FRANCE'S most popular weight-loss regimes, including the number one Dukan diet, are ineffective and potentially dangerous to people's health, doctors have warned. The Agence Nationale de Sécurité Sanitaire has issued a warning over 14 of the most fashionable diet regimes in France. Researchers at the Institut Pasteur in Lille assessed each regime, including Atkins and Montignac, for its nutritional value and potential side-effects. Head of nutritional research Jean-Michel Lecerf, who led the study, said the diets disrupted the body's natural metabolism and led to serious nutritional imbalances.
In nearly all the diets, the protein content was typically much higher than the recommended daily intake, especially the Dukan diet, which is France's top-seller. Some of the diets contained 10 times less fibre than the recommended level and up to twice as much salt. They also lacked vital vitamins and minerals. The study also pointed to an increased risk of fractures and other bone problems, muscle wastage and cardiovascular problems in some of the regimes.
Dr Lecerf said that in 95 per cent of cases, people who follow a dietary regime regain weight as soon as they finish. In some instances, the weight they regain is greater than the amount lost. He said: “Each regime is less effective than the one before, and the weight gain afterwards is greater each time.” According to the study, about 70 per cent of people in France have followed some sort of weight-loss programme, many without consulting a doctor beforehand.
The Régime Dukan is the most popular diet in France at the moment. Like Atkins, it is high in protein in the initial “attack” phase, but low in fat. Next comes the “cruise” phase, with protein-only days and protein-and-veg days. Potatoes are banned, as are high-calorie vegetables such as peas, carrots and sweetcorn.
More than two million copies of the Dukan book Je ne sais pas maigrir have been sold in France.
With his bulging biceps and vegetarian diet, Popeye is credited with urging millions of youngsters to eat spinach since the 1930s. But now the cartoon sailor man's impact on children's eating habits has been recognised by scientific research. Experts found that children who regularly watched Popeye scoffing spinach before his animated bouts with his arch-rival Bluto, doubled their vegetable intake. The youngsters, aged four and five, ate four portions of vegetables a day after watching the cartoon hero compared to two before the study.
Professor Chutima Sirikulchayanonta, who led the research at Mahidol University in Bangkok, said: “We got the children planting vegetable seeds, taking part in fruit and vegetable tasting parties, cooking vegetable soup, and watching Popeye cartoons.”
Researchers said that the experiment, which also encouraged children to plant their own vegetables, led to the 26 volunteers taking more interest in eating healthily.
Prof Sirikulchayanonta added that Popeye did not influence an increase in the children's fruit consumption, but that this was possibly because they already enjoyed plenty of fruit in their diet.
The findings of the study are published in journal Nutrition & Dietetics.
Research earlier this year found that sales of tinned spinach, like the kind eaten by Popeye, rose by 24 per cent last year to become one of Britain's fastest selling canned vegetables.
Popeye, who was created by Elzie Crisler Segar for the Thimble Theatre comic strip and first appeared on screen in 1933, is credited with helping save the US spinach industry in the 1930s.
His influence in boosting sales among children was recognised by the spinach-growing community in Crystal City, Texas, who erected a statue of the fictional sailor in 1937.
Popeye has not regularly been seen on British television since The Popeye Show – the most recent incarnation of the cartoon – ended its run in 2004. The cartoons are still aired in Asia.