Decades after Diana’s struggle with bulimia, the diet of another member of the royal family has attracted worldwide attention. But this time the French are to blame. While the new Duchess of Cambridge has always been long-legged and willowy, to look perfect at her wedding she is rumoured to have followed the Dukan Diet formulated by French nutritionist Pierre Dukan nearly three decades ago.
Kate Middleton, whose mother Carole reportedly introduced her daughter to the Dukan plan, is not the only one who is supposed to be a fan. A whopping 1.5 million French women follow the diet and even before its expected launch in English last year, the book, called The Dukan Diet, went straight to No. 1 on Amazon’s diet book list. Actor Jennifer Lopez is said to have used the diet to shed post-pregnancy weight; so, it seems, did model Gisele Bundchen. But is the Dukan Diet worth the hype?
What works and how
The diet, which has gained popularity in France over the last decade, is divided into four phases, with the dieter only being allowed to eat the Dukan Diet 100 Safe Foods. All herbs and spices are allowed in all four phases.
The royal way: Kate Middleton is believed to have adopted the Dukan Diet before the wedding. Photo: AP
The first is the attack phase (2-10 days), during which the dieter rapidly loses up to 2-3kg within two-seven days. Only proteins are allowed in this phase, although in unlimited quantities. The 72 protein foods on the list include fish, poultry, meat and offal, seafood and non-fat dairy products. The food must be grilled, steamed or boiled.
Next is the cruise phase, during which 28 specific vegetables are added to the diet. Obviously, there is no mention of local Indian vegetables but Ritika Samaddar, head of department, nutritional therapy, Max Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi, says non-starchy veggies such as ladies’ finger, bitter and bottle gourds can be included in the diet; starchy stuff such as potato, sweet potato, arbi and jimikand must be avoided. During this phase (how long it lasts will depend on your metabolism), weight loss happens more slowly, with an average of a kilo shed per week. It lasts till you reach your ideal weight, which can be calculated on the Dukan Diet website (www.dukandiet.co.uk).
The third step is the consolidation phase. Fruit, breads, cheese and starchy foods are introduced into the diet for five days, leaving two days for celebratory meals as directed by the diet—you can eat whatever you like. A glass of wine is allowed in the celebratory meals. Essentially this phase is about balance and ensuring that you don’t gain weight again. This period too varies from person to person.
The fourth, and last, is the stabilizing phase during which dieters can eat whatever they want as long as they follow a few lifelong rules. Mainly, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking for 25 minutes every day, taking 3 teaspoons of oat bran every day and having at least one pure protein (attack phase) day every week.
According to nutritional expert Shikha Sharma, the diet is simply a rehashed version of Atkins—“the reason why these low-carb, high-protein diets work especially in the West is because they consume vast quantities of white flour in breads and even sauces like bechamel.” She adds, “Even if they start a simple Indian diet that comprises of lentils, vegetables and wholewheat flour all cooked in less oil, the effects are bound to be the same.” Samaddar says, “The high protein increases metabolic rate and helps lose extra weight, therefore it is most suitable for those whose weight has got stuck and who need some change in eating patterns.” Adds Dr Sharma “It’s a good pre-event diet but must only be followed for a short period of time.”
Dukan for vegetarians
One of the obvious questions about the diet in India is whether it is suitable for vegetarians. While there are 72 protein options on the Safe Foods list, only non-fat dairy (cheese, skimmed milk, cottage cheese, yogurt) and tofu are suitable. However, there are many pure protein options for vegetarians which, on the whole, are healthier than meats. Says Dr Sharma, “Vegetarian sources of protein like tofu are lighter on the liver and cause less toxicity compared to heavier meats.” But you don’t have to stick to just tofu or low-fat yogurt during the attack phase. Dr Sharma suggests textured vegetarian proteins such as soya nuggets, beans and lentils as other sources that you can indulge in. Of course, the pure protein attack phase lasts only for about a week. Then you can start enjoying a variety of fruit and vegetables again.
Cooking without fat
The reason why this diet shows quick results is because of its high-protein, low-carb, low-cholesterol-and-fat approach. But cooking with just drops of oil is always a challenge, and when food doesn’t taste delicious, diets become unsustainable.
To help create tasty meals without unnecessary fat, we approached Glenn B. Eastman, executive chef, The Leela Palace, New Delhi. To start with, he insists that the quality of protein always determines the flavour, especially when you want to cook healthily. Pick fresh, lean cuts of meat and fish to ensure tasty meals. Choose lamb over mutton since it’s younger, more tender and cooks faster. In chicken, choose breasts since all the other parts are covered in fat. Pork loins are the only cut you can use in a diet.
Once you have the cut figured out, the way you cook your protein is crucial. Eastman suggests using an oil spray instead of drizzling oil and always picking a non-stick Teflon-coated pan which doesn’t require much greasing. Another interesting method to keep your meat juicy is to bake in a baking bag (e.g., a microwaveable ziplock or, simply, an aluminium foil wrap). Just toss in the meat of your choice with herbs and spices and some veggies (which can be discarded later) for flavour, seal the bag and bake till cooked. What you have in the end is juicy, delicious food without any extra fat or oil. For beef, lamb and mutton, Eastman suggests stronger herbs and spices such as rosemary, chilli and garlic; for a gentler meat such as pork he suggests flavouring with thyme, a touch of garlic, orange rind and even apple and cinnamon. Fish must be dressed with softer herbs such as dill, bay leaf, lemon grass and ginger. Vegetarian options such as tofu and soya nuggets are like sponges and readily absorb a lot of flavour, so they’re fun to experiment with. “Use curry powders, Thai herbs, Chinese flavours; these vegetarian proteins will just soak it all.”
The holes in the plan
The good thing about the diet is that it’s easy to follow, since there are no calorie counts and it’s not as heavily protein based as a pure protein plan like Atkins; eventually the dieter can eat anything. But it’s still a diet, and therefore shouldn’t be a lifelong choice. Take, for instance, the required daily exercise of a 25-minute walk. According to Dr Sharma, this is “enough for all practical purposes since we are mostly desk bound but is scientifically insufficient for good health.” Samaddar concurs, “The exercise suggested in the diet is not enough; to be healthy one must exercise for 45-50 minutes every day.”
While you can use the diet to shed extra pounds before an event, sticking to it for a longer period may lead to health complications. To start with, the diet isn’t very skin friendly: “Good skin requires a layer of fat and since this diet is virtually fat free without any healthy sources like nuts, it is bound to age the face over a period of time,” says Dr Sharma. Second, it can cause liver and kidney problems over a period of time as pure protein is harder to digest. For this reason, anyone with kidney problems, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and diabetics must avoid this diet.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
If you think the Dukan Diet is the best thing that happened to France, think again. The French have a history of healthy eating
• French Paradox is a term coined by Serge Renaud, a scientist from Bordeaux University, in 1992 because despite a diet that is high in fat, the French have a relatively low rate of coronary heart disease. This is ascribed to the consumption of red wine, smaller portions, no snacks between meals, lower sugar intake, fat intake from vegetarian and dairy sources, and avoidance of American foods such as sodas and deep-fried fare.
• The book ‘French Women don’t get Fat’ by Mirieille Juiliano was released in 2005. The author talks about French methods of weight loss. Among other things, such as controlled indulgences and smaller portions, her method of immediate weight loss was a leek soup that could be consumed in unlimited quantities for days until weight loss was achieved.
• Studies at The Pennsylvania State University, US, in June 2007 reflect the difference between American and French food habits. Paul Rozin, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleagues have completed several studies that compare portion sizes between Philadelphia and Paris. During these studies they found that French portions were smaller by an average of 25%. They also matched the popular US cookbook ‘Joy of Cooking’ by Irma S. Rombauer to a similar French cookbook and found that portion sizes were 25% larger in the American cookbook, with portions of meat 53% larger and vegetable portions 24% smaller than those of their French counterparts.
This fabulous recipe can be used in the later stages of your diet
Salmon Baked in a Pouch
• 180g salmon fillet, skin on (4 pieces)
• 100g leek, juliennes
• 100g mushrooms, sliced
• 100g red onion, juliennes
• 100g carrots, juliennes
• 100g celery, peeled and julienned
• 130ml white wine or white vermouth
• A few sprigs of fresh thyme
• A spray of olive oil
•Salt and pepper to taste
Stuffing: In a Teflon pan, sauté all vegetables in olive oil. Add white wine or vermouth, followed by thyme and the seasoning.
Fish: In a lightly oiled Teflon pan, sear the salmon fillet, skin side down, till it is crisp. Do not overcook the fish.
Cut four large squares of aluminium foil (18x18 inches). Crease diagonally in half and lay on a flat surface. On one triangular half, place a quarter of the stuffing and a piece of salmon, skin side up. Season it with salt and pepper. Place a piece of fresh thyme and seal the foil, making sure the juice does not leak.
Bake in an oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes. Serve direct from the oven with a piece of lemon as garnish.
—Glenn B. Eastman, executive chef, The Leela Palace, New Delhi.
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