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Diet books can be a helpful, affordable guide for dieters

It may seem like there are as many diet books as there are stars in the sky. In addition to books by trainers, celebrities, doctors, and all of the random books devoted to one fad diet or another, many of the most popular diet programs -- like Atkins and South Beach -- began as books. However, like the top commercial diet programs, the best use of a diet book is to learn healthy eating habits for the long term.

"The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet: Smart, Simple, Science-Based Strategies for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off" (Est. $14 per paperback) is a sensible, sustainable approach that draws rave reviews from experts and dieters. You swap high-density foods, which tend to have more calories, for lower-density foods like fruits, vegetables, soups and stews. This swap, of foods with more bulk but fewer calories, helps fill you up, thus eliminating one big problem with dieting: hunger. It's a top pick in most of our expert roundups, and its author, Barbara Rolls, is a leading researcher in the field of nutrition. Many other diets, most notably Jenny Craig, have adopted the "volumetrics" approach to meal planning.

The Volumetrics Plan does not have a website, therefore there is no formal support, but it can be paired with any online support program. For some people the big drawback is that food preparation, both shopping and cooking, is not optional -- you will need to have some level of comfort in the kitchen. However, the book features meal plans, and the recipes are reported as easy to follow by consumer-reviewers. At least one expert says this particular approach is probably best for people who have portion-control issues rather than emotional eaters who often eat for reasons other than hunger.

There is a whole series of diet books based upon the TV show "The Biggest Loser," and they get high marks from experts for quick weight loss, long-term weight control and diabetes control. As with the Volumetrics Plan, satiety is emphasized and they teach you how to make better food choices. Exercise is a key component of this program, as it is on the show -- another factor of the program that experts like. There are no costs beyond the purchase of one of their books -- and there are dozens to choose from, including family plans, budget-eating plans and plenty of cookbooks. The books are highly rated by users on Amazon.com, with none getting fewer than four stars. The Biggest Loser has a fee-based website (Est. $20 per month) as well, for support and tools.

Another weight loss program that is highly rated by experts and usually ranks toward the top in roundups of best diets is The Mayo Clinic Diet. The latest book in the series, "The Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat Well. Enjoy Life. Lose Weight" (Est. $15), is more focused on weight loss rather than controlling diabetes as the diet was originally developed to do. It gets high marks from consumer-reviewers as well, who say it's easy to follow and has good, solid information. The lower ratings come from those who say it's nothing new: just basic nutritional information that they already were aware of. However, even those reviewers concede that if you follow the diet, you will lose weight and be healthier.

Low-carb diets are gaining ground

A low-carb diet is arguably one of the most polarizing ways of eating, drawing praise for its satiety component -- you can eat all you want of approved foods -- and criticism for restricting entire food groups. However, scientific research is beginning to catch up, and there are a number of studies that indicate a dedicated low-carb diet is more effective for short-term weight loss than a low-fat diet, helps keep weight off better over the long-term than low-fat diets, and can lower cholesterol as well.

Most diets are now based upon at least some carbohydrate restriction, whether it's merely the idea that you should avoid "white" foods like bread, rice and potatoes, or going to the extreme of giving up all non-vegetable carbs. Even our top-rated diets in this report give more caloric flexibility for consuming complex carbs than simple carbs.

If you choose to try a low-carb diet, there's no better place to start than with "New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great" (Est. $14 per paperback). Atkins has been proven effective for short-term weight loss, and the plan adds in more carbohydrates as you lose weight. The book is highly rated by consumer-reviewers, but the diet itself doesn't do as well in expert roundups for long-term use because they question its long-term safety and it is more restrictive than a low-fat diet.

"The South Beach Diet" (Est. $7 per paperback) is also considered low-carb, but is not as restrictive as Atkins. In fact, even in the early phases of the South Beach Diet small servings of complex, non-vegetable carbs are allowed. It earns high praise for weight loss and as an overall healthy way of eating, but gets panned for its complicated meal plans and time-consuming recipes by both consumer-reviewers and experts.

Both Atkins and the South Beach Diet have extensive websites -- Atkins is free and South Beach's has free and fee-based areas -- with tools, recipes, meal planners and community support. There are also hundreds of other support groups for low-carb dieters that are free and can be found with a simple keyword search.

The most recent low-carb diet craze is the Paleo Diet. According to Google, it was the most searched-for diet of 2013. The idea is that you don't eat anything your hunter-gatherer ancestors would not have eaten. Fitness is an integral component, and it's popular with bodybuilders and CrossFit devotees. There are a variety of resources for this diet, including books and websites. Some experts say that Paleo is a healthy way of eating with its focus on whole, non-processed food, while others pan its restrictions -- grains and dairy are forbidden. This makes it a top choice for gluten- and dairy-intolerant people, who say they thrive on this way of eating. Anthropologists question its accuracy in divining what our ancient ancestors ate, and it may be out of the reach of some, economically and geographically, as its emphasis on grass-fed meats and organic, farm-fresh produce tends to be more expensive than standard supermarket fare and may not be widely available in some regions.

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