Australia is famous for its gorgeous terrain, underwater reefs, enchanting people and unique animals like koala bears and kangaroos. But the country’s popular weight-loss plan called the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet gets little attention outside the land Down Under, especially in the U.S.
“I’ve never had a single client ask about the CSIRO diet. I think the lack of information about it is a huge limiting factor in the U.S.,” says Gabrielle Gambino, a registered dietitian with Weill Cornell Medical Center.
There are few details, Gambino notes, because people in the U.S. aren’t eligible to sign up for the program. It was created in 2005 by scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization — Australia’s national science research agency.
The diet website notes that more than 500,000 Australians have lost weight using the program. It’s available by either by buying a book (“The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet”) or signing up on a website and paying a fee (AU$200 to AU$300) to access to meal plans, recipes, apps, exercise programs and online community forums.
Used copies of the diet book are available to people in the U.S. through various internet retailers.
What Is the CSIRO Diet?
The CSIRO diet is a 12-week, high-protein eating plan that promises big results. Diet developers cite body weight-loss rates of 5% to 21% for people who stay on the program for all 12 weeks.
The diet premise is that protein keeps you full throughout the day so you won’t fill up on unnecessary calories. Diet developers claim this approach will:
— Control appetite by reducing food cravings.
— Enhance metabolism (converting food into energy).
— Reduce calories, since your food cravings are under control.
— Limit muscle loss.
— Improve fat loss.
Diet developers say these benefits are supported by lots of scientific evidence, although most studies are small or limited in the length of follow-up. “Some of the science has been funded by dairy and meat organizations. Critics suggest those groups had some say in how the diet was created,” Gambino says.
“I think researchers are exaggerating the findings,” says Liz Weinandy, the lead outpatient registered dietitian at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Protein can help with satiety and help maintain muscle mass, but once you get past a certain amount, it doesn’t have any benefits. And while it does take more calories to digest and process protein compared to carbs and fat, it doesn’t burn that many calories, maybe another 100 per day.”
CSIRO Diet Rules
The CSIRO diet sorts participants into plans based on dietary needs ( such as gluten-free foods) and their personalities. “You take a quiz that allows you to figure out your diet type. Within each type, they can give you guidance on eating habits, whether you crave and look for sweet foods, you socialize and eat with friends or you eat whatever is in front of you,” says Riley Peterson, a private practice dietitian in Denver.
Participants select a calorie limit based on their personal needs, and then use food categories to determine what they’ll eat, with a certain amount of servings per category. It’s intended for flexibility that can be utilized at home or out and about. Participants get points to use in each food group including:
“There’s also an indulgence category that allows you to bank points and use them for food items planned in advance like chocolate or sausages, chips or muffins — foods that don’t have much nutritional content,” Gambino points out.
Emphasis on Protein
“A really high GI index food would be a muffin with sugar in it, compared to a whole grain muffin with fiber, which is lower,” Peterson says.
Protein sources for the CSIRO diet can come from:
— Lean red meat such as beef, veal or lamb.
— Skinless chicken.
— Legumes such as beans, lentils or chickpeas.
— Tofu, tempeh, edamame beans or fermented bean curd.
“I’m concerned people will eat too much red meat on the diet, which is linked to certain cancers and increased ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels. I’ve seen CSIRO diet recommendations suggesting 200 grams of red meat four times a week. That’s about 7 ounces, four times a week, and that’s high in terms of red meat. We tell patients no more than two 4- to 6-ounce servings of lean red meat per week,” Gambino says.
How Much Protein Does the CSIRO Diet Include?
The CSIRO diet encourages people to consume between 1.2 and 1.6 grams of protein per kilo of body weight every day. For example:
— A woman who weighs 65 kilograms or 143 pounds would eat about 78-104 grams of protein per day on the CSIRO diet.
— A man who weighs 100 kilograms or 200 pounds would consume 120-160 grams of protein per day on the CSIRO diet.
Weinandy says that’s too much protein. “Most people don’t eat anywhere near that much unless they have big wounds and need protein to heal them, or they’re young athletes trying to build muscle,” she says.
By comparison, U.S. dietary guidelines recommend a daily protein intake of 46 to 52 grams of protein per day or 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
The Risks of Too Much Protein
Protein consumption is essential for bone and muscle health and other body functions. But eating too much protein can lead to:
— Kidney damage. “Waste products from metabolizing animal foods, especially protein, are eliminated through the kidneys. Too much protein stresses them. For someone with normal kidneys, in the short term, it’s not a problem. But it could cause kidney damage in someone with kidney disease,” Weinandy warns.
— Kidney stones. Eating too much protein increases uric acid levels. Uric acid can form into kidney stones.
Should You Try It?
Gambino, Peterson and Weinandy all recommend avoiding the CSIRO diet, noting that the eating plan:
— Focuses too much on protein instead of calories. “The takeaways of most studies that find weight loss are based on how many calories you take in and burn every day,” Gambino says.
— Is potentially risky for people sensitive to eating disorders. “They may find themselves taking it to the next extreme and making it more restrictive or becoming obsessed with the structure of the diet,” Peterson says.
— Is too restrictive to sustain for the long term. “Some people really do lose weight on high-protein diets. But in the long term, unless a person stays on that diet and makes behavior changes, they revert right back to their usual eating habits and the weight comes back,” Weinandy says. “If it’s not helping you change your behavior, it’s just another diet.”
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