According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) published in the National Center for Health Statistics, on any given day, 17.4 percent of the U.S. adult population over the age of 20 eats a special diet. Of those individuals on the diet, the data shows that a low-calorie, low-carb, weight-loss-focused diet is more likely than a low-fat or low-cholesterol diet than a time they reigned supreme in the world of well-being.
Given the continued public interest in finding a quick way to lose weight, popular fad diets like the ketogenic diet and the Dukan diet keep popping up, while others like the hCG diet have tried to make a name for themselves over the years. While the hCG diet may be new to you, it’s actually been around since the early 1950s and is touted to speed weight loss alongside a low-calorie diet. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the hCG diet and what nutrition experts want you to know about its safety.
What is the hCG Diet?
The hCG diet is a very low-calorie diet, usually in the range of 500 to 800 calories per day, that is used in conjunction with supplemental injections of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) as a means to stimulate weight loss. In the early 1950s, a British physician named Dr. Albert Simeons began promoting the hCG diet for weight loss. Dr. Simeons said the hCG diet allowed the participants to burn stored body fat, not muscle mass, with testimonials saying the participants lost 20 to 30 pounds in 40 days without feeling hungry or weak.
Let’s get this straight: Science has neither proven nor shown support for any of the claims made by Dr. Simeons in the 20th century. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not supported the use of hCG for weight loss. Although hCG is a hormone produced naturally in the body when people become pregnant, it has not been approved by the FDA for weight loss or for use without a prescription for any purpose.
List of hCG diet foods
Given the lack of scientific data on the hCG diet, the list of recommended foods allowed on the low-calorie diet is a bit subjective. According to Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and author of Fueling Male Fertility, “The HCG diet requires people to stick to a low-calorie limit spread across two meals a day. Calorie-free beverages that include coffee and teas are approved and can be sweetened with stevia or saccharin.Lean protein, some low-carb vegetables, berries, citrus fruits, apples, and a tablespoon of milk each day are allowed.
With these factors in mind, the list of foods allowed on the hCG diet would look like this:
- Lean protein
- Lean ground beef
- Pork Loin, Tenderloin
- Turkey cutlets
- Skinless Chicken Breast
- Baked White Fish
- Non-starchy vegetables
- White Mushrooms
- Limited fruit
Is the hCG diet safe?
There is a simple and straightforward answer to this question: no. Women’s health experts, Melissa Groves Azzaro, RDN, LD, owner of The Hormone Dietitian, Kendra Tolbert, MS, RDN, RYT, owner of Live Fertile and Yoga Teacher, and Manaker all agree on this one.
Groves Azzaro shares, “Although HCG is a hormone naturally produced by the body during pregnancy, we do not know the long-term risks of daily exogenous HCG use. The diet also involves severe calorie restriction, with followers consuming only 500 calories a day, about a quarter of what most people need.While rapid weight loss may occur at first, it would not be sustainable as metabolism slows down.
Also, the hCG diet is very restrictive. Groves Azzaro, Tolbert and Manaker all expressed extreme concern about the potential for nutritional deficiencies. Groves Azzaro writes, “Because of limited food choices, this increases the risk of multiple nutrient deficiencies because it limits many necessary food categories including starchy vegetables, grains, and legumes, which are good sources of B vitamins and fiber, oils, and fat, which could lead to deficiencies of many fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K.”
Pros of the hCG diet
While the hCG diet may look promising for those interested in losing weight quickly, there are currently no scientific studies available to support its use. In fact, a 2016 article published in the Journal of Nutritional Supplements stated that there is no science available to support the effectiveness of the hCG diet and its use actually does more harm than good. Furthermore, the registered dietitians surveyed unanimously agree that this diet is dangerous and should not be recommended.
The only time hCG, without the recommendation of the very low calorie diet, has been recommended or approved for use by the FDA is under medical supervision and with a prescription is for the treatment of infertility in certain situations.
Cons of the hCG diet
Potential for nutritional deficiencies
Very low-calorie diets, such as the recommended 500-800 calories in the hCG diet, pose a risk of nutrient deficiencies as mentioned above. An article from 2022 published in the magazine of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene explored the concept of nutritional deficiencies and the need for preventative measures to help improve the health of people at risk. Because the hCG diet purposely puts dieters at risk for nutrient deficiencies related to inadequate intake of important macro- and micronutrients, it raises concern about the risk of developing other diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Concern about food
While the hCG diet itself is not a style of intermittent fasting, its calorie restriction and thus minimal eating windows make it strikingly similar to a fasting diet. A recent 2022 study published in the journal of Eat and weight disorders: studies on anorexia, bulimia and obesity studied the impact that low-carb diets in conjunction with intermittent fasting have on disordered eating in college students. The results revealed that, compared to those who weren’t on the diet, the dieters experienced greater food preoccupation which led to higher levels of binge eating, food cravings, and restrictive tendencies towards food and carbohydrates.
Unsustainable for long-term weight loss
A 2017 article published in the journal of Perspectives on psychological scienceWe explored the concept of weight loss from the goal of reducing calorie intake. While the researchers found that lower calorie intake resulted in short-term weight loss, the weight loss was not sustainable, and the impact this deficit had on metabolism and hormones was unfavorable. Instead, the scientists urge more research that explores mechanisms that may help long-term weight control beyond a reduction in calorie intake.
Should you try the hCG diet?
As tempting as it may be to jump on the “get fit fast” train with a low-calorie diet like the hCG diet, it’s not recommended by health care professionals, regardless of your age or life stage. Both Groves Azzaro and Tolbert see red flags during this diet by sharing the same sentiment that the risks outweigh any purported benefits advertised by the eating plan. Groves Azzaro goes on to say, “There are far more sustainable ways to lose weight that are supported by scientific evidence and are not associated with those risks.”
1. What are the side effects of the hCG diet?
Similar to other low-calorie diets, Groves Azzaro notes that side effects of this diet include fatigue, irritability, depression, nutrient deficiencies, potentially constipation from lack of fiber, dry skin, hair loss, and tremendous weight-gain potential. . The FDA reports that serious adverse reactions have also been reported, including “cases of pulmonary embolism, depression, cerebrovascular problems, cardiac arrest and death.” Both Groves Azzaro and Tolbert also share that risks related to hCG injections are also potential, including pain, bruising and infection at the injection sites, as well as allergic-type reactions such as rash, hives and swelling.
2. How much does the hCG diet cost?
According to a 2013 press release issued by the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an average 30-day supply of hCG medications is approximately $60 to $149 dollars. This does not include the cost of food or the very low calorie diet nutrition plans.
3. How many calories do you eat on the hCG diet?
The hCG diet consists of a very low-calorie diet that ranges between 500 and 800 calories per day. These calories come from lean protein and low-carb fruits and vegetables.
The bottom line
While diets that promise rapid weight loss like the hCG diet may sound appealing if you’ve been trying to lose weight unsuccessfully for some time, they aren’t safe or recommended by nutrition experts. The long-term consequences, including nutritional deficiencies, the potential for developing disordered eating behaviors, and the unknowns of hCG use far outweigh the short-term weight loss potential. If you’re looking for a sustainable approach to building lifelong healthy habits, consult a healthcare professional who can work with your individual needs.
Next up: How to lose weight when you don’t know where to start, according to a dietitian