The HCG diet involves severely restricting calories to 500-800 per day while taking HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) hormone supplements. The diet claims to help you lose 1-2 pounds per day by suppressing appetite and mobilizing abnormal fat stores. However, there are safety concerns, and the extreme calorie restriction can be dangerous without medical supervision. This article reviews what foods are allowed on different phases of the HCG diet.
What is the HCG Diet?
The HCG diet was popularized by British endocrinologist Dr. A.T.W. Simeons in the 1950s. He proposed using HCG injections along with an ultra low-calorie diet of 500 calories per day to achieve rapid weight loss. The diet consists of 3 main phases:
Phase 1: Loading
For 2 days, you eat plenty of high-fat, high-calorie foods like butter, cream, and fatty meats. This supposedly increases fat stores for the body to use during the next phase.
Phase 2: Very Low Calorie Diet
For 3-6 weeks, you limit calories to just 500 per day. Specific food choices are restricted to lean proteins, non-starchy veggies, and limited fruits. HCG supplements are also taken during this phase, either via injections or oral drops.
Phase 3: Maintenance
You gradually increase food intake over 3-4 weeks, eventually adding about 800 calories to your daily diet as you transition back to regular eating. Weight loss is expected to continue but at a slower rate. Maintenance diets vary on the protocol but generally focus on healthy eating with minimal processed foods.
Allowed Foods on the HCG Diet
During the very low-calorie Phase 2, which is the most drastic and the phase responsible for most of the weight loss, these are the only foods allowed:
– Chicken breast
– Lean ground beef
– Fresh white fish and shellfish
– Extra lean beef
– Freshwater game fish
– Egg whites
Portion size for proteins is typically 3.5 ounces per meal.
Up to one cup per meal is allowed. Starchy veggies like corn, peas, potatoes, yams, and beets are not permitted.
– 1/2 cup berries
Only one serving of fruit per day is allowed on the 500 calorie plan. Melons and bananas are not allowed.
– Unsweetened tea
– Black coffee
At least 64 ounces of water per day is recommended. Diet sodas and herbal teas may be allowed, but check with your provider.
– Lemon juice
– Herbs and spices
Butter, oils, and dressings are not permitted during phase 2.
Here are some sample meals for a 500 calorie day on phase 2:
– 1 egg white omelet with spinach, mushrooms, and onions
– Black coffee
– 3.5 oz grilled chicken breast
– 1 cup roasted zucchini and cauliflower
– 1 orange
– 3.5 oz broiled cod
– 1 cup steamed kale with lemon
– 1/2 grapefruit
Modifications for 800-1000 Calories
Some protocols allow up to 800 calories during phase 2, which gives you some more flexibility with food choices:
You can increase portion sizes to 5-6 ounces with the allowed protein sources. Crab and shrimp can now be included.
All vegetables are allowed, including limited portions of starchy veggies like yams and peas.
Allow 1-2 servings of fruit per day, including berries, apples, grapes, kiwi, and occasional small banana.
One cup of milk or milk substitute is allowed.
Fats and Condiments
Up to 2 tsp of healthy oils or butter per day. Small amounts of vinegar, mustard, horseradish, Stevia, and fresh/dried herbs and spices.
Sample Meals for 800 Calories
– 1 egg + 2 egg whites, scrambled
– 1 small apple
– Black coffee
– 5 oz baked chicken breast
– Salad with 2 cups lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
– 6 oz shrimp
– 1/2 cup peas
– 1 cup broccoli
– 1 cup berries
Phase 3: Food Reintroduction
During phase 3, you gradually add about 100-200 calories to your diet each week over 3-4 weeks until you reach 1200-1500 calories per day. Foods are slowly reintroduced each week.
Skim milk, limited whole grains like 100% whole wheat bread and oatmeal, limited starchy vegetables, minimal healthy fats like olive oil.
Fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, more starchy vegetables and whole grains.
Low-fat dairy like cheese and yogurt.
Heartier proteins like fatty fish, leg of lamb, additional healthy fats. Treats should be limited to once per week.
Sample Day After Reintroduction
– Omelet with cheese, spinach and tomatoes
– 1 slice 100% whole wheat toast
– 1/2 grapefruit
– Turkey and hummus wrap
– Veggies and guacamole
– Yogurt with berries
– Grilled salmon
– 1/2 cup quinoa
– Steamed broccoli
– Salad with vinaigrette
Foods to Avoid Completely
Even after you reintroduce foods, some should still be avoided for weight maintenance:
– Sugar-sweetened beverages
– Packaged snacks
– White bread, pasta, rice
– Fried foods
– Fast food
– Processed meat
– Full-fat dairy
– Granola bars
– Baked goods
Focus on lean proteins, non-starchy veggies, some fruits, 100% whole grains, and healthy fats. Limit sweets and alcohol to occasional treats.
Supplements on the HCG Diet
Supplementation with HCG hormone is required on the very low-calorie phase. Options include:
– HCG injections – Given daily or several times per week. Need to be administered by a doctor.
– HCG oral drops – Taken a few times per day sublingually. Easier to manage on your own. Brand matters for purity and potency.
Proponents also recommend supplements to support health and performance during the low-calorie phase:
– Multivitamin – To fill nutrition gaps when calories are so low
– Probiotic – Supports healthy gut bacteria
– Electrolytes – Replenish levels lost through frequent urination
– B12 spray – Boosts energy
– Apple cider vinegar – Curbs hunger
However, the calorie restriction makes it difficult to get adequate nutrition without medical guidance. Deficiencies are likely over time.
Is the HCG Diet Safe and Effective?
Despite its long history and anecdotal success stories, there are considerable uncertainties around the safety and efficacy of the HCG diet:
Potential Safety Issues
– Very low calorie intake (under 800-1200 calories) can be dangerous without medical supervision. Side effects like gallstones, irregular heartbeat, and electrolyte imbalances can occur.
– HCG can potentially have hormone-related side effects like gynecomastia in men (breast tissue growth).
– HCG has not been approved for weight loss and is considered ineffective by many medical authorities. The FDA and FTC have cracked down on homeopathic HCG weight loss products for fraudulent claims.
– Prolonged very low-calorie diets can cause nutrient deficiencies and loss of muscle mass over time. These are not sustainable or healthy methods for weight management.
Unclear Mechanisms & Mixed Research
– Claims that HCG helps mobilize fat and suppress hunger have not been scientifically proven. One study found no differences in weight loss between patients taking HCG vs placebo with the same 500 calorie diet.
– Any major caloric restriction will cause weight loss. But most is typically regained after stopping the diet. The Midwest Obesity Task Force concluded that HCG offers no benefit for weight loss compared to hypocaloric diet alone.
– Small studies and clinical trials on the HCG diet are generally low quality with a high risk of bias. There’s a lack of rigorously controlled, large scale studies to test these claims and determine safe protocols.
– When medically supervised, very low-calorie diets can help achieve rapid short-term weight loss, as can any semi-starvation diet.
– For certain obese individuals, a short period of speedy weight loss under a doctor’s care may be helpful before transitioning to sustainable healthy eating for long-term results.
– The diet can help break habits of overeating and reduce appetite by shrinking the stomach. In conjunction with lifestyle changes, this can have a positive effect.
– The strict rules and restrictions make mindful eating and portion control easier. Some find this structure helps get them on track with healthier habits when done short-term.
The HCG diet involves an extreme calorie restriction along with HCG supplementation, based on controversial theories around HCG and mobilizing fat stores. Allowed foods are extremely limited, especially during the very low-calorie phase 2 which accounts for most of the rapid weight loss. Potential deficiencies and health risks are a serious concern without medical guidance. Research has not proven that HCG provides any benefit for weight loss beyond the standard effects of a semi-starvation diet. While the diet may lead to large short-term losses, it is not considered safe or sustainable long-term. More rigorous study is still needed on optimal protocols that minimize health risks. Like any fad diet, experts agree the HCG diet is not a substitute for adopting healthy eating patterns, exercising, and making lifestyle changes to support weight management over the long term.