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Atkins, South Beach or Dr. Phil? An Expert Rates The Books

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The South Beach Diet gets a rave review as a ''healthy version'' of the Atkins diet in a roundup of popular diet books released Wednesday by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Bonnie Liebman, a nutritionist with the Washington-based consumer group, read 20 diet books for the wrap-up and advises people to ''tread carefully when choosing a diet book. They need to recognize that authors don't need evidence to back up their claims.''

Her reviews are in the January/February issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter:

* The South Beach Diet by cardiologist Arthur Agatston is a ''healthy version of the Atkins diet that's backed by solid evidence on fats and heart disease.''

The diet plan outlines foods -- whole grains, healthy fats, fish, chicken, fruits and vegetables -- that ''are very close to what health experts are recommending,'' Liebman says.

* The Ultimate Weight Solution by Phil McGraw, more commonly known as TV's Dr. Phil, is a ''tough-love manual'' that recommends eating mostly healthy foods but doesn't offer recipes.

* Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution by Robert C. Atkins, considered the low-carb bible, allows people to eat too much red meat, which may raise the risk of colon or prostate cancer, she says.

Plus, if people keep going back to the induction phase, ''the lack of fiber, vegetables and fruit may raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diverticulosis and constipation,'' Liebman says.

* Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook offers ''mostly healthy foods,'' and the program's sensible advice ''is used by millions.''

* The New Glucose Revolution by Jennie Brand-Miller, Thomas Wolever and others recommends fairly healthy foods, but the advice is difficult to follow because the glycemic index, a system devised by scientists to tell dieters how rapidly glucose enters the bloodstream after food is eaten, varies so much for each food.

* Eat Right 4 Your Type by Peter D'Adamo and Catherine Whitney, which advises eating different foods depending on one's blood type, is ''about as scientific as a horoscope,'' Liebman says. One claim she finds preposterous: That Type A women with a family history of breast cancer consider introducing snails into their diet.

In a separate story in the newsletter, public interest center nutritionist David Schardt says there are no studies that prove Shape-Up! supplements, endorsed by Dr. Phil, for apple and pear body types ''promote weight loss in anyone.''

But Brent Dobbs, chief operating officer of Shape-Up, says, ''Each ingredient does have a significant amount of research behind it. We make no claim that these are magic pills.''

On the product label of Shape Up! Shakes, Dr. Phil says they contain ''scientifically researched levels of ingredients that can help you change your behavior to take control of your weight,'' but Schardt says they're ''just run-of-the-mill powder'' made from milk, fiber and vitamins.

Dobbs says the company plans to change the wording on the shakes. He says they are ''high in fiber and low in calories, and qualify as a meal replacement.''

Some of the supplements recommended by the Atkins program such as carnitine have not been proven to be effective in helping people lose weight, Schardt says. The newspaper could not reach a spokesman for the Atkins program for comment.

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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