Diet books eat up consumer dollars

Health, fitness titles expected to net $530 million in sales

many authors preach portion control


Diets, for the most part, don't work. The diet industry, however, does, voraciously consuming almost $50 billion a year, exclusive of celery.

If diets worked, people wouldn't be on them for decades at a time, abandoning one to embrace another, caroming from grapefruit to bacon, and they would accept the fact that one simple regimen works: Eat less, exercise more, end of story - and fat.

However, this doesn't stop diet books from popping up with frightening alacrity like so many orders of fries. This year has produced two best-sellers: The Shangri-La Diet and The Sonoma Diet, proof that it never hurts to name a regimen after a place more inviting than where readers live. It doesn't stop publishers from riding the crest of whatever fad they can find. To wit: The Diet Code, based on you-know-what.

Diet books, published to coincide with New Year's resolutions, register a surge in sales this time of year, with the tidal wave of anxiety brought on by the first whiff of Lycra and sunscreen.

Health and fitness books are projected to net $530 million in sales this year, up from $510 million in 2005, according to Business of Consumer Book Publishing. "It's among the healthiest categories in publishing," says Michael Norris, senior analyst for Simba Information, a market-research firm.

Interestingly, publishers are issuing far fewer titles, searching for the next Dr. Arthur Agatston, the current industry leader with 19 million copies of his South Beach oeuvre in print.

There were 3,135 health and fitness titles released in 2005, down from 5,959 the previous year, according to the R.R. Bowker Books in Print database. "Publishers are building up certain brands and taking a very measured approach," Norris says.

Many authors preach the obvious - portion control! - while others act as if they've discovered mysterious truths. Successful titles manage to combine encouragement with a wealth of recipes and strategies. Here's a roundup of the latest crop:

Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too by Melissa Kelly with Eve Adamson (Collins, $22). Kelly, a James Beard Award winner, preaches the credo that all things Mediterranean are good for you. Don't we know this? Don't we agree? It includes many beguiling recipes, even for risotto, heretofore unknown as a diet staple. We're still waiting for the German version advocating brats and beer.

The Shangri-La Diet by Seth Roberts, Ph.D. (Putnam, $20). The best-designed book in the stack, it's also the shortest, with no recipes, no complicated charts, a smart tone, humor and famous quotations - requisite padding in the weight-loss genre. The Berkeley psychology professor's solution: Eat dull food, drink fructose-sweetened water. The diet's name is supposed to put people "at peace with food" though, obviously, not in Italy or France.

The Sonoma Diet by Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D. (Meredith Books, $25). Sonoma lands on the best-seller list by offering more winning recipes. Sonoma borrows heavily from the Mediterranean diet but, as geography suggests, with more grapes and nuts.

The Diet Code: Revolutionary Weight Loss Secrets From Da Vinci and the Golden Ratio by Stephen Lanzalotta (Warner Wellness, $25). We're not making this up. We wish we had made it up, added Lincoln and dogs, and then, with our royalties, flown to Milan, Italy, and Paris for a gluttonous feast.

A lot of the good carb/bad carb patter is mentioned here by Lanzalotta, "a master woodworker, painter, baker and chef," listed in that order. A master woodworker offering diet tips is a first.

His advice: "Choose 15th-century Mediterranean foods," which translates into pumpkin cannoli and skewered short ribs. That sounds like the slow-food movement, but maybe this cuts down on eating, too.

Cilantro Chicken With Nuts

Serves 4

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, minced (2 teaspoons)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1-inch strips

2 teaspoons roasted peanut oil

1 ounce dry-roasted peanuts

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves (divided use)

4 cups finely shredded Chinese (napa) cabbage

1/4 cup fresh mint

fresh cilantro sprigs (optional)

lime wedges (optional)

In a small bowl combine the ginger, garlic, kosher salt and pepper. Sprinkle the garlic mixture over the chicken; toss to coat.

In a heavy 10-inch skillet, cook and stir the chicken in hot peanut oil over high heat for 2 minutes. Add peanuts. Cook and stir about 3 minutes more or until the chicken is no longer pink.

Add soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup of the cilantro leaves.

In a large bowl toss together the cabbage, mint and remaining 1/2 cup of cilantro leaves.

Arrange the cabbage mixture on a serving platter or 4 serving plates.

To serve, spoon chicken mixture over cabbage mixture. If desired, garnish with cilantro sprigs and lime wedges.

From "The Sonoma Diet" (Meredith Books, $25)

Per serving: 224 calories, 30 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram sugar, 9 grams fat, 66 milligrams cholesterol, 543 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber

Recipe and analysis provided by the Philadelphia Inquirer

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