Since shes frequently testing recipes or sampling cuisine in exotic locales, cookbook editor and author Fran McCullough knows how easy it can be to put on the pounds. Taking them off is another story. The only method thats worked for McCullough is one of her own making. In her book Living Low-Carb: The Complete Guide to Long-Term Low-Carb Dieting (Little, Brown, 2000), she provides brief overviews of some popular carb-restricted diets and discusses her opinions on the science behind them. And with her strong culinary background, the author makes low-carb eating enjoyable: The book offers tips on the best-tasting low-carb products and 175 original recipes. Dieters looking for tasty cuisine may already know about McCulloughs 1997 best-seller, The Low-Carb Cookbook (Hyperion) and The Good Fat Cookbook (Scribner, 2003), both of which share healthful ways to use butter, olive oil, and other fats.

Instead of a concrete diet plan, this book is more of a tool to help you weigh the pros and cons of eating low-carb, based on the authors experience and expertise. If youre looking for precise food lists and specific menus, youre out of luck. But if youre pondering the feasibility of eating this way, you may find some valuable tips.

Basic principles:

It all boils down to a 10-step plan: Drink 8 to 12 cups of water daily. Have protein at every meal. Eat whole foods, raw ones ideally. Avoid white foods such as sugar and processed flour. Eat fruit at breakfast. Choose fats wisely. Weigh yourself weekly or monthly. Eat dinner early. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on.

How the diet works:

Youll find brief examples of what to eat. Breakfast might include fruit and cottage cheese with active cultures; lunch might be egg salad on low-carb toast with a salad; dinner could be a chefs salad. Stock the pantry and fridge with canned tuna, sardines, celery, hard-cooked eggs, cheese, nuts, and green vegetables.

What you can eat:

There are no specific lists or amounts. Good vegetable choices include turnips, cauliflower, and daikon radishes. Low-carb fruits like berries, melons, and peaches are great. Good fats include nuts and nut oils, peanuts, avocados, cold-pressed olive oil, and sesame oil. The authors rule of thumb: Avoid everything white: sugar, potatoes, popcorn, flour, and rice. Milk is limited since its high in carbs.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

Its not clear. McCullough includes a sprinkling of anecdotes about dieters who have lost weight by creating their own low-carb eating strategies.

Is the diet healthy?

Hard to say—theres no formal plan to evaluate. One concern: McCulloughs “emergency fast pound drop” regimen, which calls for cutting or drastically limiting whole food groups (such as fruit and dairy) that provide important nutrients. The author also recommends L-carnitine and liver-cleansing supplements, neither of which has been proven to aid weight loss.

What do the experts say?

In a recent editorial for the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, George Blackburn, MD, PhD, a longtime obesity researcher and director of nutrition at Harvard Medical School, had this to say about low-carb diets in general: “Lack of data on the long-term safety and effectiveness of very low-carbohydrate diets makes their medically unsupervised use very troubling, especially by those who may have a preclinical or ‘silent condition or illness. We already have an optimal diet for weight loss,” Blackburn says. “Its low in saturated fat, high in fruits and vegetables, and promotes high-fiber-containing carbs.”

University of Pennsylvania weight-control researcher Gary Foster, PhD, says hes trying to keep an open mind. “We have to respect that all overweight people are not the same,” he says. Limiting carbs may prove to be a useful strategy for some folks; theres just no long-term data to prove that its safe or keeps weight off. Foster says dieters must remember that they can lose weight with just about any method if they keep one fundamental principle in mind: energy balance. “If you want to lose weight, you have to eat less than you burn,” Foster says.

Who should consider the diet?

Gourmet cooks. McCulloughs book is full of upscale recipes and ingredients that make low-carb fare sound delicious.

Bottom line:

The science and explanations seem iffy, but the recipes and food tips are priceless.
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