Before there was 5:2 there was the Dukan Diet, with its string of celebrity followers. The concept has attracted criticism, and caused controversy, but its creator, Dr Pierre Dukan, is unrepentant.
Here he explains the rationale behind it to Al Gordon
In a western world obsessed with appearance, constantly venerating the super-slim, it’s ironic that both the USA and England now have major problems with obesity.
Dr Pierre Dukan promotes a protein-heavy diet with lots of vegetables and as few carbs as possible. The Frenchman has spent over 30 years slowly building up his method, after treating a patient in the mid-1970s who begged him for help in losing weight. Since then he’s dedicated his life to what he descibes as his mission, and is proud to have helped people in 52 countries.
'I Don't Know How To Get Slimmer', the book of his findings, published in 2000, became a bestseller in France and has since been translated into 28 languages. It became a bestseller in the UK, too, when Kate Middleton apparently used it to lose two dress sizes before her wedding to Prince William.
Dukan is passionate on the subject, and defensive. “We know scientifically that the key to live longer is to eat less,” he says. “You have to conserve in the memory that what is dangerous is being overweight. The diet is not dangerous. I never hear of people who die with my diet or have any problems” – you can imagine a Gallic shrug, here – “but you can die with the problems caused by obesity.”
English people are in danger, Dukan says: obesity levels are beyond those in any other European country and catching up with the Americans. The cause of the problem is a diet that has changed dramatically – too dramatically – from the time of the hunter-gatherer, in which a once protein-rich food intake has been replaced with a carb and fatty diet that the body is just not equipped to handle.
“Nutrition,” Dukan explains, “is not something very mysterious. We work on three nutrients: protein, carbs and fat. I discovered that when you eat a hundred calories coming from carbs, or from fat, your body has to spend three calories to digest and to assimilate that. When you eat protein, your body has to spend 32 calories and that’s the big difference. Protein is more satisfying.
Dukan is keen to encourage us to revert to eating like ancestors used to do. “I want to return to the way I think our body is meant to be. We consume differently now… you can see that protein foods such as chicken, eggs and salmon were exactly the same in 1940 as they are today. What has changed is the carbs during the last 50 or 60 years. I think the carb is responsible for the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. The danger is the white sugar, the white flour and the corn.”
He also believes the growing obesity problem can begin in the womb. “During the three first months of the pregnancy the baby is not really mature. He has no pancreas,” he explains. “If the mother eats a lot of carbs, during the six last months of the pregnancy because the pancreas is not finished it develops with too much carbs around it. The maturation of his pancreas is not good, so all his life he will be more vulnerable to the carbs.”
Dukan suggests that this is evidenced by the shift in baby weights over recent decades. Thirty years ago it was normal for a new-born to weigh under six pounds; these days it isn’t. He recommends that pregnant women should eat less sugar so as to protect their babies and avoid them being vulnerable to obesity from birth.
The concept behind his diet is simple, he says, asserting that others are not as effective: “There are only two ways to make a diet. One is to count the calories you eat; the other is based on categories of nutrients.” It begs the question: when is a calorie not a calorie?
“Some people say all the calories are the same value. Of course they have the same value out of the body – on the table or in the fridge, but when you put this food in your body the differences arrive: 100 calories of carbs and 100 calories of fat or 100 calories of protein are not the same, and if you only count calories it’s not a good way to go…”