Wine Country Diet, Sans Grape

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sonoma brings to mind golden vineyards and great-tasting, healthful food. So it's no wonder that "The Sonoma Diet" -- a book promising that "every step of your journey from overweight to perfect weight will be comfortable, pleasant and simple" -- is beginning to climb bestseller lists.

It's also piqued the interest of Lean Plate Club members during recent Web chats.

As its title suggests, "The Sonoma Diet" is written by a resident of California's wine country -- Connie Gutterson, a registered dietitian and adjunct faculty member at the Culinary Institute of America's California campus in the Napa Valley. She has a doctorate in nutrition, works with California vineyards, consults with a number of food companies including Kraft and Nestlé and served as an international spokeswoman for the Olive Oil Council.

She hopes that her book, inspired in part by her trips to the Mediterranean, will guide readers back to healthful eating "and get the quickest and safest results." (Interest disclosed: I have a nutrition book coming out later this year.)

Like the South Beach Diet, another eating plan named after a beautiful place, Sonoma has three phases. (Gutterson calls them waves.)

During the 10-day Wave 1, Gutterson restricts food to about 1,200 daily calories for women, 1,400 for men, to provide quick weight loss.

What gets limited? Dairy -- to one glass of skim milk per day.

What gets cut altogether? Fruit. As she writes: "Anything that even reminds you of sweetness -- even healthy fruit -- needs to be put aside for the time being."

Also eliminated from Wave 1 are most of the starchier vegetables, including carrots, corn, potatoes, pumpkin, beets, acorn and butternut squash, artichokes and sugar snap peas. "I think that whole grains offer more [nutrition] during the first 10 days," Gutterson says.

While the book has drawn praise for its emphasis on whole grains and healthy fats such as olive and canola oil and nuts, "eliminating the fruit bothers me," says registered dietitian Andrea Giancoli, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetics Association. "Eating fruit helps with sweet cravings. . . . We have an innate drive for sweets. I don't know if we ever completely lose that."

Sonoma's title may conjure images of wineries, but don't reach for the corkscrew yet: All alcohol is forbidden in Wave 1. One glass of wine daily is okay later, but no other booze is allowed until you reach your target weight.

To start Sonoma, you must also measure your dinner plates. Instead of counting calories per se, the diet restricts intake by using seven-inch plates for breakfast and nine-inch plates for lunch and dinner. (There are also instructions for bowls.) The practice fosters portion control, which also earns kudos from nutrition experts.

Also required before starting Sonoma is a kitchen purge. Gutterson advises tossing the following and any products that contain them: sugar; bread, cookies, crackers and cereal (except whole-grain varieties); white rice; soda (except diet soda), fruit juices, margarine, mayonnaise (unless it has canola oil), butter, full-fat cheese and cream cheese, milk (except nonfat), oils (except extra virgin olive oil, canola or nut oils); fatty meats; jam, jelly and maple syrup; white potatoes; refined flour and ice cream.

"It won't be gradual," she writes, advising that if you have children, it's smart to purge the kitchen while they're away. "You're going to leave behind your old habits and start losing weight on Day 1."

The book "is very idealistic and a little extreme," notes registered dietitian Elisa Zied, who tracks popular diets for the American Dietetics Association and says that she likes parts of the Sonoma plan. "I just don't like to polarize foods and say you can't have something."

In Wave 2, both food choices and calories increase. While Gutterson doesn't reveal calories in the book, she said in an interview that men average about 1,800 calories daily; women, 1,500. Fruit and many of the vegetables that were nixed in Wave 1 are also added back, but still must be eaten in limited proportions, just like the other food groups.

Wave 3 is what is usually called maintenance, but is "not the word of choice here," writes Gutterson, who prefers "Sonoma Diet Lifestyle." Instructions are simple: "Do whatever you think is best for staying within the guidelines of The Sonoma Diet." Oh, yes: Other forms of alcohol are now allowed in moderation, along with a little chocolate. Gutterson says there us no published research showing the diet works but that about 100 people are on it now. Their comments are peppered throughout the book.

Here's what else you need to know about Sonoma. (And as always, check with your doctor before starting any diet or exercise regimen.)

Savor your food . The recipes were developed by chefs at the Culinary Institute of America. They're varied and provide the "healthy, wholesome foods that many people should have more of in their diets," Zied says.

Get supplements. Gutterson advises taking a calcium supplement and a multivitamin to make up for lost nutrients from eating less, especially in Wave 1.

Add activity . Sonoma includes minimal information on exercise. "I'm not a personal trainer," Gutterson says, noting that she hopes that readers will start walking. "The pages are better spent talking about food and nutrition." The 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report recommends 60 to 90 minutes on most days for weight loss and weight maintenance.

Go easy on the eggs. Sonoma's rules would allow you to have an egg almost every day during Wave 1. But remember that National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute advises a four-yolk limit per week. "Most people don't eat many eggs, but if they started to eat huge quantities of eggs, they could become a problem," says Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. So choose other protein sources that Sonoma also recommends, including fish, beans, poultry without the skin and lean meat.

No need to add wine. Despite the promise of the title, the health benefits of alcohol don't begin until middle age for men and until menopause for women. Gutterson writes that "only wine packs enough healthy nutrients to make the extra calories [of an alcoholic drink] worth it."

Not so, says the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which found no evidence "to support beverage-specific effects of certain types of alcohol." Moderate drinkers of beer and distilled spirits both show lower total mortality and reduced heart disease in countries where those drinks are the preferred alcoholic beverages. Plus, all alcohol appears to increase risk of breast cancer for women. ยท

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