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Diet Books

Diet books should promote healthy, balanced meals (like this salmon dish with vegetables).

Diet Books: Nutritionists’ Look

In a departure from my usual focus on food, this week I’d like to shed light on popular diet books. After all, maybe you’re looking for a late-summer read. Or maybe you’re thinking about losing those last 5 pounds for Labor Day festivities. Or maybe you’re thinking ahead to September, and getting a jump start on putting your healthy habits back on track. Or maybe you’re simply fascinated by diet books! Whatever the reason may be for perusing the diet book aisle (whether in store or on-line), be armed with a professional opinion on some of the most popular choices.

The diet book genre remains strong, but not all are created equal. To help sort fact from fiction, a team of nutrition experts (registered dietitians) have succinctly reviewed over 100 diet books. What’s covered: the claim, the diet plan, nutritional strengths and weaknesses, and a bottom line summary statement.

Read on for a closer look at 3 of today’s most popular diet books, and 3 that should be more popular. Or to see if your favorite diet book has been reviewed by nutrition experts, check out the full listing of reviews at the American Dietetic Association.

Books about the Dukan Diet, the 4-Hour Body, and the 17-Day Diet are all flying off the shelves, but should they be? Before providing a nutritionist’s view on those 3 books, may I humbly suggest taking a look at the more reasonable 3 choices below?


The New Sonoma Diet: Trimmer Waist, More Energy in Just 10 Days
By Connie Cuttersen, PhD, RD (Sterling Publishing Company, 2010)

As reviewed by Vandana R. Sheth, RD, CDE, this book promotes flavorful ingredients, and the pleasures of foods that are healthy and delicious. The book’s claims are science-based, and it emphasizes wholesome foods, while avoiding overly processed foods. It offers flexible eating plans, has tips for dining out and eating mindfully. As Sheth notes, the tips and tools that really stand out are the “Sonoma Express” quick meals that help readers cook once-eat twice, and a pull-out guide for dining out and grocery shopping.

Read the full review here:

Prevent a Second Heart Attack
By Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RD, LDN (Three Rivers Press, 2011)

As reviewed by Ximena Jimenez, MS, RD, LDN, this book promises heart attack survivors a plan to reduce their risk of another one by up to 70 percent. The eating plan is based on the Mediterranean diet, and promotes a lifestyle of healthy eating (vs. a fad diet). The food recommendations are science-based and focus on improving cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and general health. The heart-health diet is one of the least restrictive “therapeutic diets” an RD or MD can prescribe, and closely resembles the dietary recommendations from the likes of the American Heart Association, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Read the full review here:

The Italian Diet
By Gino D’Acampo (Kyle Books, 2010)

As reviewed by Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, this is more of a cookbook with smatterings of nutrition advice. The introduction is written by an RD, who covers the basics of a Mediterranean style of eating. The focus moves away from weight-loss specifically, and towards a lifestyle of healthy eating. What a dieter will appreciate are the 1-week menus at 1500 and 2000 calorie levels, nutrition information for all the recipes, and helpful chapters such as “lunch to go” and “desserts.” This would be useful for the reader who enjoys cooking and is looking for healthy meal ideas to fit into a healthy lifestyle.

Read the full review here:


17 Day Diet
By Mike Moreno (Simon & Schuster’s Free Press, 2011)

As reviewed by Manuel Villacorta, MS, RD, CSSD, this diet is based on “metabolic confusion” or “body confusion”, which refers to changing eating patterns in order to keep metabolism from settling into homeostasis. It promises losing up to 10-15 pounds in the first 17 days. (Recall that healthy weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week).

Pros: It includes foods from all food groups, and the diet largely promotes minimally processed foods (except for breakfast).

Cons: There’s no evidence that the body’s metabolism can be so easily “confused” in the way described in this book. Fruit is restricted after 2 PM. Eating on the diet during the week and saving “favorite foods” for the weekends could backfire as an occasional binge, or worse: long-term disordered eating patterns. An overall balanced diet is a better bet and promotes healthier habits.

Bottom line: Any low-calorie diet will help people lose weight. This diet is confusing, can be restrictive, and promotes its own branded products. Plus, better to learn a lifestyle of moderation in healthy eating (not just on the weekends!)

Read the full review here:

Dukan Diet
By Pierre Dukan (Crown Archetype, 2011)

As reviewed by registered dietitian Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN, the diet promises to help with quick weight loss without calorie-counting or weighing foods. It also promises to help keep the weight off.

Pros: Meat-lovers will appreciate the focus on animal proteins.

Cons: Initial weight loss may be from water loss. Also, restricting carbs (the body and the brain’s preferred fuel source), forces the body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis has been linked to kidney damage and gout. The initial phase is restrictive, and as Ansel says, can have side effects such as fatigue, bad breath, constipation and dry mouth.

Bottom line: Any low-calorie diet will help people lose weight. The health concerns make this diet hard to recommend.

Read the full review here:

4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman
By Timothy Ferriss (Crown Archetype, 2010)

As reviewed by Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, this book promises the reader they can lose 20 pounds in 30 days without exercise. Sound too good to be true? Probably is.

Pros: The plan is simple and may appeal to people who don’t enjoy cooking. Red wine lovers will also enjoy the recommendation for a daily glass (or two!).

Cons: Lack of variety may be boring for the average omnivore. Scientific evidence may be discussed, but can be taken out of context; and it doesn’t always support the claims, such as those about excluding fruit, whole grains, and dairy. Losing whole food groups like that means missing out on their important nutrients (and going against a large body of evidence that actually recommends eating more from these groups). Using testimonials and self-experience is one of the least robust ways to support a healthy eating recommendation.

Bottom line: Any low-calorie diet will help people lose weight. The deprivation aspects of this diet may be a turnoff for some, and isn’t recommended for sustaining a healthy diet and lifestyle for the long-run.

Read the full review here:

For over 100 diet books, all reviewed by nutrition experts, click here: For more of my food tips (all with great savings!), check out my Healthy Living for Less section.

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