Take a "natural" hormone the body makes during pregnancy -- and lose a lot of weight? That's the promise that's turned the hCG Diet -- named after that hormone -- into a craze that just won't quit. If you also go on an ultra-low-calorie diet, backers claim, hCG can “reset your metabolism” so you lose as much as a pound a day without feeling hungry or weak.
Here's what the science says: Any super-low-cal diet will result in weight loss. Most studies have found that hCG (stands for human chorionic gonadotropin) has nothing to do with it.
The hCG diet limits you to 500 calories a day for 8 weeks while taking hCG, either by getting a shot or by taking a “homeopathic” product, such as oral drops, pellets, or sprays, which you can buy at the store.
None of this is approved by the FDA for weight loss. The shots themselves are legal, as long as a health care provider gives them to you. (They're approved to treat fertility issues.) But over-the-counter hCG products are not. The FDA has sent warning letters to several companies that market homeopathic hCG products.
What You Can Eat and What You Can't
You won't be eating much. The diet lets you have two meals a day, lunch and dinner. Each meal has to include one protein, one vegetable, one bread, and one fruit.
You can broil or grill veal, beef, chicken breast, fresh white fish, lobster, crab, or shrimp as long you don’t eat any visible fat. No salmon, eel, tuna, herring, or dried or pickled fish are allowed.
Vegetable choices include spinach, chard, chicory, beet greens, green salad, tomatoes, celery, fennel, onions, red radishes, cucumbers, asparagus, and cabbage.
Bread can be one breadstick or one piece of melba toast.
For fruit, you can choose an orange, an apple, a handful of strawberries, or half a grapefruit. The diet allows as much water, coffee, and tea as you want. You can also have up to 1 tablespoon of milk per day.
You can use sugar substitutes but not sugar to sweeten drinks. Butter and oils aren't allowed.
Level of Effort: High
It's very hard to stick with the strict calorie limit. Not only is it uncomfortable to live on just 500 calories a day, it can be dangerous. It’s impossible to meet all your nutritional needs on so few calories. You may not get enough protein, either. If you're getting less than 1,200 calories a day, it's going to be challenging to get enough vitamins and minerals without supplements.
Doctors sometimes recommend a very-low-calorie diet (under 1,000 calories per day) if someone is obese and has a medical condition such as high blood pressure, but these diets must be carefully supervised by a doctor.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarians and vegans: Its fans say anyone can follow the hCG diet. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe, especially for vegetarians. The diet's creators say that vegetarians would have to drink extra skim milk to make up for not getting protein from meat and other sources. Because it includes dairy, it's not a vegan diet.
Gluten-free: This isn't a gluten-free diet.