Diet fads come and go, but the hCG diet has been around for at least four decades, according to a study of the diet published in the Western Journal of Medicine in 1977. While the diet claims that the injection of human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, is responsible for helping people lose weight, it's more likely the dangerously restrictive, 500-calorie diet you're expected to follow that causes the loss. You should not follow any extremely low-calorie diet except under the close supervision of a doctor.
What is the hCG Diet
The hormone hCG is made by women's bodies when they're pregnant, and it's also sometimes prescribed for women having difficulty becoming pregnant. While not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for weight loss, hCG is touted to help people lose weight quickly by suppressing appetite and spot-reducing areas of unwanted fat.
In addition to receiving the hormone, which can be given as a pill or an injection, it's also recommended that you follow a 500-calorie diet when on the hCG weight-loss plan. Restricting your intake to such extremes severely limits your food choices and may make it hard for you to meet your essential nutrient needs. For reference, very low-calorie diets prescribed by doctors contain about 800 calories and usually include a liquid supplement to help you meet your vitamin and mineral needs.
Lean Protein on hCG
Most of the calories on the hCG diet come from very lean proteins, including white meat poultry, white fish, shellfish and very lean red meat such as veal. You are allowed 7 ounces of these proteins a day, which you should evenly divide between lunch and dinner. To make sure your portions aren't too large, it's recommended you measure your meats before they're cooked. Then trim away any visible fat and either grill or broil the meat without fat.
Low-Cal Veggies, Some Fruit and Carbs
In addition to your very lean protein, you're allowed one low-cal veggie at lunch and dinner. Options include spinach and other greens, cucumbers, onions, radishes, asparagus, tomatoes, celery, radishes and cabbage. Although just two servings of veggies a day won't provide all the vitamins and minerals you need, they'll provide add some nutrients and fiber to the restrictive diet.
At lunch and dinner, you also can have one piece of Melba toast or one bread stick and one serving of fruit -- either an apple, an orange, a handful of strawberries or half a grapefruit.
Food Flavorings and Drinks
While you can't use butter or oil on the hCG diet, you can add flavor to your food with a few allowed seasonings, including salt, pepper, marjoram, thyme, mustard powder and basil. Vinegar and garlic are also permitted.
Beverage choices are limited to water, coffee or tea. And you either have to drink your coffee or tea unsweetened or use a sugar substitute. One tablespoon of milk is allowed per day, which you can add to your hot beverage.
What a Typical Day's Menu Might Look Like
You can't eat any solid food before lunch on the hCG diet. So, for breakfast, you can have a cup of coffee or tea, either black or with the allowed 1 tablespoon of milk and sugar substitute. At lunch, you may want to have 3.5 ounces of grilled chicken breast and sliced strawberries on top of raw spinach, drizzled with vinegar and served with a bread stick. Dinner might be 3.5 ounces of grilled garlic shrimp, grilled asparagus, Melba toast and a fresh orange.
Efficacy and Concerns About the Diet
No evidence supports the claims that hCG hormones help you lose weight, according to the Hormone Health Network. Nor does the hormone and diet plan help control your hunger, which may make the diet portion very difficult to follow for any length of time.
In addition to being nearly impossible for you to meet your daily nutrient needs on the restrictive diet, you may also experience a drop in metabolism, which means you'll burn fewer calories. And, as you can imagine, eating so little can negatively affect your energy levels and mood. Rapid weight loss from a very low-calorie diet also increases your risk of developing gallstones.
Potential side effects from the injected form of the hormone include headaches, breast tenderness, breast enlargement in men or ovarian cysts in women. Blood clots, which can be serious and even fatal, are a possible complication of improperly administered injections. The injections may also cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome in women, which leads to swollen ovaries, leaking of fluid into your belly and possible weight gain. You should not take hCG if you're nursing or have a history of heart disease, kidney disease, adrenal or thyroid gland disorder, or various types of cancer such as breast or prostate. The hCG diet isn't a healthy way to lose weight; therefore, anyone who attempts it should have close medical supervision.
- Western Journal of Medicine: Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) in the Treatment of Obesity
- Hormone Health Network: Myth vs. Fact: The Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Diet
- Nutrition411: Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) Diet
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders: Very Low-Calorie Diets
- MedlinePlus: Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome
- McKinley Health Center: Breaking Down Your Metabolism
- Pounds & Inches: A New Approach to Obesity; ATW Simeons, MD