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Proof that nutrient partitioning works

Published June 19. 2010 09:00AM

There is no Nutrient Partitioning lobby, so I can't be in their back pocket. It's just that when a weekly health-and-fitness columnist argues for readers to construct their diet around those principles way three times in four weeks that's the conclusion you could reach.

But I had no intention of writing about nutrient partitioning again today. Honestly.

The Dukan Diet made me do it.

Created over 35 years ago by French nutritionist Dr. Pierre Dukan, it is now commonplace in France. According to Louise Atkinson writing for the British web site Daily Mail about the publication of a British version of the Dukan Diet, more than 1.5 million French women currently follow it.

My guess is not only that an American version is soon to follow, but also that it will be a bestseller.

And guess what? The guiding principles of the Dukan Diet are consistent with a way of constructing meals I've been telling you about for years: nutrient partitioning.

For instance, the power of protein as a weight-loss trigger is crucial to both nutrient partitioning and the Dukan Diet. In fact, the Dukan Diet begins with a period of time where you eat nothing but protein. (How long you do this is predicated on how much weight you need to lose to reach your ideal weight, a number predetermined by the Dukan system.)

While this may sound eerily similar to the Atkins Diet Induction Phase, it is not. The Dukan Diet permits some nonfat dairy products during this stage and limits your ingestion of oils and fats.

These qualifiers are consistent with the beliefs of nutrient partitioning.

Ingesting a higher percentage of your daily calories in the form of high-quality protein (up to 50 percent) is primarily done in nutrient partitioning because protein is filling and hard to convert to energy. Conversely, the body is excellent at turning fats and simple carbohydrates into energy.

Eat 100 calories of fat, for instance, and your body usually creates 95 cals of potential energy. Simple carbs get broken down into energy nearly as easily.

Whether either is immediately used or stored as fat is an entirely different matter.

Breaking down complex carbs creates about double the waste of simple carbs and further aids the body by slowing down the digestion of all food consumed (partially due to its fiber content), which reduces the secretion of insulin.

Turning protein into energy, however, creates double to triple the waste of complex carbs. In other words, eat an egg-white omelet of 100 calories and it's quite possible that your body burns up 30 of those calories digesting it.

In essence, nutrient partitioning teaches you that eating a high-protein diet produces something akin to free calories. Consuming high amounts of protein during a diet is also smart because it limits the dieter's loss of muscle mass, a significant detriment to many conventional diets.

Another feature of the Dukan Diet that aligns it with nutrient partitioning is its use of high-fiber complex carbohydrates. While both the Dukan Diet and nutrient partitioning use complex carbs to help you feel full (soluble fiber can swell up to 20 times its size during digestion) and control blood sugar, the Dukan Diet moves one type, oat bran, to center stage.

You use a tablespoon of the stuff for the aforementioned reasons at least once a day.

Once proper weight loss is achieved through the Dukan Diet, it deviates from the principles of nutrient partitioning a bit, not because nutrient partitioning leaves anything to be desired, but because Dr. Dukan understands people's desires.

He knows that the normal person craves normal food, so after you reach the proper weight, each week you are allowed what Atkinson calls "two totally unrestrained celebration meals . . . whatever foods you truly love." The compromise is that even in the maintenance phase of the diet, followers are supposed to have one day a week where they eat nothing but protein.

While a fervent supporter of nutrient partitioning would not be in favor of "celebration meals," he or she would still recognize that the Dukan Diet should keep the lost weight from making a return. That's because the Dukan Diet creates a negative fat balance, a crucial element of nutrient partitioning.

In fact, many studies over the last 25-plus years have often shown that the amount of body fat you store is more closely related to the amount of fat you ingest than the number of cals you consume.

If you create a negative fat balance instead of a negative energy balance which is what so many conventional diets foolishly do you will not only lose weight, but you will also lose primarily fat instead of muscle.

And you'll dramatically increase the odds that the unwanted weight will not make a return.

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