Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: dieting

Book Review: 'The 10 Things You Need to Eat' by Dave Lieberman and Anahad O'Connor

April 3, 2010 |  9:10 am

10ThingsYouNeedtoEatTP cAs roommates and friends at Yale University and later in New York, Dave Lieberman and Anahad O’Connor found themselves on opposite sides of a culinary divide. Lieberman was a cook who prized the finer points of European food and drink, O’Connor a health-food enthusiast who favored raw vegetables and whole grains.

They’ve since become media figures in their fields of interest  -- Lieberman is a contributing editor at Saveur magazine, cookbook author, former Food Network host and chef; O’Connor is a New York Times science and health reporter and author of a bestselling health book. But today they’ve found a way to bridge their nutritional gap. 

The two have collaborated on a new book of essays and recipes, “The 10 Things You Need to Eat,” that looks at foods considered extremely healthful -- superfoods, if you will. They sought out foods that met three criteria: “scientifically supported health benefits, extremely easy to find, and so versatile that we could easily build a complete and varied repertoire of home-style, satisfying, and delicious meals around them.”

Their picks include both everyday staples such as tomatoes and the often praised but not widely eaten quinoa. Others are avocados, beets, spinach, lentils, cabbage, super fish, nuts and berries.

Short chapters on each of these are written in a conversational style that gracefully blends nutritional science, cultural and historical details, food descriptions, personal stories, and cooking and shopping tips.  O’Connor explains why he chose each food from a nutritional standpoint, and Lieberman describes what he learned while experimenting with recipes. Scientific studies asserting health claims are clearly described and neatly documented at the end of the book.

Their book carries a “food as medicine” message but is so beautifully written and designed that the medicine goes down very easily. 

Continue reading »

A sensible approach to diet and exercise

March 30, 2010 |  6:00 am

SPARK cover 3D image-sm has become a popular stop on the Internet for people looking for advice, information and support regarding their diet and exercise goals. Now the founder of SparkPeople, Chris Downie, has published a book and DVD.

The book, "The Spark" (Hay House), offers a 28-day program that teaches the major concepts, supported by science, on diet and exercise. It's well-suited to people who are new to a weight and fitness program because it doesn't ask for much at the start and really addresses the need for effective motivation to make long-term lifestyle changes. The DVD, called "The Spark: Fit, Firm & Fired Up," demonstrates eight workouts to improve strength and toning.

What's central to the SparkPeople movement is its promotion of group support. "Our program radiates a joyous team spirit and the knowledge that people are nourished by each other as much as by food," Downie writes in the introduction. It makes sense. Start with small steps and cheer each other on.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: SparkPeople Inc.

Book Review: 'The Perfect 10 Diet' by Michael Aziz

March 28, 2010 |  8:00 am

Perfect10cover You might say Dr. Michael Aziz believes in the middle way. In his new book, "The Perfect 10 Diet," Aziz proposes a weight-loss plan that combines elements of both low- and high-carb diets -- and rejects aspects of each of them as well. 

It's all about finding balance, the board-certified internist writes. Specifically, Aziz -- founder and director of New York's Midtown Integrative Medicine -- believes we need to be eating the right foods to balance 10 key hormones that contribute to our weight and health.

These hormones are insulin, glucagon, leptin, thyroid hormone, human growth hormone, cortisol and DHEA, as well as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The latter sex hormones may not be crucial to survival, he writes, but they can affect how you age, look and feel.

Aziz is not shy about proclaiming what his program will do for you. His diet isn't just for losing weight, he writes; it will benefit anyone who wishes to reduce the risk of many cancers, boost memory, lower anxiety, improve his or her sex life and have a glowing complexion -- to name just a few promised results.

What does Aziz propose? First of all -- and he will find little argument among many nutritionists here -- he says to cut out sugar, products containing high-fructose corn syrup and anything made with white flour. Low-fat and fat-free baked products are to be avoided as well. Steer clear of soy protein isolates, processed meats with nitrates and anything with monosodium glutamate, he says. 

And while you're cleaning out your cupboards, get rid of the refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils, as well as the margarine and anything containing trans fats. These are "killer" fats, in his view.

That doesn't mean all fats are bad. In fact, he believes the popularity of low-fat diets is one reason for the obesity epidemic. He says to choose full-fat organic milk, butter, eggs, cheese and yogurt products in moderation rather than the low-fat versions because saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods are needed to satisfy appetite, maintain sex hormone levels and assist in proper cell functioning. Also on his "good" fat list are avocados and nuts and olive, palm and coconut oils.

His Perfect 10 food pyramid has at its base fiber-rich vegetables, fruits and fats from natural sources. Above that on the pyramid is protein from poultry, fish and other seafood. Whole grains, nuts, legumes and calcium supplements or dairy are included in smaller amounts. Refined carbs and red meat should be eaten only occasionally.

His ideal is a diet that gets 40% of its calories from carbohydrates, 40% from fat and 20% from protein. This proportion, and the foods he recommends, will support the hormones needed for health, vitality and weight loss, he says. 

To get started losing weight, he offers a three-stage plan. The first stage is a variation on the so-called Paleolithic diet and focuses on vegetables, fruits, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds. He says most people lose 10 to 14 pounds in this three-week phase. Subsequent stages -- the last being a maintenance phase --  add more foods in moderation.

There's much that makes sense in Aziz's program -- once you get past the sweeping claims ("The Perfect 10 Diet is the only diet in the world that will help you balance these ten important hormones"), unsupported statements ("Centenarians ... all have one thing in common -- low insulin levels") and occasional leaps of logic.

Though his book may not win awards for its prose, it's clear the doctor has much passion for his subject. His diet apparently has a following, and his message is one that some may want to hear.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "The Perfect 10 Diet," Michael Aziz, Cumberland House, $24.99


Book Review: 'The 5 Factor World Diet'

Book Review: 'The "I" Diet' 

Book Review: 'The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle'

Book Review: 'Eat Your Way to Happiness'

Book Review: 'You: On a Diet'

Book Review: 'The 10-Minute Total Body Breakthrough'

Book Review: 'The Big Breakfast Diet'

Book Review: 'The Mayo Clinic Diet'

Book Review: 'Denise's Daily Dozen'


Book Review: 'The 5-Factor World Diet' by Harley Pasternak with Laura Moser

March 20, 2010 | 12:40 pm

World-Diet Cover

Personal trainer and nutritionist Harley Pasternak has logged a lot of international miles traveling with such celebrity clients as Kanye West, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and Lady Gaga.

The bestselling author of "The 5-Factor Diet" and "5-Factor Fitness" noticed that wherever he went in the world, people seemed healthier and leaner than they do in the United States. Curious about why, he started collecting diet, exercise and lifestyle "secrets" of the countries he visited.

Pasternak has put those observations together in his latest book, "The 5-Factor World Diet," written with Laura Moser. In it, he gives his picks for the 10 healthiest countries in the world and describes the elements he thinks are responsible. A good portion of the book is devoted to "5-Factor"-adapted recipes from each of the nations' cuisines.

In selecting countries for his admittedly subjective list, he took into account such things as longevity of the population, obesity rates, calorie consumption, the proportion of meat to vegetables in diets and the amount of exercise people get. He focused on industrialized countries with a standard of living and resources comparable to that of the U.S. 

There are as many differences among the cultures he describes as commonalities. He writes that the Swedes and the French eat a great deal of dairy, whereas milk products are rarely consumed in the Asian countries on his list. Some of the nations eat their heaviest meal at midday; others in the evening. Italians may have an espresso and a small roll for breakfast; a Japanese breakfast might feature steamed rice, miso and grilled fish. Garlic is a focal point in South Korean and Spanish diets yet all but absent in some of the other cuisines.

However, the populations he profiles also share some characteristics: All walk a great deal more than Americans do in their daily lives, take their time when dining, focus on enjoyment during their meals and eat in moderation, he says. 

Though he takes pains to explain his interest in writing the book (including a lifelong love of exploring ethnic cuisines cultivated in his native Toronto), the connection between these nations' diet and exercise habits and Pasternak's "celebrity-approved" 5-Factor program is a loose one at best. (Briefly, Pasternak advocates eating five simply prepared meals a day, each of which should include protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fat and a beverage. Each week there's a "free day," in which anything may be eaten. Exercise is done in 25-minute periods five days a week.)

But the book is a good read, with a personable voice and some interesting cultural details. And it's as much a dieter's international cookbook as anything else, with 120 low-fat, high-fiber recipes for such dishes as soba noodle stir-fry, garlic chicken cassoulet, lemon and parsley hummus and Korean beef grill. Recipes do not include nutritional data.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "The 5-Factor World Diet" by Harley Pasternak with Laura Moser, Ballantine Books, $25


Book Review: 'The "I" Diet'

Book Review: 'The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle'

Book Review: 'Eat Your Way to Happiness'

Book Review: 'You: On a Diet'

Book Review: 'The 10-Minute Total Body Breakthrough'

Book Review: 'The Big Breakfast Diet'

Book Review: 'The Mayo Clinic Diet'

Book Review: 'Denise's Daily Dozen'


Book Review: 'The "I" Diet' by Susan B. Roberts and Betty Kelly Sargent

March 13, 2010 |  7:00 am

I Diet

"The 'I' Diet" is a diet book with a difference. Like many other books in the weight-loss genre, it features eating plans, nutritional advice and recipes. But the new paperback -- previously published in 2008 as "The Instinct Diet" and updated with new material -- offers something more: practical strategies for changing eating habits.

" 'I' Diet" author Susan B. Roberts is a professor of nutrition and of psychiatry at Boston's Tufts University, where she focuses on obesity. She says that after writing nearly 200 research papers and reading several thousand by other scientists, she decided that all studies agreed on five things that influence our eating behavior: hunger, the availability of food, the variety of food, the familiarity of food and how rich or calorie-dense the food is.

Roberts' book, written with Betty Kelly Sargent, addresses these variables to help dieters shed pounds and develop a healthier relationship to food. She's tested her plan on volunteers in her Tufts weight-loss lab and others. She promises that her program drops weight faster with less hunger than other plans, eliminates dieting plateaus and cuts cravings -- and will result in permanent weight control.

These are hefty claims, but her approach has plenty of influential fans. The new book includes favorable reviews and endorsements from former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, New York Times personal health writer Jane Brody and a slew of academics in the nutrition and medical fields, as well as Harvard's Henry Louis Gates Jr., who lost 30 pounds on her diet while eating out five nights a week.

Roberts says one contributor to obesity is the wide variety of foods available today. Choice is a problem for many of us because we instinctively eat until we've satisfied ourselves with each individual food rather than with the meal overall.

To cope, she suggests reducing the variety of high-calorie foods you eat, while adding variety among high-fiber vegetables, fruits and cereals. For example, eat broccoli and strawberries one day, cauliflower and mango the next and so on. But keep only one type of dark chocolate on hand rather than several different kinds of chocolate candy.

One way Roberts addresses cravings is to say that it's fine to indulge occasionally in high-calorie foods but that they should never be eaten alone: Always combine them with lower-calorie foods so you'll be less tempted to overeat the calorie-rich items.

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Book Review: 'The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle' by Mary Dan Eades and Michael R. Eades

March 6, 2010 | 10:32 am

6-week-cure cover

The weight can creep up on you. One day you realize your waistline is not as trim as it once was. You’ve got a little belly going where you once were flat and firm. Or maybe it’s not so little.

If you’re ready to do something about it, you may be tempted by a new book that promises to help you shed those excess abdominal inches and pounds. “The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle” targets people about age 50 and older who have seen their waistlines expand and may be finding it harder to whittle their middles than they once did.

Authors and obesity specialists Dr. Mary Dan Eades and Dr. Michael R. Eades say they designed the diet for themselves when they needed to tighten up their midsections fast to appear more svelte for a TV cooking show. They went on to devise a plan that could be used by others struggling to shed those accumulating abdominal pounds.

This is not unfamiliar ground for the authors, who staked out similar territory in an earlier book, “Protein Power,” which sold more than 4 million copies. But much of the nutritional advice in their latest book is based on new studies and their interpretation of evolving research.

For instance? The Eadeses say saturated fats from red meat, butter, eggs and cream are good, even essential, for abdominal weight loss, as are coconut and palm oils, and they encourage their consumption. Omega-6 vegetable oils such as corn, safflower and sunflower, on the other hand, help pack on the abdominal pounds and should be avoided, they say.

Many nutritional experts advise the opposite, counseling people to strictly limit their intake of saturated fat because of the health risks and to substitute a moderate amount of vegetable oils instead. (But nutritional science does waver: A new analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, questions the link between saturated fat and heart disease.) This is what the National Institutes of Health says about fats.

Also on the Eadeses’ hit list are carbohydrates, such as those found in breads, rice, pasta, oats and desserts -- whole grain or not. These are allowed only in tiny amounts (an occasional slice of “light” bread) during the six-week diet and in small amounts after that.

They recommend cutting out sugar, particularly fructose, almost entirely. (Low-sugar fruits and low-starch vegetables are allowed in minimal amounts during the diet and can be eaten freely later.) Also severely restricted during the six-week diet are dairy, caffeine and alcohol, as well as any medications not absolutely necessary.

What does one eat on the diet besides saturated fat? Protein, and lots of it. 

Continue reading »

Before there was Dr. Atkins, there was Jean Brillat-Savarin

March 2, 2010 | 11:51 am

If you thought low-carb diets were a relatively recent fad, check out “The Physiology of Taste” by Jean Brillat-Savarin. The French lawyer, who also studied chemistry and medicine, was the first to extol the virtues of consuming fewer carbohydrates in a 1825 treatise:

“Here I intended to have given a little treatise on alimentary chemistry, and to tell my readers, to how many thousands of hydrogen, carbon, etc., may be reduced the dishes that sustain us.”

AtkinsNearly 40 years later, an obese undertaker named William Banting renewed the idea after he lost a great deal of weight following a low-carb diet. Eager to share his success, he published his “Letter on Corpulence” in 1864. Its popularity turned “Banting” into a synonym for “dieting.”

These and other tidbits are compiled in a spiffy new dieting timeline put together by the American Dietetic Assn. in honor of National Nutrition Month (which began Monday).

The oldest diet on the list is Lord Byron’s water and vinegar diet, which dates to 1820. It involves mixing a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water (and perhaps a bit of honey to make it more palatable) and drinking the concoction before meals. It was re-introduced to Americans in the 1950s and continues to have adherents today, according to

Other neat factoids include:

  • Graham crackers were invented by the Rev. Sylvester Graham to encourage people to eat the whole grain, high-fiber wheat flour he considered healthier – and morally superior – to white flour.
  • The Sleeping Beauty Diet involved being sedated for days, making it easier to fast.
  • The idea of losing weight by counting calories didn’t come along until 1917.

You can peruse the entire timeline here.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: When Dr. Atkins began promoting low-carb diets – this book was published in 1972 – the idea was already almost 150 years old.

Book Review: 'Eat Your Way to Happiness' by Elizabeth Somer

February 27, 2010 | 10:14 am

Battling the blues? Put down that Prozac prescription and head for the pantry, says Elizabeth Somer, author of the new book "Eat Your Way to Happiness." It's time for a diet makeover.

Changing what and how you eat can dramatically improve your life, without the negative side effects of antidepressants, writes the registered dietitian and frequent morning TV show guest.

Somer says people who followed diet advice she gave in her 1995 book, "Food & Mood," have told her they've seen their energy increase, their memories improve, their PMS symptoms vanish, their extra weight drop off and even their depressions lift. (She emphasizes that people should always seek medical help for depression that lasts more than a month or is accompanied by other symptoms.)

In her new book, she shares some of their stories and offers updated nutritional information.

Included in "Happiness" is advice we hear from many quarters today: Eat a good breakfast; cut back on sugar, white flour and saturated fats; choose real food over processed food most of the time; exercise daily. But she also goes further, quantifying what we should aim for and including research to back up her claims.

For example, Somer writes that sugar today makes up 25% of calories in most American diets -- much of it coming from processed foods. But a diet in which even 9% of calories are from added sugar is a red flag for weight and health problems, she says, and too much sugar offers a temporary "high" that can end in fatigue and depression. The good news is that cutting back can bring immediate weight loss, mood improvements and increased energy. She says we should aim for no more than 6% of our calories from added sugar -- 30 grams, or 7 1/2 teaspoons, a day on a 2,000-calorie diet. (This doesn't include the sugar found in naturally sweet foods such as fruit.)

Somer lists a dozen "super mood foods" to include in our diets whenever possible. Nuts are in the No. 1 spot, and she recommends an ounce a day to raise metabolism, take the edge off hunger and help regulate blood sugar. Other must-eat foods include soy (a memory booster, she says), milk and yogurt, dark leafy greens and dark orange vegetables, broth soups (which help dieters feel satisfied on fewer calories, a secret to permanent weight loss), legumes, citrus and tart cherries (they contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep).

She spells out potential brain- and mood-boosting benefits of eating omega-3 fats, especially DHA, found in fatty fish ("Prozac from the sea"). She also goes into the downside of eating fatty fishes -- the mercury they may contain -- and gives DHA-fortified alternatives.

Somer offers tips for how to eat to sleep better (one is to eat a light dinner no less than three hours before bedtime) and work with, rather than fight, cravings. She discusses supplements, beverages and the right vices in which to indulge (good news for dark chocolate lovers). She outlines an ideal diet -- think fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, milk and soy, lean protein. Her book also includes recipes and a two-week kick-start diet plan.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "Eat Your Way to Happiness," Elizabeth Somer, Harlequin, $16.95


Book Review: 'You: On a Diet'

Book Review: 'The 10-Minute Total Body Breakthrough'

Book Review: 'The Big Breakfast Diet'

Book Review: 'The Mayo Clinic Diet

Book Review: 'Denise's Daily Dozen'

Track your health in Moleskine style

February 23, 2010 | 11:41 am

Listen up, rabid Moleskine fanatics: here's an incentive to stick to your New Year's resolutions -- the new Moleskine Wellness Journal.

Moleskinewellness_journal_2 Moleskine just introduced this journal, part of its "Passions" collection, with a focus on diet, exercise, goal-setting and overall health. The book, which measures about five inches by eight inches, includes tabbed sections such as "Personal Goals," "Exercise Log," "Diet," "General Health," "Games + Sport" and "Inspirations." Pages within each section are further detailed -- the "Exercise" portion, for example, has boxes to record actual exercises, the level of intensity, some general workout notes, and a way to note the weather -- great for runners or outdoor sport enthusiasts. Under "Diet" are columns to keep track of meals and snacks and their calories, and "General Health" allows for tracking of vitamins, herbs and medications, plus healthcare treatments. The trademark Moleskine accordion pocket is in the back, and it's filled with stickers to use in the journal, such as little sneaker icons and words like "amazing!"

Lots of empty pages leave space to write inspirational quotes, attach aspirational photos, make sketches, or whatever. There's a fun video on YouTube offering ideas for how to use the journal.

The cover may be a little tough for purist Moleskine fans to get used to -- the traditional flat black material has been replaced with a modern, subtle embossed design of people engaged various athletic activities. But not to worry -- the elastic band closure has not been messed with.

The Wellness Journal retails for about $20 and is available on now, and in Borders stores and online mid-March.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Wellness Journal from Moleskine

Book Review: 'You: On a Diet' by Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz

February 20, 2010 | 10:41 am


In the battle of the bulge, most dieters relying on willpower alone are destined to lose the fight, according to the recently revised and updated bestseller "You: On a Diet." 

There are just too many small obstacles that collectively are enough to defeat us, say authors Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz. To name a few: We're hard-wired to want sugar, salt and fat; our bodies store fat to protect against famine; our moods subject us to cravings; many of us have desk jobs; junk food is ubiquitous; and our car culture has reduced the exercise we get.

It's like trying to battle a powerful storm in a rowboat, the authors say. "A rowboat will get clobbered in a perfect storm no matter what measures it takes. But if you know the factors contributing to the storm and can track the storm to avoid it in the first place, you can beat it."

Using text and illustrations liberally laced with topical, sometimes silly humor and puns, Roizen and Oz try to help readers do just that. In their 530-page hardcover book, they explain the scientific theories behind digestion, fat, metabolism and emotions. And they outline a diet and activity program that they say can end yo-yo dieting and help people lose weight permanently.

The well-known doctors start off with a two-week plan that they say will take up to 2 inches off your waist. That waist measurement is what they say people should be focusing on. That's because weight stored around the waist is the biggest predictor of obesity-related health problems. (The ideal waist measurement, they say, is 32 1/2 inches or less for women, and 35 inches or less for men.) 

What secret dieting weapons do they share? One is the permission to stop beating yourself up when you slip -- something they say is an inevitable part of the process. The key is to get back up and do a "You-turn," as they call it, rather than slide back into a pattern of unhealthy eating.

They suggest changing your environment instead of trying to fight hardwired behavior. For example, choose a fish restaurant rather than a burger place when eating out. Keep fruit in your pantry instead of chips. When the urge to overeat strikes, head out the door for a short walk and contemplate what's driving the cravings. And consider your friends' habits, which can influence your own. Meet friends for breakfast at a juice bar rather than the pancake house. Schedule a walk instead of coffee and dessert. 

To improve the odds of success they suggest making dieting "automatic" by limiting the variety of foods you eat to minimize temptation and by choosing foods that are quick to prepare. And make exercise easy (they recommend at least 30 minutes of walking and five minutes of stretches a day, plus additional strength-building workouts three times a week). They also emphasize the importance of eating regular meals because undereating slows down the metabolism.

The other important tool in your arsenal is your mind, they say. The authors discuss at length the role emotions play in regard to self-image and eating habits. They urge dieters to take back the power that food holds over them and to seek power elsewhere --  in spirituality, in work, in relationships. 

It's easy to see why this book -- and their larger "You" series it's a part of -- has been so successful. (The original edition of "You: On a Diet," published in 2006, sold upward of 3 million copies.) There's something in it for everyone, and the authors make the tough medicine go down easily with their breezy writing style, tips, quizzes, factoids and "myth busters." The revised edition includes more than 100 new recipes, a new section on emotional eating, updated research on the biology of fat and answers to reader questions they've received since the first edition came out.

Here's one factoid: You can lose 10 permanent pounds and 3 inches off your waist every year just by cutting back your food intake by 100 calories a day, according to the book. Something to keep in mind when you're eyeing that candy bar or bag of chips at the checkout counter. 

-- Anne Colby

Photo credit: "You: On a Diet: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management," by Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz, Free Press, $26.99


Book Review: 'The 10-Minute Total Body Breakthrough'

Book Review: 'The Big Breakfast Diet'

Book Review: 'The Mayo Clinic Diet'

Book Review: 'Denise's Daily Dozen'


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