By Jorge Cruise
Hay House (2009)
Reviewed by Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
The Belly Fat Cure is a "simple guide that makes smart eating effortless and affordable." By following the new Carb Swap SystemTM eating method, readers are promised they'll lose between four and nine pounds each and every week.
Synopsis of the Diet Plan
Cruise claims losing weight — especially from the waistline — has nothing to do with eating less and exercising more. He argues the only way to lose weight — and most importantly, "unlock" unwanted, unattractive belly fat and transform your body forever — is to lower insulin. Cruise claims following the "magical sugar and carb values or S/C ValueTM of 15 grams of sugar and 6 servings of carbohydrates" each day will help readers "steer clear of foods full of sweeteners and processed carbohydrates that chronically keep insulin levels high and belly fat present."
Five different seven-day meal plans are outlined in the "One-Week Challenge and Beyond" chapters. Menus called Carb Lover, Meat Madness, Chicken and Seafood, Quick and Easy and Sweet Bites are designed to accommodate readers' unique tastes and lifestyles. Readers have the option of following each menu exactly as laid out for an entire week or to follow one day's menu one day and switch to a new menu the next day. Cruise also outlines a "No-Excuses Day" menu that he describes as a blueprint for the Belly Fat Cure. He tells readers they can use this menu, modeled after his own eating habits, on any day they want. The menu includes the following:
- Breakfast: Three whole eggs, sunny-side up and two pieces of toast with butter
- Snack: A small handful of walnuts
- Lunch: Tuna salad in one piece of pita
- Snack: One cup of cottage cheese sprinkled with an "approved sweetener"
- Dinner: Grilled chicken or steak with sautéed vegetables and a half cup brown rice
- Eight to 10 glasses of water
- One Zevia soda
- Spry gum.
Also included are 100 "Belly Good Carb Swap Meals" (recipes for each meal are included), 600 grocery store "Carb Swap Products" and a "Carb Swap Food List" of 800 everyday food items from which to choose.
Nutritional Pros and Cons
As stated on the cover, The Belly Fat Cure is meant for those who want to lose weight but are "too tired to diet and exercise." Though the author claims the Belly Fat Cure is not a diet but a lifestyle, the severe limit on sugar (even from healthy foods like fruit and low fat dairy) and the precise ratio of sugar to carbohydrate recommended do, in fact, sound like a "diet" in the restrictive sense of the term. The four- to nine-pound loss weight loss hyped on the cover dramatically exceeds the one- to two-pound per week weight loss recommended by most credentialed experts based on weight management research to date. Losing weight with dietary changes alone and no exercise, which Cruise claims is not necessary for weight loss, can lead you to lose lean muscle mass, which can dramatically slow your metabolic rate, lower your body's daily caloric needs and make it hard to keep any lost weight off long-term. Furthermore, rapid weight loss can put you at risk for developing gallstones.
Although I appreciate the cap on sugar especially from processed, nutrient-poor foods, Cruise's claim that sugar found in fruit and dairy foods help promote belly fat has no scientific merit. Limiting fruit and low-fat dairy foods to the extent that's recommended by Cruise can contribute to nutritional deficiencies unless special care is taken to make up for those lost nutrients elsewhere in the diet. I do appreciate the focus on fiber-rich whole grains, especially since Americans average about one 1-ounce equivalent of whole grains and need a minimum of three each day according to the current Dietary Guidelines. The evidence to support Cruise's idea that sugar and refined carbohydrates are at the root of obesity, especially in the abdominal area, is sketchy at best.
The book does not include calorie or other nutrition information for the recipes or menus. His "No-Excuses Menu" also fails to specify portion information for several items including tuna salad, grilled chicken or steak and sautéed vegetables. Based on the portion sizes provided, this menu appears to have more than three times the daily recommended intake for dietary cholesterol. It also appears to be very high in sodium. The "No-Excuses Menu" also appears to be low in dietary calcium, as well as fiber.
As for the five one-week menus, although they all provide whole grains, they severely skimp on fruit and low-fat milk and yogurt making it tough for people to get enough of the key nutrients found in those foods, like vitamins A, C and D and calcium. In terms of heart health, the "Meat Madness Menu" is mortifying. Anyone with a family or personal history of high blood pressure or heart disease or anyone who has any interest in being healthy while losing weight should not follow the "Meat Madness Menu." Each day packs an array of meats often in hefty portions and often twice a day, including sausage, bacon, roast beef and pork spareribs. Of course, small portions of even high-fat meats can fit into an otherwise healthful diet, but this menu packs in obscene amounts of total fat, saturated fat, dietary cholesterol and sodium. In the Q&A section, Cruise does encourage those with high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol who want to monitor their fat intake to speak with their doctor before starting any plan, but says "you won't be tracking proteins and fats on this plan because they don't directly affect the expansion of your waistline." He also goes on to say "proteins and fats satiate your hunger fast, so it's almost impossible to overeat them." Research does support the idea protein is the most satiating of all the energy-yielding nutrients, but to recommend a menu that overemphasizes protein-rich animal foods at the expense of other healthful foods including fruits and vegetables, with little regard to total fat, saturated fat, dietary cholesterol and sodium is, at the very least, irresponsible and at worst can be extremely harmful to one's heart and overall health.
Following a meal pattern rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats/beans/fish/nuts and seeds, low fat dairy foods and healthy oils like olive oil and canola oil while curbing total calorie intake and burning more through increased physical activity and exercise is the best known way to lose weight slowly, steadily and healthfully.
Cruise is a best-selling diet book author, so clearly there's a demand for the kind of advice he provides. His website and endless testimonials (not to mention high-profile endorsements) lend to his perceived credibility. However, I challenge consumers to read between the lines, be able to spot red flags when it comes to weight loss books, programs and services that promote rapid, dramatic weight losses and restrict healthful foods/food groups and get back to the basics when it comes to weight loss.