The Hamptons Diet

Named after the chic summer haunt of well-heeled New Yorkers, the Hamptons Diet dishes up advice that turns out to be a low-carb regimen with a few new twists—including the addition of macadamia nut oil. Author Fred Pescatore, MD, former medical director of the Atkins Diet Center, calls this substance a "secret ingredient" for weight loss. Apparently, he bases that belief on a recent study that found moderate-fat diets high in monounsaturated fat are more effective and easier to follow than many other plans. Macadamia nut oil, the author asserts, is special because it contains more of these weight-loss-helping monos than any other oil. Throughout his book The Hamptons Diet (Wiley, 2004), Pescatore uses the stories of his Hamptons clients to illustrate his approach and prove it's successful.

When it comes to fat, this low-carb diet takes some confusing twists and turns. Lauding monounsaturated-rich choices like avocados, olive oil, and the much-mentioned macadamia nut oil, Pescatore promotes a Mediterranean-style approach to fat. Yet the recipes don't banish high-saturated-fat items like bacon and butter, and some are even laden with heavy cream.

Basic principles:

Focus on the right food choices, not portion sizes. Eat more fish, particularly salmon and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Enjoy lean meats. Nibble on nuts. And dine on "Mediterranean fats," which are rich in artery-friendly monounsaturated fats. Fruits, vegetables, and grains are limited since they're high in carbs. Special supplements are recommended to boost levels of nutrients such as chromium, carnitine, and essential fatty acids.

How the diet works:

You can eat unlimited amounts of lean meat and healthful fat, but carb levels are restricted based on how much weight you have to lose. Dieters who need to shed more than 10 pounds are told to confine carbs to less than 30 grams a day; people who have less than 10 pounds to lose are allowed 40 to 60 grams. Menu plans outline what you can eat at each carb level, and substitutions are allowed as long as they're foods from a similar group.

What you can eat:

Down-Home Brisket With Texas Pecan Cilantro Pesto, Sesame Broccoli, Long Beach Shrimp Salad: The book contains nearly 200 recipes intended to promote a low-carb approach to fine dining, with an emphasis on lean proteins such as fish, meat, and chicken. Any amount of fat is fine as long as most of it is monounsaturated. Macadamia nut oil tops the list, since it's far richer in monos (85 percent) than other nut oils and olive oil. Pescatore encourages dieters to seek out MacNut brand oil, because other kinds that are refined may not have the same bioactive components, he asserts.

Does the diet take and keep weight off?

That's an unknown. No scientific studies back up the claims, though Pescatore offers plenty of anecdotal evidence.

Is the diet healthy?

For the most part, no. On one hand, this is yet another low-carb plan that restricts beneficial foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy. What's more, losing 3 to 4 pounds a week is too fast to be healthy. On the flip side, the diet does encourage fish and better fat choices (except in recipes) than many other low-carb regimens.

What do the experts say?

"Macadamia nut oil doesn't have a magical ability to melt fat away," says Lona Sandon, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville. "This is just another twist on a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diet." Ingredients are so upscale, "you'd need to be able to afford to live in the Hamptons to afford this diet," she says. Weight-control expert Cathy Nonas, RD, director of diabetes and obesity programs at North General Hospital in New York City, echoes Sandon's sentiments. "If you take all the marketing hype out of this book, you find a mixed bag of diet advice," she says. "The plan does underscore the need to eat healthy fats, but the total carbohydrates, even in the maintenance phase, are low: 55 to 65 grams for women and 65 to 85 grams for men." And while the author compares his plan to the Mediterranean Diet, Nonas says the real Mediterranean Diet, which is lots richer in fruits and vegetables and whole grains and doesn't depend on exotic ingredients, is a much smarter plan.

Who should consider the diet?

Folks with personal chefs-and plenty of cash.

Bottom line:

Save your money. There are better carb-controlled regimens available—ones that don't require macadamia nut oil and 24-7 kitchen duty.
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