A simple diet where you lose weight by eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine? Where do I sign up?
Does this trendy diet of chocolate and red wine actually work?
These are the highlights of the Sirtfood Diet—though there’s a bit more to it than eating chocolate, drinking wine, and losing weight. The concept behind the diet is that you eat certain foods that will turn on your “skinny gene,” which triggers a cascade of reactions that ultimately lead to “weight loss and improved resistance to disease,” as described in the book The Sirtfood Diet.
The diet purportedly helped singer Adele lose 50 lb. Sounds too good to be true? Maybe, maybe not.
Let’s take a close look at this chocolate-and-wine diet and see if the science backs up its “clinically proven” regimen.
The Sirtfood Diet was started by a pair of nutritionists in England. Their concept is that when you cut calories or fast, your body’s cells call for energy, which activates the “skinny gene.” This gene (a group of genes, actually, called sirtuins) triggers a string of reactions. For one, the body switches into “survival mode,” halting its normal growth processes. As a result, it stops storing fat and starts burning it instead. And, voilà, weight loss.
Of course, the problem with this fasting process is that it can lead to hunger, as well as irritability, fatigue, and muscle loss.
Here’s where the dark chocolate and red wine come in. The founders of the diet say that certain foods—“sirtfoods”—are especially rich in specific polyphenols that activate the same sirtuin genes that fasting triggers. So, by eating these foods, you activate the sirtuin (skinny) genes, which subsequently burn fat so you lose weight—all without the side effect of hunger, according to the diet’s founders.
But that’s not all: Sirtuins also appear to reduce inflammation and repair cell damage, making you healthier.
Notable sirtfoods include:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Green tea (matcha)
- Medjool dates
- Red onion
- Red wine
What’s the plan?
The goal of the first week of the 3-week Sirtfood Diet is to lose 7 lb. This is done by eating and drinking a total of only 1,000 calories of just sirtfoods a day for the first 3 days. Most of these calories are consumed in green juice (a concoction made of kale, arugula, parsley, celery, green apple, lemon juice, and matcha green tea).
For the next 4 days, you eat and drink the equivalent of about 1,500 calories per day in sirtfoods. According to the diet’s creators, people who follow this program don’t get particularly hungry.
The following 2 weeks of the diet is the maintenance phase, in which you should continue to steadily lose weight. During this phase, you eat three sirtfood-rich meals and one green juice per day, with no calorie restrictions.
After this 3-week crash course, you maintain your (anticipated) amazing weight loss and newfound health by regularly including sirtfoods in your meals and guzzling the green juice every day.
How does it work?
As we mentioned above, diet is based on this concept of “skinny” sirtuin genes. So, what are they? In mammals, the sirtuin genes produce a group of seven enzymes that were initially shown to slow aging in yeast. These enzymes were also found to increase longevity in mice. Furthermore, the sirtuin enzymes can be activated by calorie restriction and by polyphenols. The polyphenol that has been most investigated in this regard is resveratrol, the compound found in red wine and dark chocolate.
So, in theory, this diet should work. Lower your calories and eat sirtfoods (which are rich in polyphenols), and—bam!—the sirtuins will kick in and start burning fat. Indeed, researchers have shown that activation of the Sirt1 (sirtuin 1) enzyme burns fat (white adipose tissue) in mouse fat cells as well as in live mice.
That’s great for chubby mice. But, so far, the fat-burning effect hasn’t been proven in humans, despite research that specifically investigated this question. In one small study in humans, for instance, resveratrol and caloric restriction did indeed increase serum concentrations of Sirt1—but the only caloric restriction was responsible for reducing people’s waist size and lowering lipid levels.
But, if activating sirtuins actually could burn fat and reduce weight in humans, it would be a huge development. To that end, numerous researchers and pharmaceutical companies are busy developing a sirtuin-triggering drug that could do just that.
Eating a diet that includes a lot of “sirtfoods”—that is, foods high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory polyphenols—and cutting calories is actually a fairly healthy and likely beneficial thing to do, nutritionists say. But, this particular diet, especially during the restrictive first week, doesn’t appear to provide enough calories or a wide enough variety of foods to make it sustainable.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with a bite of chocolate and a sip of wine now and again.
By John Murphy