holistic health magazine




An Interview with
Dr. Connie Guttersen

Best-selling author of The Sonoma Diet

by Dennis and Janice Hughes, Share Guide Publishers

Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D. is a leading nutrition expert who has devoted her career to developing flavorful approaches to healthy eating and weight reduction. A registered dietician, culinary professional, and nutrition consultant to the world famous Culinary Institute of America, Dr. Guttersen delivers key nutrition messages by bringing together the art and science of food in an easy to understand style. She has focused primarily on the diets inspired by Mediterranean and other regional cuisines.

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Dr. Guttersen, you've written that the Sonoma Diet is the "next step" diet. Why is this?

 In the past, when you heard the word "diet" it was how many days were you on it until you were off. Then you could either try another one or go back to what you were doing before; it was always a temporary stage. The Sonoma Diet is a way of eating that becomes a lifestyle that you don't want to give up. It has nothing to do with low-carb or low-fat. The "next step" recognizes that artificially low levels of dietary fat  or carbs are neither pleasing or healthy.

You divided your diet into three segments, or Waves. Why did you make Wave One ten days long, and how long does Wave Two last?

 The first part, or Wave One, is 10 days long because it allows you to really get a jump start and completely focus on the triggers that put extra pounds around your waist. This is when you see the greatest change, especially around the waist. For most people who want to lose weight, that is where the weight is. We know that those extra pounds around the waist, the spare tire, is a red flag for heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, and possibly even Alzheimer's. Those first 10 days are designed to deal with sugar cravings and improve energy levels. They also target hunger. It's enough time to get the motivation going. Wave Two is where you stay until you reach your goal weight, and Wave Three is the lifestyle phase, for after you have reached your goal weight.

Isn't Wave One more restrictive and a little harder for people?

 Yes. It's a little more difficult because there is no wine allowed. There's also no fruit for that time period, because we really want to restrict the sugar for those first 10 days. For the majority of people who need to lose weight, they sure love the sweets. If you're somebody who's used to eating a lot of really intense sweet flavors, your taste buds are almost blunted. In those first 10 days your taste buds regenerate themselves. And it seems to be enough time to get over the worst cravings for sweets. Then on the eleventh day, when you bite into a strawberry or a blueberry, you can really taste the natural sweetness and you think Wow, this tastes great!

You recommend in your book that people start by completely cleaning out their kitchen and throw out everything with white sugar or white flour in it.

 It helps if you don't have these things around tempting you. I say that in the book just to make a point. I have kids, so I know that you can't necessarily throw everything out-but get rid of the stuff that really tempts you, and replace it with healthier things.

Some diet books tell you to remove items with even the slightest amount of sugar, such as salad dressings, sauces and marinades. Do you think that's necessary?

 No, I don't think so. Realistically, you may end up with a few things that are good products but have a little bit of sweetness. Just use a little common sense and don't be obsessive.

You don't believe in the whole low-carb fad, do you?

 Not at all. In the Sonoma Diet you never cut the carbs-it's whole grains all the way. I don't believe in low-carb eating. Whole grains are power foods and they are extremely important.

What's the difference between Wave One and Wave Two in the Sonoma Diet?

 Wave One is a little more restrictive. On Wave One we've seen people lose up to 7 pounds in those first 10 days. And I know some people are tempted to stay on Wave One longer, but it's not worth it. Go to Wave Two on the 11th day. In Wave Two you can have wine; you can have a little bit of dark chocolate; you can have fruit. You're really eating from all the food groups, and in the smartest combinations. So what you discover is that you can stay on this for a really long time. It's comfortable, and you're not hungry. Most people lose about one to one and a half pounds a week. Wave Two is where you stay until you reach your goal weight.

If you push too hard with Wave One, you won't be able to sustain it and you could end up with the yo-yo effect.

 Absolutely. You want to eat good food and enjoy it. What I like about Wave Two is that it works for the entire family. You are not forced to eat something different from everybody else.  And then, once you've reached your goal weight, you'll find Wave Thee is not really what you would call "maintenance."  You've changed your entire approach to eating-for the better. You've eliminated sugar cravings so that sugar-sweetened items are back to being what they are meant to be-occasional treats.

Some restaurants serve a small amount of food on a big plate, as a certain presentation style. But it's much more common to have huge portions, because the restaurants realize that the ingredients are cheap, so they load you up. But if you take home leftovers, then you've got lunch the next day.

 Maybe so, but most people tend to eat a lot more when they are given a big portion, because you tend to eat what's in front of you.

Isn't it much healthier to stop eating when your stomach is only half or two-thirds full?

 Yes. If you eat large amounts, it puts a strain on the stomach and the whole digestive system. It's really hard to eat an overabundance of food when you have a glass of wine and take the time to eat slowly and savour every bite. You really tend to eat less that way.

Many people don't even chew their food very much.

 That's correct. If you don't chew your food well, you don't get all the nutritional benefits. You need to chew more to break up the food to release the nutrients. Also, if you don't take the time to chew your food properly, you don't have enough time for the signals to travel to the brain saying that you've had enough to eat.

Your diet seems similar in many ways to the Zone Diet. Are you familiar with the work of Barry Sears?

 Yes, there are some similarities. If you were to look at the nutrient allowances, they would come up very similar. I think the difference is I'm a foodie, and I place a huge emphasis on flavor. I want people to get back in the kitchen. I'm promoting an incredibly tasty, flavorful way of cooking, adapted by our lifestyle. I think I'm easier on the scientific concepts, and I take more of a common sense approach.

The Sonoma Diet does not impose restrictions on the times of meals. Many other diets do, such as not eating after 6:00 p.m. Do you think this is unnecessary?

 If you're eating the amounts I'm recommending in The Sonoma Diet, then I don't see the meal times as a big concern. Here in Napa Valley, sometimes we don't eat dinner until really late, but we never eat heavy meals. Often our heaviest meal is at lunch.

You also don't require people to switch from eating three meals a day to five or six, but isn't there some evidence that smaller meals eaten more frequently make it easier to lose weight by regulating blood  sugar and controlling cravings?

 I prefer three meals a day plus a snack. Some people consider six small meals a day as the ideal. My main point is not to skip a meal.

Drinking lots of water has been mentioned by many people as an aid to weight loss. Do you agree?

 Yes, drinking enough water is very important. When you drink lots of water, you sleep better, you feel better, your skin looks better, and you have more energy to go out and exercise. Water is a critically important nutrient that people sometimes forget. Many people are dehydrated but don't recognize it.

Isn't fiber also a key player in weight loss?

 Yes, for several reasons. We know that fiber helps you to feel full and satiated, and it also has great effects on blood sugar, keeping it from spiking up and down. So that in itself has a real effect on hunger. Fiber is also one of the key nutrients that reduces risk factors for something called metabolic syndrome (also called chemical active disease), which is a syndrome that includes the extra pounds around the waist which lead to high cholesterol, and low HDL. With that syndrome you have higher blood sugar levels, which leads to insulin resistance, and you have the perfect setting for something called prediabetes, which leads to Type 2 diabetes. You also have the perfect setup for heart disease and they now even link it to Alzheimer's.

Isn't olive oil central to the Sonoma Diet?

 Yes, there's probably no food choice you'll make that does more for your health and weight loss efforts than olive oil.  The research is clear that a major reason for southern Europeans' low rate of heart disease is their liberal use of olive oil as their main source of dietary fat. You need dietary fat to lose weight, but you need the right kind. Olive oil is mostly made of mono-unsaturated fat that actually lowers your levels of the bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It's definitely a power food. Canaola oil is another good oil, but  it doesn't have the flavor or the antioxidants of olive oil.

Other power foods on your list include strawberries, blueberries, and grapes. But what if you start this diet in the winter?

 Fresh is ideal, but you can buy frozen blueberries and strawberries in the wintertime. Another power food you can get any time is almonds. If you put almonds into a salad or even over streamed greens it will help you feel full. The particular protein in almonds is wonderful for satiety. The fat in almonds is mainly the heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fat, and there is a growing consensus in the medical community that almonds decrease the risk for heart disease. Other studies have shown that almonds are protective against cancer and diabetes as well.

You also have spinach and bell peppers on your list of power foods. Isn't it true that the deeper and richer the color, the more antioxidants?

 Sure. And eating a wide variety of veggies and fruit is important. You should eat foods from all the colors: yellow, green, red, orange, purple. A salad is a lot more than just iceberg lettuce and tomatoes!

You recommend including wine in the Sonoma Diet. Is this specifically red wine?

 No, any kind. Having a glass of wine with dinner can decrease the risk factor for hypoglycemia, Alzheimer's, cataracts, and increase longevity. I think more importantly it helps people to enjoy their meal; it's relaxing and you tend to eat slower.

But the wine does add extra calories.

 Yes, but it's worth it--although I do leave it off of Wave One for that reason.

You recommend eating 75% protein at breakfast, but this is much different than what most people are used to doing (such as a muffin and coffee). Why do you think protein is so important in the morning?

 If you eat protein at breakfast, it helps to get you through until lunch without feeling ravenous, and thus snacking on the wrong thing. It's not really that much protein-because it's a small plate, we're really talking about only an ounce of protein for breakfast.

What do you think about synthetic sweeteners like Equal and Sweet n Low?

 I don't recommend them, especially in the beginning. After you have had a craving or a dependence on sugar, you can't break the habit if you keep feeding it-and the brain still tastes sweet even if it's not real sugar. You need to break yourself of the craving, and the idea is to tone down the level of your consumed sweeteners.
What do you think about having a glass of orange juice in the morning?

 Fruit juice is very high in calories if you're trying to lose weight. And you're not getting the fiber that's in the whole fruit; instead you have a very concentrated amount of sugar. I think you benefit more from the fiber and the diluted sweeteners by eating the whole fruit. It's not that I have anything against juice; it's just when people are trying to lose weight it's not the smartest decision for them.

Your book says you are allowed up to two cups of coffee per day, but that it should be black. What about soy milk?

 Yes, that's fine. You can even add a little bit of milk, but just make sure that there's no trans fats, like those nondairy creamers.

What do you think of the vegan diet that Dr. McDougall recommends?

 I think it's too low-fat.  I'm not a big fan of very low-fat diets. Number one, I find they are lacking in flavor. Also, when you look at the metabolic syndrome, the disease of obesity, that condition actually benefits from a moderate amount of dietary fat, as long as it's the right types of fat, such as the fat in olive oil or almonds. Lastly, there's been some evidence that low-fat diets can lead to depression.

Haven't you also recently written The Sonoma Diet Cookbook?

Yes, it's in the stores now. With the cookbook I was able to go into Latin and Asian flavors and some other world cuisine recipes.


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