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Measuring up

Diet books offer a wide range of advice

It's time to make that annual New Year's resolution to eat right and exercise. But there's conflicting advice on how to "eat right." High carbohydrates, low-protein. Low carbohydrates, high-protein. Low-fat, high fiber. Combinations.

And exercise? Well, take your pick. Low-intensity aerobics? High-intensity weight training? Yoga?

If it's been awhile since you've looked at diet books, you'll be surprised at what a difference a decade makes. The best-sellers of the 1990s — "The Zone," "Sugar Busters," "Carbohydrate Addict's Diet," and "Dr. Atkins" — challenged the low-fat, high-carbohydrate theme of the 1980s (Remember "Lower Your Fat Thermostat" and "Fit or Fat"?). The exercise advice, too, has changed from the '80s-style leotard-and-legwarmer aerobics to more weight training.

But many registered dietitians, who have spent years studying nutrition, say that the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets touted in some of the '90s books (and their many sequels) won't work for the long haul. They advise against "quick-fix" gimmicks and suggest that you go for long-term, lifestyle programs.

"The low-carb diets are scary; they lead to a lot of water weight loss, don't provide adequate vitamins and minerals, could damage your kidneys and really should not be followed long term," said Jessica Gibbons, outpatient dietitian for McKay-Dee Hospital Center.

The 21st century has brought a few new ideas to the marketplace, such as color-coding foods. For years, the "Mediterranean diet" was advocated for better health. Now researchers have come up with the "Okinawa Program." And, there are a few books, such as the "Take Control Diet," that return to the basics of counting calories and increasing physical activity.

If Santa didn't leave a diet book under the Christmas tree along with that box of chocolates, here's a rundown of some of the latest ones out there.

"BODY FOR LIFE," by Bill Phillips (Harper Collins, $26)

The author: Founder of Muscle Media magazine and creator of a nutritional supplements company, Experimental and Applied Sciences (EAS).

The theory: This book, on the best-seller list for much of 2001, promises to transform your body in 12 weeks. Backing up Phillips' advice are testimonials and before-and-after photos of people who won his "Body for Life" challenge. For motivation, write down your goals and progress and positively visualize your success.

The plan: Eating six small meals throughout the day to accelerate metabolism and "convince your body and mind there's not a famine around the corner." Each meal contains both protein and carbohydrates, with a serving of vegetables in at least two daily meals. Nutritional supplements and lots of water are also recommended. Exercise includes lots of weight training, and 20 minutes of progressively intense aerobics for 20 minutes a day, three times a week, first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

Pros and cons: Naysayers complain that contestants in the "Body for Life" challenge were required to use Phillips' nutritional supplement, Myoplex. However, the book's program can be followed without using nutritional supplements.

" 'Body for Life' falls into the category of books and programs that have good recommendations but then require a bank-full of supplements — something that we do not generally recommend as necessary," said Julie Metos, a registered dietitian with Primary Children's Medical Center.

"Although it is does not follow the (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid exactly, it does promote very regular exercise, both aerobic and strength training, and it also allows you to eat healthy carbs," said Jessica Gibbons, a registered dietitian with McKay-Dee Hospital Center. "It is a diet that could realistically be followed for a lifetime."

"BODY RX," by A. Scott Connelly, M.D. (Putnam, $25)

The author: Inventor of MET-Rx nutritional supplements.

The theory: A "6-Pack Prescription" is a program of four six-week cycles (strength training, sculpting, fat burning and maintenance/endurance), each with its own eating plan, exercise program and optional nutritional supplements. In six months, you'll have the body you want, promises A. Scott Connelly.

Eating plan: Lots of high-fiber complex carbohydrates and low-fat protein, and eliminating processed foods containing fructose — "The stealth bomber of sweeteners." He emphasizes "nutrient partitioning," the principle that "a metabolic traffic cop" directs nutrients into fat-burning muscles or parks them as stored fat. Exercise focus is on weight training, with 20 exercises that work all the major muscle groups. The only way to get a better body is to make muscle (through weight training) to burn fat, writes Connelly. Calorie counting, endless aerobics and food deprivation will only rob you of muscle and make you fatter, he says.

Pros and cons: Recommends the use of nutritional supplements, which dietitians commenting on "Body for Life" point out, isn't necessary.

"WHAT COLOR IS YOUR DIET?" by David Heber, M.D. and Susan Bowerman (HarperCollins, $25)

The author (Heber): Director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.

The theory: Eating more colorful foods (fruits and vegetables) can ward off a variety of illnesses, including cancer, heart problems and even Alzheimer's disease. The traditional food pyramid is turned into a color wheel, as the book cites research that thousands of chemical compounds — known as phytochemicals, which naturally exist in fruits and vegetables — can help prevent disease. The more colorful the diet, the better the chances of remaining healthy. Besides warding off disease, these choices will also help you lose body fat. It claims to be, "The only book that teaches you how to eat specifically for your genetic makeup."

The plan: Avoid so much beige and brown foods (meats and starches). Instead, choose five to nine servings each day from seven color groups: red (tomatoes and watermelons); yellow/green (avocados and spinach); green (broccoli, brussels sprouts); orange (carrots, pumpkins); orange/yellow (papaya, pineapple, citrus fruits); white/green (garlic, onion, chives) and red/purple (cranberries, blueberries, strawberries). Each color group has its own phytochemicals. Huber suggests that at least half your protein intake be from soy and that breads, etc., be whole-grain. He includes diet plans for men (1,800 to 2,000 calories) and women (1,200 to 1,400 calories) and 19 recipes to get you started. Though the emphasis is on plant-based foods, most of his recipes are not vegetarian.

Pros and cons: It's a good idea to get more fruits and vegetables in your diet. But if you cut out all beiges and browns, it would be hard to get enough grains as recommended in the USDA Food Guide Pyramid.

"LIVE RIGHT 4 YOUR TYPE," by Peter D'Adamo (Putnam, $24)

The author: A doctor of naturopathic medicine.

The theory: This is a sequel to "Eat Right 4 Your Type," which says that a person's blood type determines what he or she should eat for better health. Each of the four basic blood types (O, A, B, and AB) has a detailed list of foods to avoid and foods to embrace. You'll drop pounds as your body rids itself of toxins and fat, and you can avoid diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Sequels include "Cook Right 4 Your Type" and "Live Right For Your Type."

The plan: Type O people, for example, should restrict dairy foods, eliminate wheat products and eat more meat. Type A folks should limit meat, eat beans and fruits and vegetables, and avoid fresh milk products. Type B can eat seafood but avoid chicken, corn, buckwheat, lentils, peanuts, sesame seeds and tomatoes. Type AB should limit red meat, avoid chicken and fresh milk products, and consume vitamin A-rich foods such as carrots.

Pros and cons: This is a quacky diet, said Jessica Gibbons, a registered dietitian. "I don't know how they came up with this one, but it is bizarre. The strangest thing about it is that they say our ancestors used to eat this way. Are you telling me that our ancestors knew what their blood types were? And did all persons with the same blood type hang out in packs?"

The diet is hard to follow — if several family members have different blood types, it means cooking several different meals each night.

"SOMERSIZE DESSERTS," by Suzanne Somers (Crown, $14.95)

The author: Actress and "Thighmaster' marketer.

The theory: This recipe book is a sequel to "Get Skinny on Fabulous Foods," and "Eat, Cheat and Lose Weight," which tout a low carbohydrate, food-combining plan. You eliminate "Funky Foods" like sugar and white flour that cause an insulin response in the body and cause it to store fat. You should eat fruits alone on an empty stomach; eat proteins and fats with vegetables and without carbohydrates; eat carbohydrates with vegetables and without fat.

The plan: This book doesn't fully explain the eating plan; it contains dessert recipes that use a sugar substitute called "SomerSweet" that can be ordered from Somers' Web site.

Pros and cons: The book doesn't explain her food-combining theories, so you would first have to buy her other books, then buy her sweetener. (The recipes give substitutions for using saccharin or sugar, but since sugar is supposed to be a Funky Food, that would seem to defeat the purpose.) There are no fat and calorie counts, but judging from the ingredients (heavy cream, cream cheese, butter) they're not low-calorie. Also, Somers lost credibility earlier this year when she admitted on CNN's "Larry King Live" that she had liposuction prior to the book's publicity tour. She said she had undergone a partial mastectomy due to breast cancer, and the liposuction was to "smooth things out."

"THE TAKE CONTROL DIET," by Ian K. Smith, M.D. (Random House, $25).

The author: Medical correspondent on NBC's "Today Show."

The theory: Crash diets and trendy "high-protein" diets don't work and can jeopardize health. If you take in more energy (calories) than you burn off through exercise, you'll gain weight.

The plan: There are no magic bullets here; only the stuff dietitians have been telling us for years. The Food Guide Pyramid, high-fiber foods, unsaturated fats, more fruits and vegetables, and good old exercise, are all here.

Pros and cons: Dr. Smith could use a little more optimism, rather than telling us how hard diets are, how we need mental toughness and realistic expectations. Statements such as, "The number of people who maintain a double-digit weight loss over five years is less than 10 percent," probably won't inspire a reader to get up and get going.

"FORMULA 101" MAINTAINING 40-30-30," by Gene and Joyce Daoust (Ballantyne Books, $22)

The authors: Former owners of a nutrition and weight-loss nutrition clinic who worked with Dr. Barry Sears, author of "The Zone."

The theory: This is a follow-up to "The Formula," which focuses on the "ideal" balance of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent proteins, and 30 percent fats to "maximize your body's ability to burn stored fat for energy."

The plan: Have only one starchy food per meal. Get rid of junk food. Cottage cheese, salmon, beef, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and liquid meal replacements are all OK. It's also good to get 30 percent of your diet from fats because they slow the digestion, keeping blood sugar levels normal. Spend 40 percent of your total exercise time on aerobics; 30 percent on anaerobic exercise (i.e. weightlifting), and 30 percent on stretching. Also, don't load up on carbohydrate foods before exercising; that minimizes your ability to burn fat during exercise.

Pros and cons: You need to read "The Formula" in order to get the complete plan.

The diet is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid recommends.

DIET- STEP 20/20," by Fred A. Stuttman, M.D. (Medical Manor, $15.95)

The author: Also wrote "The Doctor's Walking Book," and "Dietwalk."

The theory: Your diet should contain 20 grams of fat and 20 grams of fiber per day in order to accelerate weight lost and eliminate factors that raise your blood cholesterol.

The plan: The diet allows breakfast, lunch, dinner, a midday and an evening snack. (For example, one breakfast consists of two small whole-grain pancakes topped with fresh fruit or sugar-free syrup, and 1/2 cup of orange juice or one medium orange. Dinner is a 3-ounce lean sirloin steak with grilled onions, a medium baked potato without butter or sour cream, and 1 cup steamed vegetables. The program also recommends 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, six days per week, such as brisk walking.

Pros and cons: The diet is so restrictive on fat and calories, it would be hard to adopt for life. (Who wants a baked potato without even a smidgen of sour cream?)

"THE OKINAWA PROGRAM: How the World's Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health — and How You Can Too," by Bradley J. Wilcox, M.D., Makoto Suzuki, M.D., and Craig Wilcox, Ph.D. (Three Rivers Press, $24)

The authors: Researchers in a 25-year Okinawa Centenarian Study.

The theory: The Japanese island of Okinawa has the world's highest concentration of centenarians and likely the world's longest life expectancy for any country or state. It's due to more than just good genes; Okinawans who move to other countries and abandon their protective lifestyle patterns don't live as long.

The plan: A diet that is about 10 percent to 40 percent lower in overall calories than the traditional American diet, with about 26 percent of daily calories from "good" fats (omega-3, mono-unsaturated fat). The diet is high in vegetables and fruits, and relies more on fish and soy foods for protein instead of meat. Traditional Okinawan food culture of "hara hachi bu," which means you stop eating when you feel 80 percent full, fits with the American theory that it takes about 20 minutes after eating to accurately sense fullness. The Okinawans also have a more optimistic, easygoing approach to life, with moderation a key cultural value. Strong social and family ties and deep spirituality are also highlighted.

Pros and cons: It is more of a longevity, lifestyle diet than a quick weight-loss program and could take some time to adopt in the American lifestyle.

E-mail: vphillips@desnews.com