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GETTING NUTTY ABOUT YOUR DIET IS A GOOD THING

Go ahead and get a little nutty. That's what Dr. Leonard J. Ram of Stuart, Fla., wants you to do.

As founder of the Ram Nut Diet, created over the past three years, he tried it out on himself and lost 30 pounds over a year. He has kept the weight off for two years and he's still sticking with the program.

It's not about counting calories, eating special meals or riding the StairMaster to exhaustion. It's about nuts -- almonds, cashews, pistachios, etc. Before you balk at the fat and calorie content, consider that most of the fat in nuts is unsaturated, meaning it can lower your LDL cholesterol. Nuts are also high in fiber and protein, and they're a good source of vitamins and minerals.

"Nuts were taboo 10 or 15 years ago," says Ram, a physician who specializes in gastroenterology. But they're "not only healthy, but extremely satisfying."

The Ram Nut Diet focuses on eating raw or roasted nuts to control hunger. For optimum benefits, Ram suggests you exercise and hire a nutritionist or dietitian to help turn this diet into a lifestyle.

The program is outlined in his book "The Ram Nut Diet," and it's taught at his eight weight-loss centers across Florida.

At the weight-loss centers, a 12-week program starts at about $60 a week for an individual and includes sessions with a nutritional consultant. Just knowing you have to check in with a counselor will help keep you on track.

Claudia Gonzalez, a dietitian at Ram Nutrition and Weight Loss in Miami, says snacking on an ounce of nuts between well-balanced meals will make you feel fuller, causing you to eat less.

"You'll have a nutritious, satisfying snack so you won't need to eat extra," Gonzalez says. If you were to snack on junk food instead, "the empty calories won't satisfy you" and you could end up overeating.

With a weight-loss coach, dieters "learn not only how to eat well, but how to deal with food issues," Gonzalez says. "They learn about the basics of nutrition. . . . They become aware of how to maintain their weight.

"The clients eat real food, no special bars or shakes. It's a lifestyle. You can apply the tools to your daily life."

Some of Ram's diet guidelines include:

* Eat slowly and only when you are hungry.

* Stop eating when you are full.

* Avoid nuts that have added oil.

* Avoid foods that contain sugar.

* Exercise three to five times a week.

"A lot of dieters feel like they're starving themselves," Ram says. "We convince people this program can be continued indefinitely because they're not hungry and nuts are tasty food. It's a very satisfying program."

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