Updated 21 March 2015

Is the Zoe Harcombe diet right for you?

Are you a yo-yo dieter? Do you struggle with food cravings? Do you want a diet that is sustainable long-term? The Harcombe diet may be right for you.


Could losing weight and keeping it off really be as easy as just eating real food? According to UK nutritionist Zoe Harcombe it is.

She developed the much talked about Harcombe Diet after years of unsuccessful dieting herself and her subsequent 20 years of research into these calorie counting diets.

Her conclusion? It’s not unlike the controversial low carbohydrate high fat diet Tim Noakes has come under so much fire for - the calorie theory is wrong and counting calories will not only lead to weight gain, but potentially also food intolerances, hypoglycaemia and candida overgrowth. Harcombe places great emphasis on combatting candida with her diet.

In a nutshell, the Harcombe Diet emphasises the types and combinations of food you eat rather than quantities. But above all else, it advocates eating natural foods as opposed to processed foods.

The Harcombe Dietsimplified

The Harcombe Diet has three phrases, all of which focus the spotlight on eating nutrient-dense food in order to get the 13 vitamins and 16 minerals our bodies need to be healthy.

Phase 1: This phase lasts for five days. Which is a very do-able time-frame, although Zoe does say that if you have more than 10kg to lose you can continue in phase 1 for longer.  In this first stage, you can eat all the meat and fish you want and all vegetables - except potatoes and mushrooms. And you can have a limited amount of what she calls ‘safe grains’ which includes brown rice, quinoa and porridge oats.

Breakfast ideas include omelettes and porridge oats. Lunch suggestions  include chicken salads and dinners could be steak and salad or butternut squash curry.

Phase 2: This phase lasts for as long as you need to lose weight. In this phase fruit, dairy, baked potatoes and whole grains are re-introduced. Harcombe has three primary rules for this phase:

1. Don't eat processed foods.

2. Don't eat fats and carbohydrates in the same meal. The reason for this is because eating both carbs and fats together, means the carbs are used for energy and the fat is stored as body fat causing weight gain. If you eat fat alone, however, the body uses it for energy/cell repair and doesn't store it.

3. Don't eat foods that cause your cravings. Not sure what that is? Well if you can't wait to reintroduce something then this is your problem food!

Phase 3: This is the phase that’s meant to last for life. It teaches you the rules to ‘cheat’ without putting weight back on.  Basically these three tips apply here:

1. Don’t ‘cheat’ too much;

2. Don’t ‘cheat’ too often;

3. Be alert and stay in control.

What the experts say about it

Health24’s DietDoc has mixed feelings about this diet, saying that although it appears to be yet another low-­carb, high-­protein, high-­fat diet with the added touch of promising to prevent or cure Candida infections, there are some positives to this diet.

“The slightly more positive aspects of this diet are that users are advised to stick to the very strict phase of the diet for only five days and then change over to a slightly more balanced form of food intake, including very ­low­fat dairy products, some low­GI or high­-fibre grains, legumes, etc), thus avoiding some serious flaws associated with high­-protein, high-­fat, zero­ carb diets, namely:

- Potential ketosis, which although touted as the ‘goal’ of all the Atkins ­type diets, can be highly dangerous to health

- The very low calcium intake due to banning all milk and dairy products which can lead to brittle bones in the short ­term, and/or osteoporosis in the long­ term

- Pronounced constipation caused by the intake of practically no dietary fibre because all carbs are banned and the “zero ­carb vegetables” that are included contain practically no dietary fibre.

However, DietDoc cautions that there is no guarantee that anyone who embarks on this diet will not continue with the initial phase for long periods of time causing serious damage to their health.

With regard to the proclaimed benefits of this diet on Candida infections, DietDoc points out that any influence food has on Candida has been refuted by leading microbiologists and says the only sensible methods of combating Candida infections include:

- Probiotics (beneficial microorganisms such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria) by mouth and per vagina.

- In very hard-to­-treat cases, the type of fungus infection must first be identified by culturing an oral or vaginal swab and a specific anti-fungal treatment must be applied until the fungus is eradicated.

- Not eating foods that have been fermented or because they contain carbs or sugar to cure candida, is like trying to reach the moon on a broomstick!

So in conclusion, DietDoc concedes that while the Harcombe diet may help some people lose weight it will more than likely be because it is encouraging them to pay attention to what they eat. However, she is doubtful of the long-term success of maintaining such weight loss.

Read more

Do we really need 'five-a-day for health'?

Zoë Harcombe – reversing the obesity epidemic
Low carb vs low fat diet – which is best for weight loss?

Why we get fat, according to Gary Taubes


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