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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

Gimmick-filled diet books hard to swallow

By Amy Tousman

It seems that every diet book has a gimmick lately. And not all of them are sound.

Some that I am frequently asked about include:

  • "Sugar Busters!: Cut Sugar to Trim Fat" by H. Leighton Steward, Morrison C. Bethea, Samuel S. Andrews and Luis A. Balart (Ballantine, 1998).
  • "Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution: The High Calorie Way to Stay Thin Forever" by Robert C. Atkins (Bantam Doubleday Dell,1973; there also have been a plethora of Atkins books since then, updating and expanding his diet theories).
  • "Eat Right for Your Type: The Individualized Diet Solution to Staying Healthy, Living Longer and Achieving Your Ideal Weight," by Peter J. D'Adamo and Catherine Whitney (Putnam, 1997).

Here's what I think you should know about them:

'Sugar Busters'

  • Basic premise: Sugar increases the level of insulin in the body, which, in turn, causes food to be stored as fat. Foods that turn to sugar quickly in the body, such as white bread and pasta, are not allowed on this diet.
  • Problems with this diet: There is no evidence that high insulin levels cause people to store excess fat. Carbohydrate consumption causes only a temporary increase in insulin levels. This is a natural body process and not an unhealthy one.

Any basic physiology textbook will show that many things influence how fast a food turns to sugar in the blood. These include the total amount of carbohydrate eaten in that meal, and whether the meal included foods with protein, fat and fiber. Our weight is mostly influenced by the amount of calories eaten, our exercise habits and genetics rather than which foods turn to sugar in the blood.

This diet is difficult to follow because so many foods are restricted. Not only are sugary desserts to be avoided, but also potatoes, rice, pasta, corn, carrots, bread and ketchup.

'Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution'

  • Basic premise: Ketones produced on a low-carbohydrate diet help suppress hunger. This diet allows you to eat as much fat and protein as you like as long as you eat very little carbohydrates.
  • Problems with the diet: Like a car, your body needs the proper fuel to run efficiently. Your body is designed to get most of its energy from carbohydrates such as those found in noodles, poi and bananas. When there is too little carbohydrates, your body produces ketones for energy.

What Atkins fails to mention is that ketones are unhealthy. When the body is fueled by ketones, it is as if it is running on fumes. When ketones are used for fuel, your body thinks it is starving. The body then steals protein from its own muscle for energy. This process releases lots of water, so instead of losing fat, you lose water.

This diet offers short-term success. As long as you avoid carbohydrates, you will lose weight and keep it off. When you decide you miss eating rice or noodles, you will gain the weight back.

Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets can increase blood cholesterol, damage your kidneys and increase your risk of heart disease. Common side effects include constipation, dizziness, headaches and bad breath.

'Eat Right for Your Type'

  • Basic premise: Certain foods are compatible with certain blood types. According to the book, people with type O blood had ancestors who were hunter-gatherers, so they are advised to eat meats and fish, but few grains. Those with Type A blood had ancestors who were farmers, therefore they should be vegetarians and avoid meat and dairy products. Type B's had ancestors who were nomads, so they can eat meats and dairy products. Type ABs had mixed ancestry, therefore they can eat a combination of foods eaten by those with Types A and B blood.
  • Problems with this diet: What our ancestors ate has nothing to do with their blood type. Hunter-gatherers ate mostly vegetarian foods because they they went long stretches of time without finding animals for meat. The diets of our ancestors were based on what they could find and what technology was available to them at the time. They couldn't eat grains until they learned to grow them. They couldn't eat dairy products until they learned how to get milk from animals.

The author suggests your blood type determines which type of foods you can digest. The truth is our bodies are equipped with enzymes to digest all kinds of foods. There is no published evidence that this diet works or that there is a link between blood types and diet.

It is difficult to stick with this diet given the long lists of foods to avoid. If family members have different blood types, following the diet can be even more difficult.

Whatever happened to eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats? I know the problem: no gimmick. It doesn't make for a very interesting book!

Amy Tousman is a registered dietitian at Straub Clinic & Hospital Inc. and a member of the Hawai'i Dietetic Association.

Write: Prescriptions, 'Ohana section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com; fax 535-8170. This column is for information and not intended to provide medical advice; you should consult your doctor.