Is the HCG Diet Safe? (2024)

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

HCG, which stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, is known as the pregnancy hormone since it is produced during pregnancy by the placenta. The HCG diet plan, however, has nothing to do with pregnancy. It is a controversial weight loss plan that combines illegal HCG supplements or hormone injections with an extremely low-calorie diet.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved prescriptions for HCG drugs for the treatment of female infertility. No HCG supplements may be legally sold in the United States for weight loss and the FDA has issued a warning about their safety and fraudulent weight-loss claims.

The HCG diet plan combines manufactured HCG supplements or injections of the HCG hormone with an extreme reduction in calories. Divided into three phases, the diet is a short-term program intended to help people lose dramatic amounts of weight in three to six weeks. Many HCG proponents claim the diet can cause weight loss of up to two pounds per day.

While you may shed pounds quickly on the HCG diet plan, it is not recognized by health experts as safe. According to the FDA, there is “no substantial evidence” that it’s even effective. Most experts agree that weight loss achieved on the HCG diet plan is due to extreme calorie restriction, not the HCG hormone itself.

The HCG diet is highly unsafe, unhealthy, and illegal. This article should be used solely for informational purposes since health experts discourage anyone from trying it. There are many other weight loss options to consider that are much safer.

What Experts Say

“The HCG diet claims human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) products and severely restricting calories will lead to rapid weight loss. Experts warn that you should steer clear of this diet. Not only is it extreme and unsustainable, but over-the-counter HCG products are illegal.”

Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

The HCG Diet Plan

Some supplement-based diets claim to boost metabolism, but the HCG diet is based on the idea of altering the body’s hormones to turn fat into fuel.A typical HCG diet plan is divided into three phases: the loading phase, the weight loss phase, and the maintenance phase.

Loading Phase

The loading phase claims to prepare the body for the caloric restriction it will enter during the weight-loss phase. During this brief two-day “primer,” people preparing to begin the HCG diet plan eat extremely high fat, high-calorie foods—up to 250 grams per day—and are encouraged to eat as much fat and as many calories as possible. (For reference, this is 2,250 calories a day just from fat.)

Daily HCG hormone supplements or injections also begin at this time. Theoretically, this phase “stocks” the normal fat cells you want to keep and prepares the body to burn “abnormal” fat.

Weight-Loss Phase

Next, adherents continue their HCG supplements while consuming either 500 or 800 calories per day, spread over two meals. The weight-loss phase may last three to six weeks, depending on an individual's weight-loss goals.

Maintenance Phase

Once someone on the HCG diet plan sheds their desired weight, they gradually discontinue supplementation of the HCG hormone while slowly increasing calories. Though HCG diet plan resources do not specify the number of calories you’ll eventually reach to maintain weight loss, some state that 1,200 to 1,500 is an appropriate target.

During the brief "loading phase" of the HCG diet plan, there are no limitations on what or how much to eat. Once the weight loss phase begins, however, there are several foods the diet discourages—and only a few that are considered acceptable.

How Many Calories to Consume

The HCG diet plan recommends eating either 500 or 800 calories spread over two meals per day. The timing of these meals isn’t critical, but in general, calories are divided equally between lunch and dinner.

An intake of 800 calories per day (or lower) is considered a very low calorie diet (VLCD). It is not recommended to restrict one's calories to this level without being monitored by a healthcare professional.

For breakfast, the diet recommends coffee or tea, which can be sweetened with stevia or saccharine. Since the HCG diet plan also allows for one tablespoon of milk per day, some people elect to put it in their coffee at breakfast.

The HCG diet plan requires no specific recipes, but many online resources offer suggestions for meal plans that stay within the 500-calorie-per-day target. With calories divided between two meals a day, people on the HCG diet can expect to take in about 250 calories at lunch and dinner.

While the 500-calorie version of the HCG diet plan is the most well-known, there is an alternate 800-calorie plan, Proponents of the HCG diet plan have found the 800-calorie version more satisfying but have experienced less dramatic weight loss.

Research indicates that the HCG hormone does not work the way originally theorized. No studies have confirmed that it fuels weight loss. In fact, studies conducted on the diet reveal that HCG injections make no difference in weight reduction when compared with a placebo.

What You Can Eat on the HCG Diet Plan

Acceptable foods on the HCG Diet include lean proteins, certain approved vegetables and fruits, seasonings, and coffee, tea, or water to drink.

Lean Protein

The two daily meals on the HCG diet are based around a 3.5-ounce serving of lean protein. Approved choices include chicken, egg whites, white fish, crab, lobster, scallops, extra-lean beef, and bison.

Approved Vegetables

Only certain vegetables are allowed on the HCG diet plan. To accompany lean protein at lunch and dinner, one serving of spinach, chard, beet greens, cabbage, lettuce, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, onion, shallots, or radishes are allowed.

Approved Fruits

As with vegetables, a limited number of fruits are approved on the HCG diet plan. These include berries, citrus fruits, and apples, which can be consumed once at lunch and once at dinner.

Herbs and Spices

Because herbs and spices are largely low- or no-calorie, they’re the primary means of flavoring food on the HCG diet plan. HCG-compliant recipes often use garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper, rosemary, or thyme to season meats and vegetables.

Coffee, Tea, and Water

People on the HCG diet plan can drink as much coffee, tea, and water as they like. Coffee and tea may only be sweetened with stevia or saccharine, however, and the diet allows for one tablespoon of milk per day to add richness to hot drinks.

Truvia vs. Stevia: How They Compare, According to Dietitians

HCG Diet Plan Forbidden Foods

The list of foods that cannot be consumed on the HCG diet plan is extensive. Some are common across many diets, like sugary foods, sweets, and desserts. But some are more surprising, such as oils, which often contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can be healthy.

Dairy

Aside from one tablespoon of milk per day, the HCG diet plan’s weight-loss phase does not permit dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or any additional milk.

High-Carb Foods

The HCG diet plan limits not only calories but also carbohydrates. While a single piece of Melba toast or one breadstick may be permissible at dinner (depending on the level of calorie intake), grains, muffins, bread, pasta, and other high-carb foods are otherwise prohibited.

Fats and Oils

Fats and oils don’t make an appearance on the HCG diet plan. Because of the diet’s dramatic limitation of caloric intake, there’s no room for the nine calories per gram of fats. (This includes salad dressings.)

Sugary Beverages and Alcohol

The HCG diet plan steers clear of empty calories in beverages like soda, beer, and wine might contribute. Coffee, tea, and water are the only acceptable beverages in this program.

Sweets and Desserts

Sweets and desserts are not allowed in the HCG diet plan. High-calorie items like cookies, candies, or cakes could easily contain as many calories as a single HCG meal, so they’re omitted entirely.

Pros of the HCG Diet Plan

Rapid Weight Loss

Going on the HCG diet plan will probably lead to rapid weight loss—at least initially. However, as the evidence shows, HCG hormone injections do not influence the amount of weight that people lose. Any weight loss is due solely to reducing calories.

Easy to Follow

The HCG diet plan is not hard to follow in terms of structure. Its three phases and calorie targets are quite specific, and the number of calories or units of hormonal injections does not vary from person to person.

Cons of the HCG Diet Plan

HCG Supplements Are Illegal

In the U.S., HCG injections and supplements may only be legally prescribed to treat female infertility. The FDA has banned all over-the-counter HCG products and, therefore, any HCG product sold as a weight-loss aid is illegal.

HCG Diet Plan is Expensive

While reducing your calories on the HCG diet plan may save you money on groceries, the required hormonal injections certainly aren’t cheap. It is difficult to obtain exact figures for the cost of injections since their use in weight loss is illegal.

May Cause Extreme Hunger

Abstaining from food for short periods leads to serious hunger. But when calorie deprivation is extended and while undergoing severe calorie restriction (such as a VLCD), it may result in not just hunger, but also unpleasant side effects like headaches, brain fog, fatigue, and dizziness.

Supplements May Not Contain HCG

There is no oversight of over-the-counter supplements, including HCG supplements. As mentioned, HCG is only legally prescribed to treat female infertility. Some supplement makers might call HCG "homeopathic," but that does not change the fact that there is no oversight about what the supplements contain.

May Lead to Disordered Eating

Not getting enough daily calories for an extended period of time can lead to an intense state of hunger. This may cause some people to binge eat or get caught in a loop of disordered eating, cycling through periods of restriction followed by overindulgence.

Going without entire categories of healthy food groups for weeks at a time is likely to result in nutrient deficiencies.

Is the HCG Diet Plan a Healthy Choice for You?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods including fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy products, and healthy fats for a well-balanced diet. The HCG diet plan’s restrictive nature can easily create major gaps in categories like dairy and whole grains.

The USDA also advises that adult women consume 1,600 to 2,400 calories each day to maintain a healthy weight while adult men need between 2,200 and 3,200 calories per day. While these recommendations may vary by age and activity level, the HCG diet plan’s offering of just 500 to 800 calories falls short of a healthy caloric intake for adults.Use this calculator to find the right number of calories to meet your goals in a healthy, sustainable way. Keep in mind that the calorie goal provided is just an estimate. Each person has their own nutritional needs.

Federal nutrition guidelines state that the average adult needs around 2,000 calories per day for weight management and 1,500 a day for weight loss, but the HCG diet plan meets only a fraction of these requirements. Following a very low-calorie diet without medical supervision is dangerous and may cause nutrient deficiencies.

A Word From Verywell

Many people have found the HCG diet plan’s promises of rapid, dramatic weight loss appealing. However, the lack of evidence supporting its effectiveness and the dangers of its extreme calorie restriction and illegal supplements is not worth the risk. For most people, a realistic and balanced weight loss plan is a healthier, sustainable choice.

Remember, following a long- or short-term diet may not be necessary for you, and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight-loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

Understanding Portion Control and Healthy Eating

Is the HCG Diet Safe? (2024)

FAQs

Is the HCG Diet Safe? ›

Let's be 100% clear: There is NO safe or legitimate way to follow the HCG diet. That's because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't approved HCG for weight loss purposes. In fact, they've issued warnings about the dangers of this approach to weight loss.

Is the hCG diet safe? ›

Has the HCG diet been shown to be safe and effective? Answer From Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. No on both counts. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has advised consumers to steer clear of over-the-counter weight-loss products that contain HCG.

How much weight can you lose in 21 days on hCG? ›

How much can you lose on hCG in 21 days? Most hCG dieters report a loss of 1 to 2 lbs a day. The weight loss phase typically lasts for 3-6 weeks and involves daily injections of hCG.

What is the hCG diet lawsuit? ›

The Federal Trade Commission has sued an Arizona man who markets HCG Platinum diet products by falsely claiming the products will cause consumers to lose substantial amounts of weight. Kevin Wright and his companies must respond to the complaint in federal court.

What happens if you eat over 500 calories on the hCG diet? ›

Oddly enough, if you eat over 500 calories/day, or foods not on the diet (i.e. a bite of a donut), you will often have severe hunger. It seems counter-intuitive, but it is important that your fat stores are full when you begin the 500 calorie/day diet, since your body uses these first for energy.

Why is hCG no longer available? ›

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission said over-the-counter weight loss products containing human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) are fraudulent and illegal, and the agencies have told seven manufacturers to stop selling them. They have become a popular but fraudulent fad.

What happens if you eat fat on the hCG diet? ›

Please note that while on this protocol, it is important that you avoid consumption of non-organic products as many of these foods will contain fats and oils. The consumption of these hidden fats can significantly reduce the effects of the diet and alter your results. For maximum effect (losing 1 -2 lbs.

Will HCG help me lose belly fat? ›

Any diet that's this low in calories will make you lose weight. However, numerous studies have found that the hCG hormone has no effect on weight loss and doesn't reduce your appetite.

How to speed up weight loss on HCG diet? ›

Exercise – Moderate Exercise (based on your previous exercise levels) If you aren't losing as you would like stop exercising while on the diet. Increase water intake to 6-8 glasses per day. Try increasing your protein by . 5 ounces.

What happens if I only eat 500 calories a day for a month? ›

Danger of deficiencies

The greatest dangers associated with a 500-calorie diet relate to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to many health problems. In fact, most people cannot meet their vitamin and mineral requirements if they eat less than 1200 calories per day.

Why did HCG get banned? ›

Because hCG and estrogen blockers produce marked increase in blood testosterone concentration in men, this provides strong evidence to support the banning of hCG and estrogen blockers in men.

Is HCG going off the market? ›

Due to new FDA regulations, access to compounded HCG is now extremely restricted and is likely to stop altogether.

What foods can't you eat on a HCG diet? ›

High-Carb Foods

The HCG diet plan limits not only calories but also carbohydrates. While a single piece of Melba toast or one breadstick may be permissible at dinner (depending on the level of calorie intake), grains, muffins, bread, pasta, and other high-carb foods are otherwise prohibited.

Can I eat more protein on HCG diet? ›

Lean Proteins: High-quality, lean proteins such as chicken breast, fish, and lean beef are staples in the HCG diet. These protein sources are not only satisfying but also essential for maintaining muscle mass during the calorie-restricted phase.

Is HCG a crash diet? ›

Indeed, Lam admits that hCG fits the dictionary definition of a crash diet.

Do you gain weight back after an HCG diet? ›

When a person who is used to high-calorie intake is on HCG diet, the body assumes that it is in starvation mode. When you consume more calories instantly after completing the diet, your body fights to hold on to every calorie (in case there is another starvation mode coming up) which leads to weight gain.

Who should not take hCG? ›

Some women using this medicine have developed a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), especially after the first treatment cycle. You should NOT use this medicine if you are at risk for a hormone-related cancer such as tumor of the breast, ovary, uterus, prostate, hypothalamus, or pituitary gland.

Does hCG have side effects? ›

Headache, restlessness, tiredness, or pain at injection site may occur. If any of these effects last or get worse, tell your doctor or pharmacist promptly. Remember that this medication has been prescribed because your doctor has judged that the benefit to you is greater than the risk of side effects.

How long can you do the hCG diet? ›

Patients with 15 lbs or less to lose will continue the hCG plus VLCD for 26 days. If you have more than 15 lbs to lose, the treatment takes 40 days. For those that need to lose more than 40 lbs, you must wait 6 weeks before initiating another course of hCG.

Is hCG a crash diet? ›

Indeed, Lam admits that hCG fits the dictionary definition of a crash diet.

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