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comparing the diets

For Americans who want to lose weight, there's certainly no shortage of diets to choose from, with each claiming to offer the best weight-loss solution. Here is a chart comparing the basic elements of each diet profiled in "Diet Wars": its premise, its logic, and what critics are saying. Plus, a sample dinner from each plan.







Sample dinner

Weight Watchers


Jean Nidetch, housewife

General goal of 10 percent weight loss with a "points" system to simplify calorie counting.

Every food is assigned a point value based on calories, total fat, and dietary fiber to meet a daily targeted points range. Weekly meetings create supportive and educational community. There is an emphasis on exercise and making the diet part of a long-term lifestyle change.

Some members shy away from the weekly weigh-ins and meetings.

Chinese vegetables with chicken, tossed salad, brown rice (10 points)


Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution, first published in 1972

Dr. Robert C. Atkins, cardiologist

Achieve a "metabolic advantage" with a four-phase diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein.

By reducing the intake of carbohydrates, you will burn excess body fat for fuel, and feel satiated on a diet that emphasizes fats and protein. Essential nutrients come from low-carbohydrate vegetables.

Critics, who range from vegetarians like Dr. Dean Ornish to proponents of cardiac health such as Nathan Pritikin, argue that the long-term effects of a diet high in protein and saturated fats are unknown.

From the (preliminary) "induction" phase: broiled steak, oven-fried turnips, arugula and Boston lettuce salad


First Longevity Center opened in 1976

Nathan Pritikin, engineer

"Caloric Density Solution" -- a disciplined low-fat approach designed to fight heart disease and high blood pressure.

Strict adherence to low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, along with regular exercise, leads to better health and weight loss.

Early criticism was directed at what at the time seemed like an unscientific approach to fight heart disease. Today, proponents of good fats, like Dr. Walter Willett criticize the diet's severe restriction of vegetable oils. Others question whether the diet is too severe and hard to follow.

Salmon paella, baked plantain, onion basket stuffed with carrots and spinach, steamed asparagus


Studies of the theory started in the late 70s; Eat More, Weigh Less published in 1993

Dr. Dean Ornish, professor of medicine at the University of California

"Eat more, weigh less" with a diet high in fiber, low in fat.

Fiber and soy reduce insulin and cholesterol levels, and eating less fat means less total calories consumed. Emphasis on anti-oxidants and avoidance of animal fats promotes overall health.

Like Pritikin, some critics feel that the diet is so low in fat, it's not practical for long-term maintenance. Others believe "good" fats, such as vegetable oils and omega-3 fatty acids, are unnecessarily avoided.

Rigatoni with tomato mushroom sauce, arugula fennel salad with cucumber and chick peas

South Beach

Developed in 1996; The South Beach Diet published in 2003

Dr. Arthur Agatston, cardiologist

"Lose belly fat first" with this three-phase plan.

Initial restriction of carbohydrates trains the body not to crave them. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats, whole-grain carbs, and fiber will improve blood chemistry, lower weight and reduce bad cholesterol. Focus on realistic exercise plan.

Skeptics claim that all diets are tough to stick to, and despite its popularity, South Beach is no different. The Florida Citrus industry is fighting against the diet's restriction of orange juice.

From Phase One: Fish kabobs, oven-roasted vegetables, sliced cucumber with olive oil

Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy published in 2001

Dr. Walter C. Willett, chairman of Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health

Revise the food pyramid for healthy living.

Inverts USDA food pyramid by creating a foundation of "good fats" and whole-grain carbohydrates in combination with exercise. Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and nuts, while putting refined starches at the top of the pyramid. Lose weight by reducing caloric intake on this regimen.

Critics argue Willett's "good" fats, such as olive oil, are laden with calories. Meanwhile, Atkins advocates, such as Gary Taubes, do not agree with the good fat/bad fat distinction, saying that the risks from saturated fat are overblown.

Pork tenderloin with pistachio-gremolata crust, wild rice pilaf, steamed asparagus

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posted april 8, 2004

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