Doctors Rate Popular Diet Books
Low-Fat Books Score Healthiest; High-Protein, Atkins-Style Diets Earn 'Unsafe' Rating
WASHINGTON—On the eve of a long-awaited U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report on the health effects of popular diets, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has completed its own nutritional analysis of top weight-loss books. Doctors and registered dietitians at PCRM, a nonprofit health organization based in Washington, D.C., rated 11 of the top books, including best-sellers by diet authors Robert Atkins, M.D., and Barry Sears, Ph.D.
Only two books earned PCRM's top rating of five stars: Eat More, Weigh Less by Dean Ornish, M.D., and The McDougall Program for Weight Loss by John McDougall, M.D. Both promote low-fat, vegetarian diets, which are high in fiber and low in cholesterol. Lowest ratings went to Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution and The Carbohydrate Addict's Lifespan Program by Richard Heller, Ph.D., and Rachel Heller, Ph.D., both of which espouse high-protein, low-carbohydrate menus. Atkins' and Ornish's programs are likely to be included in the USDA report scheduled for release 11 January.
"Comparing the choices out there for dieters, the vegetarian diets are clearly the healthiest, the more moderate low-fat diets are a distant second, and high-protein, Atkins-style diets are the worst—in fact, dangerous over the long run," says PCRM president Neal D. Barnard, M.D. "High-protein diets can harm the kidneys, weaken bones, increase cancer and heart disease risk, and create a number of other health problems."
Both of the diet books ranked highest by PCRM are supported by published research studies, while high-protein diets are not.
PCRM rated each book's daily diet recommendations on five criteria critical to good nutrition and safe, healthy weight loss: a minimum of 25 grams of fiber, five servings of fruits and vegetables, no more than 50 milligrams of cholesterol, no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat and no more than 10 percent from saturated fat.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.