Dr. Andrew Weil: Weight Loss and Wellness (cont.)

How It Works

Weil keeps it simple. You won't get a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo from his book. Instead, he presents a basic primer in human nutrition and describes how the body gets energy from food.

First off, carbohydrates, or starchy vegetables and grains, are converted to glucose and mainly used for energy. The brain particularly likes its energy from carbohydrates. But too many carbs do not make us brainy -- they make us overweight. Too few send us into ketosis, in which the body retrieves energy from fat stores. However (and here's where Weil is critical of the high-protein diets that send us into this altered state), ketosis may be detrimental to our health over the long term, principally because of a rise in cholesterol levels and calcium depletion, according to Weil. The best carbohydrates are unrefined grains and vegetables -- ones that release glucose slowly. Medically speaking, these are said to have a low glycemic index.

Second, fats and oils are more concentrated sources of energy than carbohydrates, but these need to be chemically converted into glucose to be used by the body. Although fat has a bad name in today's collective health consciousness, some fat is essential. Critically speaking, though, we need the right balance. Too much fat ... well, makes us fat, as well as sets up shop for heart disease and cancer. Not enough fat, however, and we may run into problems, such as skin inflammation, hair loss, and susceptibility to infection.

Finally, we require proteins to build, maintain, and repair the body, but they too can be converted to glucose (and therefore serve as an energy source) when needed. They are composed of 20 amino acids, 10 of which must be supplied by foods on a regular basis. Ingesting too much protein increases the workload of the digestive system and may strain the liver and kidneys. Too little will cause malnutrition, increased susceptibility to infection, and possibly early death, Weil says.

Weil cites exercise as a critical component of his program, but has little to say about the subject other than that regular exercise increases caloric output and in time can change the basic weight-loss equation in your favor -- and help you keep off the pounds over the long term.

What the Experts Say

Nutrition experts support Weil's diet as a common-sense approach that is based on well-accepted nutritional principles. His plan is a healthy one, the experts agree, because in general people who eat similar diets tend to be healthier than those who don't. "There is a vast amount of scientific evidence that shows that vegetarian diets with small amounts of animal products are the healthiest diets for lowering mortality from heart disease and cancer, and indeed, all causes," comments Michael Janson, MD, past president of the American Preventive Medical Association and the author of Dr. Janson's New Vitamin Revolution.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) also gives Weil's diet a nod of approval. Spokeswoman for the ADA and an associate professor of nutrition at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, says she likes the overall approach he takes, blending traditional medical theory and therapies with alternative medicine. "He puts a lot of emphasis on patients' responsibility for their own health," she says, "and that is always good because you can't have somebody standing over you all the time telling you what to eat, what to do."

Food for Thought

Among the array of popular diet writers, Weil recommends a particularly holistic approach. This means that dieters must not only watch what they eat, but also consider the level of stress in their lives, the amount of exercise they do, and other factors. It is a good, practical plan for those willing to follow the guidelines. For those seeking a list of rigid do's and don'ts or easy-to-follow formulas, this plan may prove challenging. In addition, those who are used to diets high in dairy and red meat may find this diet unsatisfying.

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD February 2004.

SOURCES: Weil, A. Eating Well for Optimum Health, 2001, Perennial Currents. Drweil.com web site. American Dietetic Association. Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, associate professor of nutrition, Georgia State University, Atlanta. Michael Janson, MD, past president, the American Preventive Medical Association.

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Last Editorial Review: 5/20/2005