you do your fat-burning exercise in the morning and no excuses; brisk walking is acceptable.
Let’s look at The Dukan Diet 100 Foods: starting with the Attack Phase, where you may eat as much very lean—repeat very lean—cuts of meat as you wish, to including beef, buffalo, ham, beef hot dogs, bacon, some deli meats… 
Wait. Deli meat? Hot dogs? Ham? Bacon? All these are processed meats and generally processed, and cured with nitrates and many researchers and nutritionists claim these are among the worst foods you can eat. 
And Dukan encourages you to eat whole, unprocessed, natural foods free of chemicals and preservatives, avoiding high-sodium processed fatty foods. So how can hot dogs, ham, bacon, and deli meat be permitted? Makes you go “hmm.”
But back to the food list. You may eat very lean center-cut pork chops, roast beef, pork tenderloin, pork loin roast, reduced-fat bacon (aha!), soy bacon, veal, chicken, chicken liver, Cornish hen, fat-free turkey and chicken sausages, low-fat deli meats, and then all manner of weird or unusual meats many of us don’t usually consume, like ostrich, quail or wild duck. Plus you-name-it fish—fresh or canned—including catfish, cod, flounder, grouper, haddock, halibut, salmon, shark, sardines, swordfish, and tuna. And shellfish, too, like canned or fresh clams, crab, crawfish, crayfish, lobster, mussels, octopus, oysters, scallops, and shrimp. Finally, you may eat fat-free dairy—not low-fat but no-fat—including plain cottage cheese, cream cheese, ricotta, yogurt, milk, and sour cream. Remember, there must be no fat. 
The Cruise Phase
In the Cruise Phase, they say if you follow this diet to the letter you’ll lose one pound every three days or so; kind of like the average two pounds you can achieve when you simply eat a really healthy—albeit calorie-restricted—diet, drink water, and exercise, the nutritionist-recommended way. Just mentioning that.
In any event, in this stage you are allowed to add 32 not-too-starchy veggies like artichokes and asparagus, broccoli and brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and cucumber, eggplant, fennel, green beans, kale, arugula, radicchio, mushrooms, okra, onions, peppers, squash, spinach, tomato, turnips, and watercress.
Since this phase could conceivably last for months, you’re supposed to alternate between Pure Protein (PP) and Protein/Vegetable (PV) days. For example, 1 day of PV followed with 1 day of PP or if you’re stuck and not losing, increase the days on and off, incrementally as such: 2/2, 3/3, 4/4 or 5/5, with the 5 days on PP and 5 days on PV for people who have the most fat to lose. 
The Consolidation Phase
In the third stage, called Consolidation, you transition from strict to spontaneous.
(I find this all so confusing. Maybe this is why the Best Diets reports says it’s difficult to follow.) 
This phase lasts 5 days for every pound lost, and corresponds to the time during which your body is still vulnerable to rebound weight gain. Completion of the phase will ensure that you will maintain your weight loss. 
So now you may eat one or two portions of carbs a day or a few times a week, like a serving of a whole fruit and a slice or two of whole-grain bread. You also can have a “Celebration Meal” with a dessert and a glass of wine (Does not clarify how often you may celebrate. I’m guessing twice a year.). But during this phase you must also exercise at least 25 minutes a day.
The Stabilization Phase
Finally, Stabilization. Three rules: every Thursday do a Pure Protein day, take the stairs (?) and eat 3 tablespoons of oat bran every day. That’s it. And supposedly you’ll keep eating the way you have been: a very-low-carb diet for life. 
This seems simply implausible to me.
Dukan Diet Ingredients
Besides the Hundred Foods, you may also have shirataki noodles, which are actually made from an Asian root called Konjac. I have eaten these many times. The prepping and cooking process is a bit laborious, but there’s a great payoff: filling, fibrous, with virtually no calories. This is the best low-carb diet substitute for pasta.
You may also have 1 teaspoon of olive oil (Omega-3 rich) beginning in the Cruise Phase, and you may eat Goji berries occasionally on protein days—but just a tablespoon or two.
Oh and by the way, Dukan sells countless products (because of course they do), from supplements to bars and mixes, seeds, sauces, lots of snacks, and the shirataki noodles—which appear to be sold out. But no worries; I know you can find these in your grocery store, usually in the cold-food section in produce or organic foods departments). 
The Science (or Lack Thereof) Behind The Dukan Diet
WebMd’s Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, says while you’ll lose weight because you have eliminated carbs, when you start to eat regularly again (which chances are you will), the weight will come right back. 
Of course Dukan rebuts that to maintain your weight loss, you need to stay on the Stabilization Phase, or have completely reinvented your way of eating to exclude carbs. And Jacobsen says that although high-protein diets may be effective for losing weight initially, the scientific jury is out on diets like this one:
Research shows high protein diets are effective for weight loss, but experts still do not know what the long-term effects are for your health and weight. And there is no evidence that having one all-protein day, along with exercise is enough to maintain your weight loss. 
Plus, Jacobsen says, there are just too many risks with this diet, and the rewards are not outweighed by those risks. People on medication, those with diabetes or at risk of diabetes, and people with renal or heart disease should steer clear. Plus, as I noted, if you have a lot of weight to lose, you could be in the so-called Consolidation Phase for awhile. Jacobsen says “…for months or even years, which could lead to a nutritionally inadequate diet.” WebMD says if you need to lose a little weight fast, okay—but if you are over fifty, have any health issues, or need to lose a lot of weight, get a diet plan from your doctor instead. 
And the Mayo Clinic (www.MayoClinic.org) says high-protein or low-carb diets are not only not flexible, they are not nutritionally balanced, and they are restrictive and perhaps unsustainable. 
Word on the Street About the Dukan Diet
When it comes to Dukan Diet reviews, my feeling is the nutritional experts know best. And so their reviews matter. A lot. 
But what about regular folks? There are no shortage of books by Dr. Dukan all over Amazon. And generally speaking the reviews are good, from the 2011 original book to his cookbook and audiobook.   
Sticking with the original book: out of nearly 1,100 reviews, it has earned a respectable 4.2 out of 5 stars. 
Let’s begin with a 5-star review from a person very familiar with the diet, having done it off-and-on for years. And while it earned 5 stars, this reviewer gained back every bit of weight and then some, yet still praised the Dukan Diet. The review is very long, but with lots of great detail “NC Fan” (October 2016, 5 stars) says, in part:
Although I haven’t kept the weight off like I had hoped, I am still very glad that I know how to follow this diet. When I follow it for brief periods, the weight comes off again and I feel much better after a few days on it. My advice is to never leave phase 3. There is a lot that can be eaten on that phase and I think it could be sustainable. Phase 4 is not sustainable for me. 
But he still highly recommends the diet.
One recent positive review from “Kim Ann” (May 2016, 5 stars), who calls The Dukan Diet “the real deal,” says she will follow it for life:
I have followed this book to a T and have lost 19 pounds since February 23. It requires willpower but is fool proof. I have tried all diets, from Weight Watchers to Atkins. This is the one that I will stick with as a life plan. 
And a highly critical review from “Diana” (Jan 2017, 1 star), who says the Dukan Diet is…
Another fad diet based on dropping food groups, buying food from their website and unsustainable diet. This diet was touted a the Princess Catherine’s secret weapon. In my opinion, this book is only marginally better than the one that has you bathing in ice water to lose weight. 
The Bottom Line: Is The Dukan Diet Worth a Try?
Risky (high risk). I am all for low carbs—or at least lower carbs—and the carbs you do eat should come from awesome vegetables, fruits and whole grains. There’s little evidence a very-high-protein, very-low-carb diet can be sustained, much less be nutritionally sound. (Otherwise you wouldn’t have to buy all the extra products.)
Will you lose weight? Yes, if you follow it like your favorite show; you may even lose a lot of weight. But when (notice I didn’t say “if”) you go back to your old eating habits you will gain the weight back, and maybe with a vengeance. That much is clear, and it’s the reason why Dukan encourages people to stay with the maintenance phase as a lifelong goal.
I suspect very few people will be able to do that. Just look at “NC Fan’s” review.
The other issue, of course, is how unhealthy it can be for lots of folks, from people with diabetes to people who may be at risk for diabetes, to people with kidney or heart issues, or if you’re on some medications. And then there’s the risk to people who either have an eating disorder or may develop one. Not to mention it’s not easy to follow—between the phases and rules and tweaks and lists.
That all said, this diet may be helpful for some who need to drop a lot of weight but only if your doctor supervises. Bottom line? It’s risky, so please check with your doctor first. No really. Do that.
So What Really Works?*
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*Individual results will vary.
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