An associate professor at Yale Universitys School of Public Health, David Katz, MD, works to oversee studies in disease prevention and health promotion at the universitys Prevention Research Center. Chances are you know him better though from his appearances on morning television or the regular nutrition column he pens for O, the Oprah magazine. The Flavor Point is Katzs second book about healthy eating, but his first diet book. In it, he proposes that by controlling flavors at a meal, dieters can turn off their appetites and eat less. Katz predicts that once dieters start eating less, the weight will come off.

In his first book, The Way to Eat, Katz talks mainly about healthy eating to prevent disease. Here, the focus is on weight loss and Katzs own theory about how to make it happen. He presents his “flavor point” theory and suggests that its founded on scientific fact. Yet, the research into flavors impact on weight control isnt all that strong. So will eating lemon at every meal fatigue your palate and make you less likely to overeat, as Katz suggests? Thats debatable. There are no studies that actually look at eating according to flavor themes and how it impacts appetite, feelings of fullness, and weight loss. It seems odd that Katz, who oversees medical research for Yale, didnt subject his Flavor Point diet to the same rigorous medical research standards that other weight loss researchers use to test their diet theories.

Basic principles:

There is a point at every meal when you stop eating because you feel full. Its better to reach this “Flavor Point,” as the author dubs it, early in the meal because that way, you end up eating less. The way to satisfy your flavor point is by limiting the variety of flavors at a meal. According to Katz, an overabundance of flavors at one meal can stimulate appetite centers in the brain and cause a person to overeat.

How the diet works:

There are three phases. In phase 1, which lasts 4 weeks, dieters eat according to flavor-themed days. On “Lemon Day,” breakfast might be a lemon smoothie followed by a mid-morning snack of lemon yogurt and a lunch of lemon tabbouleh salad. At mid-afternoon, theres a lemon juice fizz and then at supper, tilapia with lemon. During phase 2, or weeks 5 through 6, these flavor themes can vary from meal to meal. Finally, by phase 3, dieters drop the flavor themes and simply search out whole foods such as whole grains, lean meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

What you can eat:

The emphasis is on whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and organic eggs, for example) rather than packaged or convenience items. Brand names of wholesome packaged foods are mentioned—Arrowhead Mills Cereals, Newmans Own salsas, Kozy Shak puddings—to help dieters zero in on processed foods that are free of heart-unhealthy trans fats and empty-calorie, high fructose corn syrup. To fill up, dieters eat a salad at the start of supper and end meals with a hot tea or another warm beverage. The latter measures are meant to help the body realize its full, Katz says.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

Hard to say. The author offers up anecdotal evidence from 20 of his patients that followed the diet regimen. Several of these patients are highlighted in the book and are listed by name, occupation, and number of pounds lost.

Is the diet healthy?

Yes. The menus add up to around 1,300-1,500 calories—an adequate amount by nutritionists standards—and include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

What do the experts say?

“Theres very little scientific evidence that manipulations of flavor in the diet can affect body weight or food intake over the long term,” says Mark Friedman, PhD, associate director of Philadelphias Monell Chemical Senses Center, the premier scientific institution in the country for sensory research, including the sense of taste. “Hes using 20 of his own patients with testimonials to say it works. Thats not science. Its a gimmick.” Renowned weight loss researcher Judith S. Stern, ScD, a professor at the University of California at Davis, says maybe it is a gimmick, but gimmicks arent always a bad thing. “Im all for gimmicks if they work, if they help people lose weight.” Her quibble with the diet is that the author hasnt conducted any randomized controlled trials to see if the diet actually works. “It might work, but you have to test it out.”

Who should consider the diet?

Anyone can lose weight with the plan since its low in calories. However, it seems geared more to dieters who have plenty of time to cook and shop according to flavor themes.

Bottom line:

The recipes in the book sound simple and healthful, and so is the emphasis on whole grains and minimally processed foods. Still, theres no proven advantage to building meals around flavor themes.
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