Health & Fitness

Many new diet books avoid food extremes

It's too late to lose that unwanted weight for summer. But if you start now — and aim to shed a modest 2 pounds a week — you could drop as much as 40 pounds in time to ring in 2013.

The hardest part, however, might be choosing a new diet. This season's crop of cookbooks includes a whiplash-inducing array of advice. For every book urging you on to eat More carbs! More protein! More fat! there's another seemingly well-reasoned argument to do the opposite. As if this isn't confusing enough, there's a new bogeyman on the diet scene: gluten.

The naturally occurring protein found in wheat, barley and some other grains is being blamed for a variety of health woes, including gut unrest, inflammation and those love handles. (People who suffer from a gluten intolerance such as celiac disease must shun it for far less glamorous reasons.)

Among the highest-profile proponents of a gluten-free diet? Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus. Kardashian set the Internet on fire earlier this year when she tweeted a sexy photo of her famous curves, crediting a gluten-free approach. The newly engaged Cyrus has slimmed down so much in recent months that some tabloids have begun whispering about an eating disorder. Cyrus, however, says she's healthier than ever after adopting a new diet and a Pilates-inspired exercise regimen to get her ready for the altar.

Of course, it's not exactly surprising that people lose weight on a gluten-free diet. Eating gluten-free often means slashing plenty of high-calorie breads, cakes and cookies.

There is one consensus among the most popular new diet books on the market: They are largely free of food extremes. All emphasize the need to scrutinize food labels and ditch chemical-laden products in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. Dig in:

"Eat to Live": If you need to be scared straight about your health, this book is for you. Dr. Joel Fuhrman makes a powerful case that Americans are courting cancer and disease by the forkful. He urges ditching low-calorie diets and piling the dinner plate high with nutrient-dense fruits and raw veggies. You certainly won't be hungry. Sample dinner: Fish fillets with mango salsa, kale with cashew cream sauce, rice and chocolate cherry "ice cream" made from almond milk.

"It Starts With Food": Need some tough love cleaning up a lousy diet? This is your drill sergeant. Dallas and Melissa Hartwig ask that you enlist in their 30-day boot camp — dump the processed junk and embrace whole foods — and you'll emerge a brand-new person. It would be hard to be hungry on this diet: You're encouraged to eat plenty. Recipes such as Asian stir fries, frittatas and soups are ultra simple and encourage creative substitutions based on what you and your family enjoy.

"The Manhattan Diet": Dieting has never been so fabulous. Eileen Daspin adopts an everything-in-moderation approach as she name-drops her way through living, dining and dieting on the world's chicest island. Ditch the unfulfilling junk, she says, in favor of celeb-chef recipes such as a Mario Batali fennel-and-arugula salad and Eric Ripert's grilled salmon with a ponzu vinaigrette. Plus: You have to love a diet book with a whole chapter dedicated to cheating.

"Paleoista": The paleo diet meets fashionista, courtesy of Los Angeles' Nell Stephenson. Ditch flours, sugar, grains and dairy. What's left, you say? Steak and eggs for breakfast. Seared sea bass with a coconut curry sauce or sun-dried tomato-and-basil stuffed tenderloin for dinner.

"Six Weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends": Amusing 'tude-filled argument that everything you think you know about dieting is wrong. According to author Venice A. Fulton, skipping breakfast is good, and small, frequent meals are bad. And exercise? "Exercise is just so 2011!" Just move more, he argues. He also advises amping up on proteins and scaling back carbs to 50 to 120 grams per day. (That's well under the minimum carb intake recommended by the federal government, of about 175 grams per day for an adult woman.) One suggested trick for flattening your abs? No joke: Blowing up balloons. As might be expected, this book has come under fire by critics who question its wisdom and fear it will pit impressionable teens against one another, trying to out-diet their friends.

"Bread Is the Devil": Despite the title, you do occasionally get bread. Authors Heather Bauer and Kathy Matthews use bread as the symbolic stumbling block for so many diets. The book is as much a meal plans as an approach to banishing your personal diet devils, be they trigger foods, emotions, situations or moments. (One that everyone will recognize: Diving into the depth of a bread basket despite a day spent meticulously following your diet plan.)

"The Starch Solution": The fat you wear is caused by the fat you eat, says Dr. John A. McDougall. He promotes a plant-based diet that will have you slashing fat and animal proteins and taking on the "eat more starch" challenge. That's right, a challenge that encourages you to add up to four cups of pasta a day to your diet. Also on the approved menu? Whole wheat pancakes, French toast and eggless egg salad made with tofu.

"The Eat, Drink, and Be Gorgeous Project": "Want to drop 6% to 10% of your body fat in one month? Then go gluten free," says author Esther Blum, a registered dietitian. "Stay gorgeous" by getting carbs from fruits and veggies as well as oats, sweet potatoes and even sugar. (Avoid sugar, but when giving in to the rare, sweet treat, indulge with "the real deal." One recipe in the book: a gluten-free, coconut flour chocolate cake.) It includes four meal plans, primers on vitamins and supplements, and a food journal.

rene.lynch@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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