Can dieters really have their cake and eat it?
The inventor of the Dukan Diet has now devised a book of desserts. So how does that work?
To tuck into cheesecake or crème brûlée and still watch excess pounds melt away – it sounds too good to be true. But is it possible for slimmers to indulge a sweet tooth without causing the bathroom scales to rocket?
It is, according to Dr Pierre Dukan, the French weight-loss guru whose strict low-carb, protein-based diet has notched up millions of followers, including a pre-pregnant Kate Middleton and her mother Carole, as well as Jennifer Aniston, Penélope Cruz and Jennifer Lopez.
His regime became all the rage, but also sparked criticism over its reliance on high-protein meals.
Now the controversial doctor is back with a new book, The Dukan Diet Desserts and Patisseries, which focuses entirely on sweet treats – a response, he says, to the many Dukan devotees who fall off the wagon because they can’t resist their daily pudding fix. “A lot of people are fond of sweet things, and they asked me to find desserts and patisseries they could eat without putting on weight,” he says.
If it seems counter-intuitive for a diet book to consist of pudding and pastry recipes alone, Dukan agrees: “Yes, it seems funny. But by being strict with ingredients, you can bake a lot of things that are still very interesting.”
So how does it work? The cakes and puddings are all low-fat and low-calorie and, instead of using butter and sugar, they are made with fat-free fromage frais, skimmed milk and natural sweeteners. Several recipes require oat bran, which is fibre-rich and absorbs water in the gut, so you feel fuller. Creaminess can be achieved by using quark, a fat-free curd cheese. Flavourings such as peppermint and vanilla are used liberally, too.
In his recipe for strawberry tartlets, the “pastry” is made with oat bran, fat‑free fromage frais, quark, egg whites, Splenda and protein powder. He also suggests whipping up an “Italian-style” strawberry ice-cream using fat-free fromage frais, quark, low-fat single cream, eggs, stevia and a dash of flavouring.
“These recipes are healthy if you choose good sweeteners,” says Dukan, who is an advocate of low-cal options such as Splenda and Canderel, as well as stevia, the crystallised extract of a South American shrub that is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Studies have shown stevia to be effective in weight loss, and it is increasingly available in supermarkets.
Nutritionist Priya Tew of Dietician UK says: “Stevia is well regarded in the nutrition world because it is more natural than some of the older sweeteners. It helps people reduce their calorie intake and is recommended for diabetics.”
Dukan, now 72, says he made his dieting breakthrough in France in the Seventies, when he was a GP specialising in nutrition. He instructed an overweight patient to eat only lean meat for a few days, and the resulting weight loss was spectacular. His research on other patients confirmed that protein blitzed fat fast, and the Dukan Diet was born.
His philosophy is based on a four-step programme consisting of more than 100 “allowed” foods. The four phases are the slightly military-sounding: Attack, Cruise, Consolidation and Stabilisation.
In the Attack phase, you can eat as much as you want of 72 protein-rich foods; carbs, fruit and veg are forbidden. The Cruise phase is for more gradual weight loss, and permits 28 different vegetables. The Consolidation period is about preventing future weight gain, with fruit, bread, cheese and starches being reintroduced. Then comes Stabilisation, which allows you to eat whatever you like, as long as you follow some ground rules – such as having a protein day once a week, and eating oat bran religiously.
It may all sound a bit Atkins-esque; the two regimes are similar in that protein is king, and hunger is obeyed, but Dukan says the main difference is that he doesn’t urge you to guzzle gallons of artery-clogging fat. He also recommends a lower calorie count than Atkins, so no midnight snack attacks. On the plus side, the puddings and pastries described in his new book can, he insists, be included in all four stages of his diet.
While Dukan may soon be the toast of dessert-lovers everywhere, he has few friends in the medical world. In July 2011, he lost a libel case against rival nutritionist Dr Jean-Michel Cohen, who linked the original Dukan Diet to breast cancer and heart disease. And last year, Dukan was accused by the French National Order of Doctors (the equivalent of the BMA) of breaking codes of practice and treating medicine “like a business”.
Meanwhile, in May 2011, a survey of 5,000 “Dukanians” stated that 80 per cent of dieters regained the weight they lost within three years – a figure that Dukan disputes, claiming as many as half of his dieters report keeping the weight off. “That’s a better rate than with traditional low-calorie diets,” he says.
However, Lynne Garton, spokesman for the British Dietetic Association, believes that it’s impossible to do the entire Dukan diet long-term. “Any diet that restricts food groups is not only unhealthy, but unsustainable,” she says. “Of course you’ll end up losing weight if you follow it, but that’s due to calorie restriction. Old eating habits eventually creep back in and before you know it you’ve regained the weight, and in some cases even more.”
But having a few recipes for low-calorie treats in your kitchen arsenal can’t hurt, can it? Nutritionist Tew says dieters should treat Dukan’s ode to pudding with extreme caution. “Some of these desserts might be OK to have a couple of times a week, in place of a higher-calorie pudding as part of your normal diet,” she says. “But if you love sweet things, you can’t simply have pudding three times a day. I also wouldn’t recommend them as part of his regime as a whole. Yes, you might consume fewer calories, but that’s not the problem – it’s just a quick-fix fad which offers no balance to your diet.”
Still, if you happen to be a sugar fiend, Dukan’s latest collection of cookies, carrot cake, chocolate fondant and cheesecake may help you to banish your muffin-top for good.
'The Dukan Diet Desserts and Patisseries’ (Hodder, £13.99), to be published on May 23