September 9, 2007

Diets, Deconstructed: The Best Life Diet

Sure, Bob Greene's diet plan has Oprah's approval, but does it pass NYU Professor Lisa Sasson's critical eye?

Let's see what she has to say.

What I Like:

"This book emphasizes the incorporation of physical activity into a healthy eating plan for optimal success. Even better, unlike some books that assume readers can jump right into complicated workouts, Bob Green somewhat individualizes exercise recommendations depending on people's physical state and ability.

Also, there is no universal caloric goal. Again, this is as personalized as a book for the masses can be.

I also really appreciate the mention of emotions, stress, and hunger awareness. Healthy eating isn't just about knowing that broccoli has vitamin C. There are other emotional, social, and psychological factors that affect our food choices."

What I'm Not So Sure Of:

"The phases last a little too long, and could cause people to lose motivation and abandon the diet. Also, different supplements are advocated from the beginning. I would rather he encourage people to get as many nutrients from real food as possible, rather than in pill form."

What I Don't Like:

"Bob Greene makes too big a deal of refined carbohydrates. Like a lot of other books out in the market now, he calls for their elimination during the first phase of his diet.

There are even statements suggesting that refined carbohydrates are addictive, and that shunning them for four weeks during phase one will help stop that addiction. This has absolutely no basis in reality. Many foods can be healthy in small amounts.

A dinner of grilled chicken, vegetables, and half a cup of regular pasta is a perfectly healthy meal. If someone doesn't like whole wheat pasta, they shouldn't be forced to eat it. Also, a plain baked potato, with its fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, should never be seen as a "diet buster".

I also think it's important to respect cultural sensitivity. Refined carbohydrates are a staple in many international cuisines, many of which don't have nearly the same obesity problem we do here. For example, I think it would be ridiculous to recommend that a Japanese person start having sushi rolls made of brown rice."

In Conclusion:

"Bob Greene's book goes beyond just dieting and food. I am glad physical activity and the emotional and social factors behind eating are discussed. Overall, the diet plan is well-rounded, but there are excessive restrictions that I don't think are necessary.

I wouldn't have a problem recommending this book to one of my clients because, overall, Bob Greene offers comprehensive nutrition information."

A big thank you to Lisa Sasson for sharing her time and opinion with us!

Here are my two cents:

I was rather surprised by some of Bob Greene's suggested buys. For example, he recommends Yoplait yogurt, which contains high fructose corn syrup and, in some varieties, artificial sweeteners.

Why doesn't he recommend plain unsweetened yogurt -- regardless of the brand -- which can be sweetened with fresh fruits? There is nothing special in Yoplait yogurts that can't be found in other brands.

Lastly, I wish diet book authors would respect their readers a little more and not ask them to log on to their websites and pay extra money for advice and tips that could have very well been included in the text.

On a more positive note, I agree with Lisa Sasson that, for the most part, Bob Greene offers sound nutritional advice for the most part that can help people improve their dietary patterns.

In my grade book, Bob Greene's Best Life Diet scores a B+.


Scale Junkie said...

I'm reading this book now and saw him on Oprah today. Overall I find it to be informative and in theory have good sound nutritional value. I was also annoyed to find that his website required you to pay for his "approved foods" You would think the companies who he has partnered with would pay him enough to give this list away for free so more people would buy their stuff. Not good marketing in my eyes, borders on greedy. I also think some of the products he recommends in the book are contradictions to the overall philosophies he promotes...and yes I'm talking about products with high fructose corn syrup and trans fats but its all about marketing isn't it.

Christine and Jason said...

I searched for HFCS and Yoplait and found your blog.
I recently asked BestLife about these topics and found this:
Bob Greene carefully chose Yoplait based on the nutrient value and the availability of this yogurt for all of the Best Life readers.

Here's the scoop on High Fructose Corn Syrup, and Bob Greene carefully considered all of these points before deciding to include Yoplait among the Best Life foods.

The Charges

It's true that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has gotten a lot of flack these past few years, blamed for the obesity crisis and other ills. But, if you look at the scientific evidence, it's pure fructose that may be dangerous, not HFCS. And many people, even some nutrition experts, have failed to tease out the difference.

The Science

A little background: HFCS is made from corn that's treated with enzymes that eventually produce syrup made up mainly of two sugars: glucose and fructose. Most HFCS used in soft drinks and other foods is composed of about 55% fructose and 45% glucose.

HFCS has the same sweetness as sugar, and, it may surprise you, a very similar make-up. White sugar is made of sucrose. What is sucrose? A molecule that contains a fructose and a glucose molecule stuck together.

So, your body breaks down regular sugar into 50% fructose and 50% glucose. That's very similar to the composition of most HFCS: 55% fructose and 45% glucose. (There is HFCS that has a higher percentage of fructose, but it isn't in widespread use).

And that's not different enough from plain sugar to make a difference to your body, according to nutrition researchers who are in the trenches, researching this issue.

What may be harmful is ingesting large quantities of pure fructose. Research shows that pure fructose can cause liver damage and other problems. And, without a doubt, it's harmful to eat too much sugar of any type. That's because all regular sugar, HFCS, honey, maple syrup and all the other sweeteners provide is calories; no nutrition attached.

Sugar and Obesity

Consuming too much of any sugar can start piling on the pounds. The evidence is strongest when it comes to soft drinks. Those who drink the most soft drinks are heavier than those who drink little to no soft drinks; this is true for children and adults.

Here's where so many people have gotten confused about HFCS: they figure that since soft drinks are sweetened with HFCS and because soft drinks are making people overweight, it must be the HFCS. But even the consumer watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is famously tough on the food industry, has come out and said it's not the HFCS, it's the over-consumption of soft drinks that's linked to obesity. If those soft drinks were made from regular sugar, they'd still be making people overweight! Those of you who've started Phase Two know that Bob Greene doesn't allow soft drinks in this phase. He's hoping to wean you off them, because he knows they are a major weight gain culprit.

Sweets on The Best Life Diet

So, why do we allow any sweetener on The Best Life Diet? Because, we recognize that sweets are one of life's great pleasures, and that in moderation, there's absolutely no evidence that they hurt you. In fact, having a little piece of chocolate, or some jam, or a little ice cream actually helps you stick to a weight loss plan. It prevents you from feeling deprived and chucking the plan altogether! Again and again research shows that people just won't stick with overly-restrictive plans (remember those unappealing ultra-low-fat plans in the '80s and early '90s?) Why allow HFCS? Because, the evidence to date does not show that it is any more harmful than sugar.

Yanking all sugar from the diet doesn't jive with Bob's philosophy of gradual change. In Phase One, you're making the first habit changes, such as eating a healthy breakfast and drinking more water. In Phase 2, you make more specific dietary changes, including cutting out soda, which helps reduce sugar intake. Phase Three is where you can really cut way back on sugar, sodium, saturated fat and other unhealthy components of the diet. By then, you'll be ready.

When you look at the menu plans, you'll see that there aren't a lot of sweets. Most breakfasts, lunches and dinners are low in sugar. The calcium-rich snack contains naturally-occurring sugar in dairy, or the little bit of sugar added to soymilk, but not much added sugar.

On The Best Life program, Yoplait—especially regular Yoplait (as opposed to Yoplait Light) -- is used mainly as a sweet treat instead of a staple meal item. (Nearly all the yogurt in the breakfasts and snacks is plain yogurt.) And what a great treat it is! It gets much higher nutrition marks than a candy bar or a soft drink or most other sweets. A 6-oz. container contributes 20% of the calcium requirement for those of you age 50 or less; 17% of the requirement for those age 51-plus. And it's available all over the country. As for the HFCS in Wishbone Salad Spritzers, well, look at the label. You get just 1 g of sugar and 10 calories for 10 sprays. (Personally, just 3 sprays are enough for my salad!).

I hope this explanation was helpful. It's nice to know that members of The Best Life program are so engaged and interested in nutrition.

Janis Jibrin ( Lead Nutritionist)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the use of HFCS defended by someone who DOESN'T work for Bestlife or a food company.

HFCS is an ultra cheap way to sweeten foods so the profit margin is higher.

I've researched a LOT on HFCS and I'll believe my research over a pitch by someone who has an agenda.

To put HFCS in a low calorie food is irresponsible. Period.