The Sonoma Diet

Meet your weight-loss goals with this realistic meal plan for busy moms.

What Is the Sonoma Diet?

Sonoma Diet

Whether you've been trying to shake some post-pregnancy pounds or have struggled with poor eating habits in the past, the Sonoma Diet can help you reach your target weight and keep you slim and healthy. Every step of your journey from overweight to ideal weight will be pleasant, because you'll trade in foods containing refined flour and sugar for more filling, nutritious fare. This may be hard at first, but you'll find that your palate will crave the array of flavors. The bonus: Your family can eat what you're preparing for yourself, but they may have a little more than you.

A Varied Diet

The Sonoma Diet offers a healthful lifestyle -- Northern California's spin on the Mediterranean way of eating, famous for promoting longevity. Do you love to eat? Don't worry, you'll still be able to enjoy it: Instead of avoiding specific foods, such as carbohydrates or fats, you'll make good dietary choices within those categories. For breakfast, use a 2-cup bowl or a plate that's 7 inches in diameter; for your lunch or dinner, place your meal on a 9-inch-diameter plate. Wondering what you can drink? Plain or sparkling water, teas, fat-free milk, sugar-free sodas (no more than 2 cans per day), and coffee.

How the Sonoma Diet Works

Your diet is divided into three stages:

Wave 1 lasts for 10 days, in which you'll overcome your habit of consuming unwholesome foods that most likely led to your weight concerns.

Wave 2 is where you'll stay until you reach your target weight. You won't drop pounds as fast as in Wave 1, but you'll see a steady loss.

Wave 3 starts when you reach your goal; eyeball portions and do what you think is best to remain within the diet's guidelines. In addition, increase both dairy and whole grains by 1 serving. And if you find your weight starting to creep up, go back to Wave 2.

Top 10 Power Foods

These foods are the backbone of the Sonoma Diet; you'll be incorporating them into your meals and eating them regularly for the rest of your life. They contain an abundance of nutrients and antioxidants -- such as flavonoids and carotenoids -- that protect our cells from damage and almost always work together with vitamins and minerals.

1. Almonds

Nutrients: Calcium, protein, copper, zinc, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat
Special benefits: Studies show that eating 1 oz. of plain almonds daily lowers bad cholesterol; calcium fends off osteoporosis

2. Bell Peppers

Nutrients: Vitamins C and B6, folic acid, and carotenoids
Special benefits: Protect against heart disease, lung disease, and lung cancer; help stave off age-related vision problems; lycopene (found in red bell peppers), along with the vitamins and beta-carotene -- a carotenoid found in all bell peppers -- reduces risk of colon, cervix, bladder, pancreas, and prostate cancers

3. Blueberries

Nutrients: Fiber, B vitamins, and flavonoids
Special benefits: Keep the heart healthy; protect vision; reduce risk of digestive disorders and some cancers

4. Broccoli

Nutrients: Calcium, vitamin C, folate, iron
Special benefits: Cancer fighter; 1/2 cup of broccoli provides as much vitamin C as an orange with only a third of the calories; 1/2 cup serves up 40 milligrams of calcium

5. Grapes

Nutrients: Flavonoids
Special benefits: Keep the heart healthy

6. Olive Oil

Nutrients: Monounsaturated fat, vitamin E
Special benefits: Lowers bad cholesterol and triglycerides; reduces inflammation and high blood pressure; buy extra-virgin olive oil, which has the most nutrients

7. Spinach

Nutrients: Iron, protein, calcium, vitamins C and K, flavonoids, lutein, folate
Special benefits: Prevents osteoporosis and memory loss; fosters eye health and reduces risk of age-related vision loss; acts as an anti-inflammatory; fights heart disease; helps prevent high blood pressure

8. Strawberries

Nutrients: Fiber; vitamins B, C, and K; flavonoids
Special benefits: Help lower bad cholesterol; prevent memory loss; reduce risk of age-related vision loss; fend off cancer and rheumatoid arthritis

9. Tomatoes

Nutrients: Lycopene, vitamin C
Special benefits: Reduce risk of several cancers, including breast, cervix, and lung

10. Whole Grains

Nutrients: Fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins
Special benefits: Regulate insulin release; control blood sugar; lower risk of diabetes, cancer, stroke, and heart disease

Next: What to Eat

What to Eat

Guidelines for Nursing Moms

Dieting may reduce the amount of milk you produce, so wait to lose weight until you're done breastfeeding. Nursing moms need an additional 500 calories a day from nutrient-rich foods.

Grains, breads, cereals, rice, and pasta (6 oz.) At least half should come from whole grains. Drink at least eight 12-oz. glasses of water to help the fiber move food through your body.
Milk and other dairy (3 cups; 1.5 oz. of cheese = 1 cup) Babies need calcium for growing bones and will take your supply if you don't get enough calcium.
Fruits and vegetables (2 cups fruit; at least 2.5 cups of veggies) Eat a variety. For example, spinach provides calcium and iron -- a nutrient new moms need to replenish after childbirth -- and tomatoes provide vitamin C and carotenoids.
Lean meats, fish, eggs, dried peas, and beans (5.5 oz.) Important sources of protein, iron, zinc, and B12.

Eat by Color

The easiest way to get a wide range of nutrients from vegetables is to choose a variety of colors. When you look at the three lists (Tiers 1, 2, and 3) of recommended vegetables in the Sonoma Diet, you'll be able to group them by colors, roughly according to the following categories: Green, Red, White, Yellow and Orange, and Purple. (Some popular varieties from Tier 1 are shown in the color key below along with examples from Tiers 2 and 3.) Although you can always eat unlimited amounts from Tier 1, you're only allowed to have 1 serving -- 1/2 cup, sliced -- per day from Tiers 2 and 3 respectively during the Wave 2 period of the Sonoma Diet.

Green Tier: Tier 1: broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts; Tier 2: artichokes; and Tier 3: peas

Red Tier: Tier 1: radish, red bell peppers; Tier 2: beets

White Tier: Tier 1: mushrooms, cauliflower; Tier 3: parsnip

Yellow & Orange Tier: Tier 1: summer squash; Tier 2: carrots; Tier 3: sweet potato

Purple Tier: Tier 1: eggplant; Tier 2: rutabaga

What about a veggie that isn't on the list? If it's starchy, such as a root vegetable, consider it Tier 3. If it's watery, such as a cucumber, it's probably low in calories and fiber-rich, so you can treat it as a Tier 1 vegetable. In between the two? It's probably Tier 2. Your meals will also include:

Protein Beans (1/2 cup per day in Wave 1), lean meat, eggs, fish and shellfish, poultry (white meat, no skin), peanut butter (2 tbsp. per serving for main dish, 1 tbsp. for a snack), soy substitutes.
Grains (1/2 cup or 1 slice of bread = 1 serving) Whole-grain cereal, pasta, bread, or couscous; oats; barley; bulgur; wild, brown, red, or black rice.
Dairy Fat-free milk (1 cup per day, with cereal only during Wave 1); 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese; 1 oz. low-fat cheese, such as mozzarella; 1 cup fat-free plain yogurt (Wave 2 only).
Fruit Only allowed during Wave 2. Limit to 1 serving -- 1/2 cup, sliced -- per day from the choices in Tiers 2 and 3, respectively.
Fats Up to 3 servings/day. 1 serving equals: 1 tsp. olive oil or canola oil or 1/4 avocado or 11 almonds or 14 peanuts or 10 pecan halves or 7 walnut halves
Flavor boosters Use unlimited amounts of herbs, spices, garlic, lemon or lime juice, ginger, mustard, vanilla, and vinegar.

Quick and Yummy Recipes

In need of a quick lunch or dinner? Go easy on yourself by replacing any of the items in Waves 1 or 2 with the Sonoma Express Chicken, a Sonoma Express Salad, or a Sonoma Express Wrap. Choose vegetables based on what stage you're at in the diet. When you're on Wave 2, don't forget to include a serving of fruit.

Sonoma Express Chicken

Buy one 4-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast. Create a rub by mixing herbs and spices, or combine thyme, sage, rosemary, minced garlic, black pepper, crushed red pepper, and salt. Broil the chicken for about 15 minutes until fully cooked, turning once. Or grill the chicken over indirect heat for about 15 minutes, turning once.

Sonoma Express Salad

2 cups mixed greens or spinach leaves
1 cup Wave-appropriate vegetables
1/2 cooked lean protein such as chicken, pork, beef, ham, or eggs. Use 3 oz. for lunch or 4 oz. for dinner, or 2 eggs for either meal.
2 oz. (about 2 tbsp.) mozzarella cheese, goat cheese, or low-fat cream cheese
Choice of low-calorie dressing

Sonoma Express Wrap

Use 1 low-carb, whole wheat tortilla, or a large lettuce leaf to wrap your ingredients. Cover the tortilla or lettuce leaf with up to 1 tbsp. of your favorite spread (you can make your own or buy tomato salsa, artichoke spread, or hummus).

Fill the tortilla with:
2 cups mixed greens or spinach leaves
1 cup vegetables
Cooked lean protein such as chicken, pork, beef, or ham. Use 3 oz. for lunch or 4 oz. for dinner
2 oz. (about 2 tbsp.) mozzarella cheese, goat cheese, or low-fat cream cheese

Questions & Answers About the Sonoma Diet

Don't Be a Couch Potato

The Sonoma Diet will get you to your target weight with or without exercise. But you'll be healthier, feel better, and get to your goal faster if you do some physical activity. Whatever you enjoy, just get into the habit of doing it every day. That might mean taking a walk around the block after lunch or dinner. Then you can work your way up to the half hour of sustained exercise recommended for improving cardiovascular health.

Why should you motivate yourself to move? You're eating grains and lots of vegetables from the get-go, plus other carbs in your dairy. The first and best use of a carbohydrate is to be fuel for energy. If it's not used, it's stored as fat. Increase activity and you'll use more energy, which means you'll burn a greater number of carbs and store less as body fat. If you're up for it, try jogging, biking, or swimming. Strength training with weights will sculpt firmer muscles, thereby increasing your lean body mass. This helps your metabolism work better for quicker weight loss.

Q & A

Q. I don't have time to make my own meals. What should I do?
A. Take shortcuts. Most "cooking" time is spent chopping and preparing. A time-saver: Buy precut meats and vegetables when you can. For everything else, devote one hour at the beginning of the week for prepping the ingredients for the week's dishes. At mealtime, all you have to do is put the ingredients together and throw the food on the stove or in the oven.

Q. What are my options for lunch at work?
A. With a little creativity and planning, just about anything can be prepared at home and taken to work. Specifically, bagged salad blends are good; try different ones for variety. Top them with cooked chicken breasts, tuna, lean lunch meat, or hard-cooked eggs. Add fruit and a whole wheat roll and your lunch will be pretty close to the usual food proportions. Other ideas: Take leftover lean steaks, chicken breast, or fish to heat up at work. Or try the Sonoma Express recipes. You can always take frozen or canned fruit and vegetables to microwave, if needed.

Q. Can I put tomato sauce on my pasta?
A. Definitely. Use 1/2 cup tomato sauce to 1 cup whole wheat pasta. When buying jarred sauce, look for one that contains no added sugar. Hint: If sugar is listed as an ingredient, or if the jar contains more than 4 grams of sugar per 1/2-cup serving, pass on it.

Portion Sizes & Snacking

Wave 1 Portion Sizes

For breakfast, fill your plate with 25 percent grains and 75 percent protein. Or fill a 2-cup bowl with 50 percent dairy and 50 percent grains. Your lunch plate will consist of 40 percent protein and 60 percent of Tier 1 vegetables (see "What to Eat"). For dinner, eat 30 percent protein, 20 percent grains, and 50 percent vegetables from the Tier 1 category.

Wave 2 Portion Sizes

Breakfast proportions are the same as Wave 1. For lunch and dinner, vegetables from Tiers 1, 2, or 3 should fill 25 percent of your plate as should grains, protein or dairy, and fruit.

Snacking Between Meals

Letting yourself get too hungry between meals is counterproductive to your diet; you'll be tempted to overeat when mealtime comes. To tide you over, have a small snack. Here's what's allowed:

When in Wave 1: Tier 1 vegetables.
If you work out often, you have more choices:
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese with Tier 1 raw veggies
3 oz. of hummus, either homemade or store-bought, with veggies
Low-fat cheese stick with carrots and celery
1 slice of whole-grain bread with 1 tbsp. of peanut butter
2 oz. cooked chicken breast or turkey deli meat

When in Wave 2: Wave 1 snacks.
Even if you're not exercising, you can have:
A Tier 2 fruit, keeping to the 1/2-cup serving size
A spoonful or 2 of cottage cheese with a little sliced Tier 2 fruit
Half a bag of plain, light microwave popcorn, no oil or butter
A piece (1 oz.) of mozzarella or a slice of lean lunch meat
A piece (1 oz.) of chicken breast
One serving of nuts (counts as 1 fat serving)

Achieving Your Goal

Make your calories count with smart, nutrient-rich combinations that maximize the minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants in food.

Healthy Combos

Meats + vitamin C help the body absorb iron
Bitter greens* + Healthy fats** help the body absorb flavonoids
Whole grains or seeds and healthy fats help the body absorb vitamin E and other fat-soluble nutrients
Tomatoes + healthy fats help the body absorb carotenoids and lycopene

*Bitter greens include spinach, arugula, radicchio, endive, escarole, kale, and collard greens.
**Healthy fats: extra-virgin olive oil, peanuts, nuts (e.g., almonds), avocados, and omega-3 oils (e.g., in salmon and walnuts).

Clean House

Get rid of these foods:
Bread (except whole-grain)
Cake and cookies
Crackers (except whole-grain)
Candy and other packaged sweets
White rice
Cereal (except whole-grain)
Creamy salad dressings
Oils (except extra-virgin olive oil, nut oils, and canola oil)
Regular soda
Fruit juices
Jam and jelly, unless low in sugar
Maple syrup
Butter and margarine
Full-fat cheese
Ice cream
Milk (except nonfat)
Fatty meats, such as bacon or sausage
Foods that contain refined wheat or flour, processed grains, hydrogenated fat, saturated fat, or sugar

Connie Guttersen, RD, PhD, is a registered dietitian, culinary professional, and nutrition consultant. The inspiration for her flavorful approaches to healthy eating and weight loss is her wine country home in Northern California. Get information on her best-selling book, The Sonoma Diet (Meredith Books) at

Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2006.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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