The following experts reviewed the diet books for The Washington Post:
Aaron M. Altschul, PhD, director of the Georgetown University Diet Management and Eating Disorders Program; Dr. Sue Bailey, medical director of the Eating Disorders Clinic of the Washington Hospital Center; Andrea P. Boyar, PhD, RD, clinical nutrition section head of the division of nutrition and endocrinology, American Health Foundation; Lauri O. Byerley, MS, RD, clinical research dietician, UCLA Medical Center; Dr. C. Wayne Callaway, director, Center for Clinical Nutrition, George Washington University Medical Center; Dr. George Christakis, adjunct professor and former chairman, nutrition division, department of epidemiology and public health, University of Miami School of Medicine; Robyn DeBell, MS, RD, Associates in Professional Nutrition Counseling, Tucson, Ariz.; Linda Janick, RD, director of nutrition, Duke Diet and Fitness Center, Duke University Medical Center; Gail A. Levey, MS, RD, consulting nutritionist, New York City; Bonnie F. Liebman, MS, director of nutrition, Center for Science in the Public Interest; Dr. Esther J. Nash, associate chairman, department of medicine, Albert Einstein Medical Center's Mt. Sinai-Daroff Division, Philadelphia; Pat Roginski, MEd, RD, manager of patient and professional education, Kappa Systems Inc., Washington, D.C.; Karen L. Schlichter, MS, RD, outpatient nutritionist, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, assistant professor, department of community health and preventive medicine, Northwestern University Medical School; and Dr. Herbert S. Waxman, chairman of the department of medicine, Albert Einstein Medical Center's Northern Division, Philadelphia.
Rating system: A-Excellent, B-Good, C-Fair, D-Poor.
Each book was reviewed by two panelists.
DR. BERGER'S IMMUNE POWER DIET, Stuart M. Berger (Signet, $4.50). A three-phase diet designed to discover hidden food sensitivities which the author, a medical doctor with no advanced nutrition training, claims cripple the body's immune system and cause overweight. The three phases are three weeks of "detoxifying" the immune system, gradually re-introducing foods and finally maintaining the diet long-term.
Byerley: "It has never been shown that the immune system deposits fat. Only a small paragraph on how to follow the diet for weight loss is included at the end of the book. The 'Immune Quotient' (IQ) determines participants' level of dietary supplements (which he sells), which consist of large doses of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. The author includes a section discussing the vitamins, minerals and amino acids recommended but many of the statements are bogus."
Liebman: "He calls for tests for food allergies, but such cytotoxic testing has not been substantiated. There is no good evidence that being overweight is due to an impaired immune system. It distracts people from the main problem -- that they have to eat less food because they are overweight."
THE BLOOMINGDALE'S EAT HEALTHY DIET, Laura Stein (St. Martin's Press $15.95). A strict three-phase diet plan developed by Stein, president of Eat Healthy Inc. diet workshops. It is also endorsed by Bloomingdale's department stores after 30 store executives collectively lost 500 pounds. Chairman Marvin Traub lost 19 pounds.
The three phases are appetite training, developing an eating blueprint and learning how to maintain the weight loss.
Boyar: "This diet has a lot of good ideas, but it would be hard to follow alone, without group support, because it asks for difficult things, like eating only vegetables for three days. The 'cleansing' attempts to retrain your appetite and give you a new experience with food by reintroducing you to flavor and texture gradually and asking you to appreciate foods that are much better for you than problematic cravings."
Bailey: "This could be called eating and exercising in an anorexic way. It needs more fat for fat-soluble vitamins to be effective if taken. The exercise is overkill for good health and encourages an obsessive response that may be harmful. If people are successful with this plan, it's because restricting to 1,200 calories of anything would decrease weight."
JANE BRODY'S GOOD FOOD BOOK, Jane E. Brody (W.W. Norton and Co. $22.95). A primer on high-carbohydrate nutrition and restructuring eating and exercise to achieve and maintain normal body weight without strict dieting, with 350 recipes.
Roginski: "This is extremely well-balanced, with emphasis on complex carbohydrates, lean sources of protein and reduced fat. She provides very specific how-tos, including cooking tips and label-reading, things that really help people follow through.
"Jane Brody, science and medical writer for The New York Times since 1965, is extremely well-thought-of in the nutrition community. If people bought one book for their kitchen, this certainly would be an excellent choice."
Callaway: "This book combines a reasonably accurate description of current scientific knowledge within an easily read format and an excellent set of imaginative recipes."
THE CARBOHYDRATE CRAVER'S DIET, Judith J. Wurtman, PhD (Houghton Mifflin Co., out of print but still available in remainder book sales). A low-calorie, high-carbohydrate diet designed to control "carbohydrate hunger," which she contends is a craving caused by brain chemistry.
Byerley: "The diet is based on research by Wurtman, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at MIT, and her husband, Richard Wurtman, also an MIT nutrition researcher. Some of the theory has been documented but many parts have not. No human studies have shown that overeating is caused by deprivation of dietary carbohydrate. Nor is there any convincing evidence that obesity can be prevented by increasing carbohydrates or manipulating the timing when carbohydrate is eaten. The effectiveness of the diet with sustained weigh loss is not well documented."
DeBell: "This is a diet who appeals to those with a 'sweet tooth' or who need to snack through the day. A possible problem would be controlling the portions of snack and sweet foods once they are allowed. This diet is a lot more realistic than many in that it acknowledges weigh loss can occur with inclusion of sweets and starch snacks."
EAT TO SUCCEED, Robert Haas (Rawson Associates, $15.95). This repackaging of the best seller "Eat to Win," with some new strategies and data, is a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet with heavy reliance on food supplements. It is highly critical of the nutrition establishment.
Bailey: "The first pages (of famous people's dieting stories) reads like People magazine. I don't see that the title has anything to do with the book. He's telling how to lose weight in a small portion of the book and how to use supplements (whose value cannot be proven) mostly to prevent effects of the most bizarre potpourri of situations from ozone to your typewriter to the common cold. It's so technical it would take a team of scientists to assess what it promotes. It contains an unprofessional promotion of nutrition supplements and lots of dietary products he endorses."
Waxman: "The weight loss diet is well-balanced and for the most part based on reasonable scientific nutritional principles, except for the inclusion of some questionable nutritional supplements. There is heavy emphasis on products manufactured by a particular company to which the author is a paid consultant, although he claims net proceeds from the sale 'are being donated to cancer research.' Of the more than 330 pages, only 16 pages deal with weight loss."
FIT FOR LIFE, Harvey and Marilyn Diamond (Warner Books, $17.50). This book contends that diets don't work but that foods eaten in proper combination and during the proper cycles will take weight off naturally.
Callaway: "A distinguishing feature of this book is its almost total misrepresentation of current knowledge in nutrition. The dietary patterns and ideas recommended are often seen in people with eating disorders. The overall approach is largely a repackaging of old, disproven notions. The idea of not mixing different types of food, for example, is little different from Judy Mazel's 'Beverly Hills Diet,' which had a similar public appeal several years ago -- before sinking back into oblivion, as all such diets eventually do."
Liebman: "Americans would be better off consuming less meat, but the rationale given by the Diamonds is totally unscientific. I can't endorse a book that says food will rot in people's bodies and that the food that can't be absorbed by your body will make you overweight. They cite scientific papers and pseudo-scientific papers from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most people wouldn't go to a doctor who gives them a 19th-century treatment for an illness."
THE LIFE EXTENSION WEIGHT LOSS PROGRAM, Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw (Doubleday, $16.95). Not a "diet" per se, but a do-it-yourself weight-loss program based on 17 steps with heavy emphasis on nutritional supplements.
Christakis: "The data is based on anecdotal reports rather than controlled experiments. What is flagrantly missing is the data to show that effective weight loss can be accomplished this way. He's asking his readers essentially to be the experiment.
"He advocates pretty high dosages of some supplements. For example, he encourages adequate fructose to stop carbohydrate craving, but high doses can be dangerous. There are some interesting concepts that merit research, but it's very premature to believe the entire theory is proven and workable."
Nash: "The diet's repetitive and hypnotic tone consistently states that without any strenuous activity and without any serious hunger or feelings of deprivation a person can lose weight and gain muscle. The diet is based on a confusing mixture of sound scientific principles and unproven theory. The lay reader will probably be easily hoodwinked into purchasing expensive quantities of the supplements. They call themselves 'scientists,' although they have no true scientific credentials. Several of their theories are bordering on the ridiculous."
THE NEW AMERICAN DIET, Sonja L. and William E. Connor (Simon and Schuster, $18.95). A diet based on a five-year study of 233 American families supervised by the authors and funded by the National Institutes of Health.
DeBell: "This is the ultimate 'how-to' book. Allowances are made for the realistic nature of human behavior, that all things can't be changed at once, with phasing out high-fat foods and reintroducing new ones gradually. New research relating to fish oils, metabolic changes during weight loss and use of monounsaturates (fat) are discussed. Excellent cookbook section. Cheese substitution page very helpful!"
Van Horn: "This is a sound, sensible eating pattern that promotes long-term nutritional patterns that are optimum for prevention of disease. There is a very detailed, accurate, but complicated introduction including the epidemiologic basis for this dietary approach. People who are looking for a 'diet book' in the traditional sense may be disappointed. But this is the way to go about long-term weight control and reduction of risk for cardiovascular disease."
THE PRITIKIN PROGRAM OF DIET AND EXERCISE, Nathan Pritikin (Bantam Books, $4.95). A stringent program of diet and exercise aimed at reversing degenerative diseases, high in carbohydrates and low in fats, animal protein and calories.
Janick: "This is a basic high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, but it's a difficult diet that isn't so appealing. It omits many foods frequently eaten and lists foods forbidden forever, such as processed foods, hamburgers and sodas. It's a total change from the typical American diet and encourages foods in their natural unprocessed state."
Van Horn: "When followed at Pritikin's Longevity Institute with someone else preparing, serving, shopping, etc., it's great, but when left on their own, people will be spending much more time in the kitchen and far less time in restaurants or friends' homes. It is mainly impractical. It is extremely low in fat, and it is a better choice if a person is facing premature mortality from coronary heart disease or has this as an option to coronary bypass surgery. However, long term, or for families with growing children or pregnant women (for whom it can be harmful), it is probably too restrictive."
THE ROTATION DIET, Martin Katahn (W.W. Norton, $15.95). A 21-day eating plan of changing calorie levels each week followed by a week, or longer, off the diet before starting up again.
Levey: "In some ways the psychology of the diet is brilliant -- follow it for three weeks and then take a vacation. But when put into practice, it could be quite complicated -- the menus are rigid and a vacation isn't really a vacation but an incremental raising of calories, then recycling back to the diet. His study group of 20 people is not evidence that this diet will work for millions of people."
Roginski: "The good thing about it is that it does emphasize the three cornerstones of weight loss -- diet, exercise and behavior modification. However, rotating calories is not proven as the cause for weight loss. If consumers only look at calories and not the exercise portion of the book, they won't be getting the effect he's advocating. Six menus for 21 days can be a crutch, giving the impression that you can't lose weight unless you stick to these menus."
THE RICE DIET REPORT, by Judy Moscovitz (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $16.95). A multi-phase, severe 700-calorie diet, beginning first and most intensively with only rice and fruit and by which the author claims to have lost 140 pounds.
Altschul: "The nutrition information is mostly wrong. This book cannot help anyone and could be harmful because it promotes nutritional practices that are dangerous. It also encourages a high rate of weight loss. It misleads because one is given the impression that this is connected and sponsored by a respected medical organization. Mineral oil (which she recommends for cooking and salads) is dangerous; it removes fat-soluble vitamins and reduces their absorption."
Levey: "She calls this state-of-the-art nutrition, although it was developed (40 years ago) to treat high blood pressure (now treatable by medication). For the most part, it's not a diet you can live with. It takes all the joy out of eating. It's unsafe because it contains so many nutrition problems. It's a diet set up to fail, with very little chance of losing weight and keeping it off."
THE SETPOINT DIET, Gilbert A. Leveille (Ballantine Books, $3.50). A diet based on the theory that your body has a "setpoint," a weight it will try to maintain, and this needs to be lowered metabolically for effective weight control.
Janick: "The author has excellent nutrition credentials, including a PhD in nutrition and biochemistry from Rutgers and former chairman of the department of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State University. He is director of nutrition and health sciences for General Foods Corp. The setpoint appeals to people who are stuck at a weight. It's a good building diet, so you can add extra things for some flexibility. It's doable and doesn't make people change too much too soon."
Schlichter: "The theory states it is possible to change your setpoint through diet and exercise. Fifty percent of the program is based on exercise. The diet is very easy to follow. The meal plan can include combination foods, such as lasagna, fast foods, snacks and desserts. The diet apparently started at General Foods as part of a benefit to employes to help improve their health through proper diet and exercise."
THE SNOWBIRD DIET, Donald S. and Carol P. Robertson (Warner Books, $8.95). A weight-loss program from the Southwest Bariatric Nutrition Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., where more than 80 percent of patients lost 40 pounds or more and 30 percent kept the weight off, according to a three-year study.
Altschul: "It's a highly structured diet and insists it is 'gourmet.' This book would be an excellent text to help people who are attending their clinic or have been to a clinic and want to go out on their own. It is least useful to people who are plagued by emotional problems that prevent them from taking advantage of the advice given. Nevertheless, this is one of the better books that I have seen. It contains a bibliography."
Boyar: "This has good tested recipes. I'm not sure it's going to change your life, but from a nutrition viewpoint, it's adequate, although it is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than usually considered necessary."