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Book Review: No-Fad Diet, “Heart Healthy”?

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The Early Show [CBS] recently featured the American Heart Association’s No Fad Diet, a newly released book praised for promoting a healthy lifestyle to gradually and permanently lose weight. On their website, the article, Why ‘No-Fad Diet’ Really Works, promotes the book as the diet is for all those who are tired of trying to lose weight and failing.

Dr. Robert Eckel, the president of the American Heart Association [AHA] says, “We now have the science to say if you lose weight quickly, you really have to adapt a lifestyle to keep it off long term. Fad diets work, but not long term better than any other diet.”

What caught my attention was the sentence, [t]he American Heart Association has stood by its dietary guidelines for four decades and the book is just a reflection of its desire to educate people about the heart-healthy way to eat and live and maintain a healthy weight, Dr. Eckle explains.

There are virtually no details provided about the diet online, so one is left with taking it on faith that the plan is really “heart healthy” and spending $24.95 to learn more by purchasing the book. I’m not one to take things on faith when it comes to nutrition, so I had to see for myself just what they’re recommending and what falls within the definition of “heart healthy.” A quick trip to Border Books and I had my very own copy of the book.

The back cover assures a reader that “The weight-loss strategies in this book are based on reliable scientific research and are backed by respected medical professionals. The American Heart Association has the information you can trust.”

The implication is clear – the AHA is trustworthy, their professionals are the ones who are “respected” and they’re able to wade through the mounds of research data and cull out only that which is “reliable.” Got it?

My first stop within the pages are the sample menus. Why start anywhere else – the menus tell the story best about what they’re recommending since they provide a very clear picture of what they’re encouraging you to eat day after day.

The sample menus were an eye-opener!

This is not a trick question – Are trans-fats “heart healthy?”

Of course they’re not – in fact, the National Academy of Sciences-Institute of Medicine [NAS-IOM] concluded in July 2002 that “trans fat promotes heart disease” and “the only safe intake of trans fat is ‘zero.’” They stated that this was an ingredient that has no safe level for human consumption.

Trans-fats are found in foods listing “partially hydrogenated” oils and/or “shortening” and/or “margarine” and/or “fractionated” oil in the ingredients list – a result of chemically altering the oil through a process of adding hydrogen with a nickle catalyst to render it solid at room temperature.

So why then is the AHA including foods that have trans-fats in their sample menus and having the audacity to call them “heart healthy?”

Here are just a few shining examples from the sample menus:

Page 87 – 6″ fast food ham submarine sandwich (290 calories)
Page 118 – 2 large rectangle low-fat graham crackers (108 calories)
Page 100 – 3 cups light microwave popcorn (63 calories)
Page 94 – 1 whole wheat english muffin (134 calories)
Page 109 – 1 glazed doughnut (fast food) (160 calories)
Page 114 – 4 reduced fat vanilla-flavored wafer-type cookies (60 calories)
Page 122 – 1 biscuit with bacon (fast food) (360 calories)

As pointed out in Shape last September, “Laboratory testing by CSPI and other consumer organizations has also detected the fats in places you might not expect: Breakfast cereals, microwave popcorn, frozen waffles, packaged pudding snacks–all contain partially hydrogenated oils, albeit in smaller amounts than a bucket of fried chicken. Even lowfat foods such as Kellogg’s Low Fat Granola aren’t trans-fat-free. “It’s truly a stealth fat–it’s everywhere,” Severson says, noting that some seemingly healthful foods like peanut butter, breakfast bars, flour tortillas, bean dips and even baby foods contain trans fats.

Remember, the NAS-IOM has stated that there is no safe consumption level of trans-fats for humans. So why are glazed doughnuts, fast food biscuits with bacon and microwave popcorn even on the AHA menus? Color me confused, but how are these foods “heart healthy” when the respected scientists at the NAS-IOM have concluded the only safe level of intake is ZERO?

Why did the AHA not have the guts to use the “reliable scientific evidence” and tell consumers straight out that trans-fats are deadly and then provide menus that show how to eat without them?

On page 35 they provide a bullet point with “Avoid trans fats” and then include foods notorious for their trans-fat content in their sample menus, giving a greenlight to eating them when following their “No Fad Diet.”

On page 421 they provide recommendations on how to eat fast food with no warning about trans-fats from buns, spreads, cooking oils, french fries or battered fried foods on the fast food menus.

On page 422 they provide a list of foods that may “derail” your diet, and include the biscuit with bacon that they recommend in the sample menu on page 122 – and still no warning about trans-fats.

In fact, their one and only real attempt to provide useful information about trans-fats is found on page 432 and is incomplete – “Commercial products containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils include vegetable shortenings, stick margarines and backed good such as cookies and crackers.”

While the marketing machine is in full swing to have the media promote this book as healthy, in my view this “diet” is unhealthy and has the potential to wreck havoc on your health in the long-term. It may have been written by “respected medical professionals” at the AHA, who claim they’ve used “reliable scientific evidence,” but at the end of the day, this is one unhealthy way to eat based just on their menus encouraging foods with trans-fats.

And, don’t get me started on “Heart Healthy Check” Logo!

This post can also be found on my blog called The Weight of the Evidence.

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About ReginaWilshire

  • David

    Don’t get me started on that “Heart-Check” logo scam either. The AHA will sell it to who ever comes up with the big bucks, regardless of healtfulness of the product. Since when is sugary candy breakfast cereal like TRIX and Lucky Charms “heart-healthy.” The AHA has ZERO credibility. Great review!

  • Maggie

    Why would they recommend foods that have trans-fats? That doesn’t make any sense and is definitely not heart-healthy! Thank you for pointing out that the foods they recommend have trans-fats that we need to avoid.

  • Susan

    Holy Cow! Are they trying to kill us?

  • Great, insightful review – stay away folks from this pile of crap – the book, I mean

  • Tammy

    An eye-opening review. I never would have guessed that the book had these kinds of foods in the menus. For a long time I’ve tried to avoid trans-fats, but they are everywhere. You really need to read labels and be careful about what you buy. And you’re right, when you look at the press on this book, it’s all good – why isn’t anyone taking the time like you did to read it and actually review the recommendations? Thank you for taking the time you obviously did to read this book.

  • Michelle

    Great review, I love reading your stuff, always helpful!

  • Not surprising. I followed an AHA diet for a time after a massive MI and CHF. I was, as I still am, religious in my diet and life changes. It was an easy diet to follow. Too easy. I saw my cholesterol & triglycerides shoot up. I read Dr. Dean Ornish’s book (and a dozen others) and based my diet on his very severe program and have survived 11 years of CHF, CAD and ventricular arrhythmias.

    So, all that anecdote boils down to: You are quite right.

  • I’m on the “Take on Me” diet.

    Rimjob please! Or is that rimshot?

    I’ll be here all week.

    That is all.

  • Stan

    Why am I not surprised? No wonder everyone is fat and sick.

  • Anonymous

    If you can’t trust the AHA, who can you trust? What do you mean by the last sentence in your review? Is there something wrong with the foods that have that heart check on them?

  • Janet

    Thank you for the very informative, intelligent and educational post!


  • You’re welcome, Janet! You were talking about me, right? It’s all about ME 🙂

    That is all.

  • Tony

    Yet another diet book I won’t need to be reading. People need to wake up to the fact that too much of our “food” is processed in ways that turns something good and wholesome into nothing more than sludge in our bodies. Insightful review that highlights that even our respected medical experts ignore the obvious.