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'Fit for Life' Gurus Under Attack Again : Authors of Diet Book and ADA Trade Salvos

July 24, 1987|KATHLEEN DOHENY

It's Round 2: the American Dietetic Assn. vs. Marilyn and Harvey Diamond, authors of the 1985 blockbuster "Fit for Life."

The Diamonds espouse a "natural hygiene" philosophy, contending that the body can heal itself from the inside when a person eats correctly, exercises and reduces stress. They advocate, among other practices, an emphasis on complex carbohydrates (such as fruits, vegetables and grains) and eating certain foods at specific times of the day in specific combinations.

Chicken, for example, should ideally never be eaten with rice, the Diamonds maintain, and nothing but fresh fruit should be eaten before noon. Use of microwave ovens should be avoided as much as possible.

That philosophy helped make "Fit for Life" a 2-million-copy best seller (on the New York Times list for 67 weeks) and is at the center of their second book, "Living Health," a 446-page volume published last month by Warner Books. But it has outraged the mainstream dietetic community, which argues that the Diamonds may be endangering the health of millions of Americans.

Heavy Assault

"Fit for Life" came under heavy assault in 1986 from the American Dietetic Assn., which earlier this week renewed the battle by issuing a press release urging health-conscious Americans not to take seriously the suggestions in "Living Health." The Diamonds say the second book has more information about the philosophy than the first.

According to the ADA, the book's diet regimen:

--Does not meet basic nutritional needs for all age groups.

--Contains recipes and menus with high fat contents.

--Uses ingredients with high sodium content.

The association, a Chicago-based group representing 55,000 dietitians and other nutrition experts, also charged that the Diamonds oversimplify the relationship between food and disease. Specifically contradicting the authors, it contended: "The medical community recognizes no link between sugar and hyperactivity or sugar and learning and behavioral problems in children."

Sometimes Contradictory

Mindy Hermann-Zaidins, a New York dietitian who helped draft the ADA statement, also said "Living Health" is sometimes contradictory.

"There is a big discussion on not feeding children sugar and (in another part) a very elaborate description of the candy bar the Diamond's son eats," she said. "The candy bar has dates, honey and maple syrup, all of which are simple sugars and have the same effects nutritionally as refined sugar."

The Diamonds spent much of Wednesday in their home office high in the Malibu mountains crafting a fiery, nine-paragraph rebuttal. In a phone interview Thursday, Marilyn Diamond scoffed at the ADA charges.

"There is no comparison between the natural sugar that is found in fruit and the processed sugar found in candy bars," she said, also countering the ADA claim that sugar ingestion and hyperactivity are not linked: "The problem is dietitians don't understand the differences between natural sugars found in fruits and processed sugars."

In their statement, which Warner Books is mailing today to reviewers, the Diamonds charge that their book "is a tremendous threat to the ADA because it continues our successful work in an area where it (the ADA) has bitterly failed. People, many people are using our program because they want to, not because they have no other choice."

By attacking the book, the ADA is "attempting . . . to confuse people and scare them away from documentation and research that runs counter to the ADA party line," the statement says. It contends that ADA's work in the public sector--specifically with school lunch programs and hospital menus--has failed miserably.

Self-Taught in Nutrition

In a phone interview, Harvey Diamond charged that dietitians who criticize the "Fit for Life" philosophy are only attempting to protect their own financial interests. He noted that several states (California among them) are considering legislation that would regulate dietitians and nutritionists.

The Diamonds, who are largely self-taught in nutrition, say their own robust health is proof that their philosophy of health, diet and exercise works.

"We have received more than 40,000 pieces of mail since February," Marilyn Diamond said. "Most (writers) write to tell us of their success (in following the 'Fit For Life' plan.) Only five pieces of mail have not been positive."

The Diamonds point, too, to support of their philosophy by some "establishment" physicians and dietitians.

"I think the diet plan is excellent," said Dr. Edward Taub, an associate clinical professor at UC Irvine School of Medicine who wrote the foreword to "Fit for Life" and calls himself a "mainstream" physician. Taub called the ADA statement refuting a link between sugar ingestion and childhood hyperactivity "absolutely ridiculous."

The ADA, however, remains unconvinced. In lieu of reading the Diamonds' book, suggested the ADA's Ann Cole, consumers should read a book on the ADA-"approved" list. Among others the association recommends are "The New American Diet" (Simon & Schuster) and "Jane Brody's Nutrition Book" (W. W. Norton).

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