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Book May Remain No. 1 Among Readers, but Nutritionists Don't Agree : Diamonds' 'Fit for Life' Theory Refuted by Experts

March 20, 1986|ROSE DOSTI | Times Staff Writer

As a professional university extension nutritionist statewide, my primary program and responsibility is to combat misinformation and provide sound nutritional information. It's on that basis that I especially say that this book is not recommended except as a prime example of extreme food faddism.

--Helene Swenerton Ph.D., nutrition specialist, Cooperative Extension University of California.

The book in question: "Fit for Life" by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond (Warner: $16.50).

The "Not Recommended" stamp was on a hot line book review dispatched to members of the California Dietetic Assn. by Swenerton.

Still, with 1 million copies in print, "Fit for Life" has remained No. 1 on some of the most prestigious best-seller lists longer than is the fate of most health/diet books--31 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and remains at the top of The Los Angeles Times list. Co-author Harvey Diamond largely credits television personality Merv Griffin for helping to rocket sales nationwide. "We really owe a lot to Merv Griffin. He's constantly talking about our book on his show."

Diamond and his wife, Marilyn, who operate the International Health Systems nutrition counseling service in Santa Monica, make no bones about having received their nutritional training from the American College of Health Science, a non-accredited college in Austin, Tex. According to Harvey Diamond, all the information upon which their theories are based comes from the field of natural hygiene. "Maybe we're not in agreement with the medical profession, but we know our program works."

Emphasis on Carbohydrates

Actually, the Diamonds' push for complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and grains) over meats is not far off from the U.S. dietary guidelines for Americans, which emphasize complex carbohydrates and de-emphasize fatty meats. And the recipes in the book developed by Marilyn, who is director of the Institute for Nutritious Home Cooking in Santa Monica and does cooking demonstrations on television, are excellent and can apply to, if not enhance, any diet. The vegetable dishes are particularly appealing (stir-fried lo mein with shredded vegetables, curried vegetables and cabbage strudel).

However, it's the principal theory of the book, which had been refuted by the scientific community decades ago, that seems to grate at the craw of established nutritionists. Like "The Beverly Hills Diet," a best-selling predecessor by Judy Mazel, "Fit for Life" is based on the principles of so-called "food combining, a turn-of-the-century notion that when combined inappropriately foods will become rotten, cannot be assimilated, toxify the body and make people fat."

The proper approach, say the Diamonds, is never to mix alkaline foods (fruits, vegetables and grains) with acidic foods (protein). For example, one never eats either starch or protein with vegetables and fruits. Sandwiches are made with vegetables since bread is a starch.

Nor does one thwart the elimination process taking place from 4 a.m. to noon each day by eating anything but fruit or juice for breakfast.

Food combining, according to the theory, cuts the digestive process by two-thirds, preventing food from remaining in the system longer than five hours, compared with up to 16 hours for some hard-to-digest foods, such as protein. For instance, the theory suggests, fruit should never be eaten with or immediately following anything. A grace period of three hours after meals is usually advised.

Furthermore, according to the theory, because protein digestion is done by enzymes that are more acidic in nature than enzymes that carry out carbohydrate digestion, these enzymes nullify one another.

"These archaic turn-of-the-century notions are totally invalid and were thoroughly refuted long ago," Swenerton said. "The mucousless diet of the turn-of-the-century suggesting that certain combinations of foods caused toxins and mucous was at a time when people knew very little about the chemistry of food and little of the basic physiology and biology of the body. These notions are in complete conflict with reliable research-based information on basic physiology and nutrition. And there is no scientific evidence to support such claims.

"What is surprising is that in these modern days with so much accurate information available in public school, or even at elementary levels, that the public would succumb to these grossly wild ideas."

However, the Diamonds, who seem sincere and full of conviction about their program, pooh-pooh the critics. "I don't care whether scientific evidence exists or not. I ask people to combine their foods for one week, then tell me how you feel. One million people are interested in it despite what the scientists think," Harvey Diamond said.

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