[Metroactive Dining]

[ Dining Index | North Bay | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

The Gotta-Try-It Diet

When it comes to slimmer waistlines, is Sonoma the new South Beach?

By Joy Lanzendorfer

From a marketing standpoint, the "Sonoma diet" makes total sense. After all, Sonoma wines are known worldwide, which makes food-related products a brand waiting to happen.

So when dietician and culinary professional Connie Guttersen, Ph.D., proposed a diet revolving around Sonoma County, her publishers at Meredith Books seized the opportunity by printing 250,000 copies of the book and spending $5 million on publicity.

The investment seems to be paying off. Released in late December, The Sonoma Diet ($24.95) has been on Publishers Weekly's Bestselling Nonfiction Hardcover list for weeks. It is being promoted by Krupp Kommunications, the same PR firm that did the South Beach Diet, and Better Homes and Gardens has signed a deal to tell its 40 million readers about the book.

Sonoma County, it seems, is well on its way to becoming the next South Beach.

Guttersen, who lives in the town of Sonoma, teaches nutrition at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. Given Napa County's famous wines and restaurants, the "Napa diet" seems like it would have had more name recognition than Sonoma, but Guttersen was concerned that might have given the wrong impression.

"If we had said 'Napa,' people would have thought it was more of a tourist diet," says Guttersen. "That's not the way Napa is, of course--I work in the Napa Valley, so I know. But Sonoma is seen as more family-oriented."

Public perception of the Sonoma diet has been carefully planned out. Despite claims on the book jacket that the diet will help people lose weight in "just 10 days," it is not meant to be a fad, but rather, a way to get people to eat natural, unprocessed foods.

In particular, the diet focuses on 10 "power foods" with extra nutritional benefits: bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, almonds, extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes, spinach, blueberries, whole grains and grapes (yes, the diet does include wine). Guttersen has crafted recipes around these power foods, such as wild mushroom and barley risotto and grilled bass with strawberry salsa.

The diet itself is broken up into three "waves." Wave 1, which lasts 10 days, targets weight by restricting calories and cutting sugar and fat. Wave 2 allows more food, including one glass of wine with dinner. Participants stay on Wave 2 until they lose the weight, then move on to Wave 3, which by then should start to feel like a lifestyle change.

Though the diet doesn't require people to drink wine, the Sonoma diet does encourage it. The health benefits of moderate wine consumption are well-documented and include reduced heart disease, diabetes and even Alzheimer's disease. Beyond that, Guttersen believes that wine is an important part of the celebration of food.

"When you're drinking wine with your meal, you're eating slower," she says. "It complements the flavors of the food and helps you enjoy your meal more in the long run."

Recognizing that many people are intimidated by the wine world, The Sonoma Diet gives tips on which wines to drink, but also suggests people just pick a bottle with an interesting label and try it.

Guttersen consciously styled the Sonoma diet after the Mediterranean diet, which typically has less processed foods and more fruits, vegetables and lean protein. Researchers have found that the people who live in the 16 countries along the Mediterranean have lower incidents of heart disease and obesity.

Since Sonoma County's climate is similar to Southern Europe, Guttersen draws a parallel in her book between the Mediterranean and here. There are still significant differences, of course. For example, the word "diet" in the Mediterranean diet means food eaten every day, while with the Sonoma diet, the word means a weight-loss program. In addition, the recipes used in the Sonoma diet can only be described as California cuisine.

"A lot of people think we just eat Mediterranean cuisine in Sonoma County, but if you look at the food we eat, there is a lot more global influences with Asian and Middle Eastern food worked in," says Guttersen. "And local fare, too, of course."

Getting the nation to eat the Sonoma County diet (or at least one woman's version of it) is an intriguing idea, but how realistic is it? Anyone who's been to a Midwest grocery store in winter might wonder whether people who live there can get the ingredients to make orange roughy with cilantro pesto or baby greens with apples, walnuts and lemon vinaigrette.

Guttersen believes the recipes in The Sonoma Diet have enough wiggle room for anyone, no matter where their location. Besides, the availability of food is getting better, even if fresh ingredients are expensive out of season.

"Grocery stores are getting quite good these days," she says. "Even in the winter, they have almost every fruit now, so that's one option. And there's nothing wrong with buying frozen fruit, as long as there is no sugar added."

A daughter from a family of physicians, Guttersen started working part-time in her father's office as a teen and has continued studying nutrition throughout her life. She even developed standards of care for an obesity center in Washington.

However, her reasons for writing the book are more personal than a career move. Her father, though a doctor, struggled with his weight and went on and off fad diets his whole life. She remembers watching him drink protein shakes while the rest of the family ate a regular meal at dinnertime.

"He was miserable," she says. "To see someone you love go through that and never be successful is hard. So for me, the diet was all about finding a plan that worked without feeling like you are on a diet. No one should have to sit at the table and eat something different from everyone else."

The diet was tested on a focus group of 45 women who lost an average of 22 pounds in 14 days. But for Guttersen, the real proof of the diet was that many women wanted to stick with it long-term.

"We found that some people even lost taste for their old foods, like hot dogs or fast food," she says. "They didn't want them anymore. That tells me that their taste buds have changed to a different flavor profile, and that, I think, is the real sign of success."

[ North Bay | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the February 15-21, 2006 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

Copyright © 2006 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.