Pros: Enthusiasm; lists and guidelines; delicious recipes
Cons: Can come across like a fad diet book at times
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of Jane Wesman Public Relations, Inc.
Also published on Epinions.com.
I admit, my first impression of The Eat-Clean Diet, by Tosca Reno, B.Sc., B.Ed., was a negative one. “Fast FAT LOSS that lasts forever!” exclaims the cover. “Never go hungry, Eat the foods you LOVE!” These are exactly the sorts of claims I associate with late-night or early-morning infomercials and dubious diet “supplements.” I always keep an open mind when reading & reviewing a book, however, and I’m very glad that I did in this case—not just because I was wrong, but also because this book did me a world of good.
But as so often happens, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s face it—many of us already have a basic idea of what’s good for us. We know we shouldn’t have lots of saturated fats. We should eat fewer processed foods such as sugar-laden snacks and desserts. We should eat more vegetables. Where we get hung up is on the finer points, the arguments that go back and forth between the major fad diets.
Atkins tried to convince us that carbs were evil and fat was dandy; we saw where that got us. Many people thought South Beach was the same song, although closer inspection showed a more sane lesson regarding ‘good’ fats and ‘good’ carbs. Still, it advocated artificially-sweetened desserts, which not everyone is fond of, and because it often got confused with the no- or low-carb diets, it perhaps didn’t do as much good as it could have. It didn’t help that many of the recipes in the South Beach books weren’t entirely inspiring.
Those few people who read The Oldways Table would have gotten a much more balanced view of nutrition based on ages-old diets from around the world, but since that book didn’t advertise itself as a ‘diet book’ most of the people who needed to read it won’t have done so.
And that brings us to Ms. Reno’s The Eat-Clean Diet. Most of its recommendations are familiar to me now that I’ve been reading and experimenting with healthy cookbooks for a while. It’s a bit more stringent on the no-fat requirement than I’m used to; for example, the lack of cheeses and emphasis on limiting whole eggs goes against some of the common-sense material in the Oldways book. However, the rest of it had me nodding along in agreement. It’s all about good carbs, good fats, and combining carbs with lean protein to keep us feeling full. Where Agatston’s South Beach Diet recommends three meals with careful snacking between, Ms. Reno replaces that with five or six small meals spaced throughout the day—the interesting thing being that even before I picked up this book I’d started doing that myself because it kept me full longer and helped me eat less.
So what’s new? What makes The Eat-Clean Diet a worthwhile addition to the stacks of diet books and healthy eating books already out there?
For one, it includes great lists of pantry goods, produce, etc. with which to fill your cupboards and refrigerator. It makes it easier to get into the swing of having enough yummy, healthy food around to keep you full and satisfied. Instead of just “eat oatmeal for breakfast,” it includes things you can add to your oatmeal to jazz it up, make it fill you up more, or make it even healthier.
For another, for those of you who don’t yet understand all the information out there on processed sugars, saturated fats, etc., it introduces those concepts in nice, easy language aimed at your average person.
Tosca’s cheerleading excitement and enthusiasm, while perhaps a bit jarring at first if you aren’t into that sort of thing, is actually pretty infectious after a while, perhaps because it’s tempered with helpful information as well as personal experience and doesn’t feel empty.
Just like South Beach and Weight Watchers, the Eat-Clean Diet advertises itself as a lifestyle change rather than a diet, which really is what we all need—a change to eating healthily. It makes this change easier than Weight Watchers, though; instead of counting calories or points, you eat healthy foods and eyeball general portion sizes. It provides good guidelines for keeping portions of things such as natural nut butters and lean meats under control so that you don’t accidentally slip into overdoing the calories, however.
Tosca weight-trains as well, and is into muscle-building and fitness, and includes advice in those areas. As she points out, a muscular body burns more calories; adding weight training to your regimen does a lot more to help you lose weight than simple cardio alone.
Getting Over the Cover
About a third of the way into the book I realized why the book cover so closely resembles fad diet books. Tosca includes several stories of people approaching her wanting to know her “secret” to looking incredibly fit over 40 (lest you think she’s one of those easily-skinny people, she lost the weight by getting fit and changing her eating habits just like the rest of us need to). These people inevitably believe there’s some sort of magic pill, or a particular food they should eat or avoid (ie, a fad diet they should follow), and have difficulty believing the key is simply to eat the right foods.
Given her loathing of fad diets, I honestly believe she deliberately wanted the book designed so that all these people who are looking for quick answers would pick up her book instead, and finally hear the things they really need to hear rather than “just take this pill” or “just stop eating carbs.” And that’s something I can respect. After all, the people she most wants to reach are those who have been most misled into thinking that fad diets are good.
One of the things that sets this book apart is the recipes. I admit that while her ideas are great, I found myself dubiously eying the pictured plates of raw veggies with no dressing and the like. I’m just not yet to the point where I can eat only raw veggies and feel full. I was afraid that her recipes would be similar—healthy, sure, but lacking in any real appealing flavor.
Then we tried a recipe for parchment-baked fish that has the reader spread pesto over the fish and top it with shredded veggies before baking. Delicious! The various flavors came together just perfectly in one of those recipes that’s somehow more than the sum of its parts. (And I’m not the biggest fish fan in the world, particularly white-fleshed fish.)
There’s a dessert made with quinoa and dates, and a tomato and roasted garlic soup that can double as a tomato sauce. The roasted garlic and sweet potato soup makes my mouth water just looking at it. The recipes are fairly simple, and use things like roasted garlic, chicken stock, olive oil, etc. to ensure good flavor.
While this book doesn’t include a huge number of recipes, it certainly gives you plenty of ideas, and it also includes two full-week menus from morning to night to get you started until you get the hang of things.
As it turned out, I started feeling ill a few weeks ago, and the symptoms matched up with potential gallbladder issues, which are usually caused by eating too many fatty foods. So, I bumped The Eat-Clean Diet and its companion cookbook to the top of my review stack and started using them to help me eat as low-fat as possible. Within days I felt worlds better. I had energy, I didn’t feel nauseous after eating, and I wasn’t in pain. On top of that I thoroughly enjoyed the food I was eating and didn’t particularly feel deprived. So while it’s too early for me to comment on the “fast FAT LOSS that lasts forever!” claims (although it stands to reason that if you get plenty of exercise and eat all the right foods that should happen unless there’s a medical problem holding you back), I can state with all confidence that it’s certainly a much healthier and very delicious way to live.