New Cookbooks Offer Less Fat Without Sacrificing Flavor With AM-Right Bites-Low Fat Tips, AM-Right Bites-Low Fat Recipes

NEW YORK (AP) _ If diets don't work - and it seems they don't over the long haul - people must be wondering if they might as well bake all the brownies they can eat.

A growing anti-diet movement is a logical result of the depressing experiences of the majority of dieters: They gain back at least as much as they lose.

Three new cookbooks offer a range of alternatives, from a wholesale change in eating and living habits to a more modest reduction of fat that can help improve health and get rid of a few pounds:

-''Great Good Food'' (Chronicle-Turtle Bay Books, $19), the first solo cookbook by Julee Rosso, is not a diet book.

Rosso and her former partner Sheila Lukins, co-author of the immensely successful Silver Palate cookbooks and ''The New Basics,'' served as arbiters of good taste for millions of cooks in the indulgent '80s, when they sometimes chose flavor over health. But this time out, Rosso turns to herbs, Asian and Mediterranean foods and only occasional indulgences.

''The food world has long debated, can you have taste or can you have health?'' Rosso said in a telephone interview. ''I think you can have both.''

Her own habits, she said, have changed. Vegetables taste more vibrant, and frozen yogurt is more satisfying than high-butterfat ice cream. ''Now I eat one lamb chop instead of three,'' she said.

The book has gotten mixed reviews, however. Some food professionals have complained too many of the hundreds of recipes don't work, and others said they worked but don't taste good enough.

- Dr. Dean Ornish has written ''Eat More, Weigh Less'' (HarperCollins, $22.50), a book that is partly the result of his work with heart disease patients who have vastly improved their health.

What's intriguing about the book is the recipes from acclaimed chefs, including Joyce Goldstein of Square One in San Francisco, Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco, Daniel Boulud of Daniel in New York, and Deborah Madison of Cafe Escalera in Santa Fe, N.M.

- In ''Sweet Nothings'' (Chronicle Books, $12.95), former spa chef Jill O'Connor offers more than 50 dessert recipes that come in under 180 calories and 30 percent fat per serving - even for banana rum Napoleons, pumpkin gingerbread, apricot cobbler and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.

To replace fat, O'Connor relies on fruit purees, yogurt and buttermilk, as well as intense flavors from fruits, extracts and liqueurs.

Why is fat so hard to give up? It carries flavors, and it takes some effort to learn to use herbs or fruits to make up for the loss. It also gives some foods a ''mouth feel,'' or consistency, that's pleasing.

Trouble is, Americans eat too much of it.

Nearly 40 percent of the average person's daily calories come from fat. The federal government says no more than 30 percent should be fat, and that's the standard Rosso uses. But many researchers suggest even less, with Ornish advocating 10 percent.

Fat has nine calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrates each have four. It's also implicated in increasing cholesterol and contributing to other diseases.

Ornish's answer is to give it up. The little fat a person needs is easy to get on a vegetarian diet with almost no added oils or fats. And the bonus is that on such a diet, people can eat as much as they please, he writes.

''When the conventional wisdom isn't working,'' Ornish says, ''an unconventional approach is worth considering.''

He calls his approach the Life Choice program, and emphasizes not just diet, but exercise, meditation and a sense of community as factors that encourage good health.

Ornish's book includes many recipes expected in a vegetarian book: stews like ratatouille, vegetarian chili, and bean spreads. But with some great chefs at work, there also are recipes using wild rice, truffles and risotto, and for chutneys, pickles and even a cheesecake made with yogurt cheese.

''Great Good Food'' has the intimate feel of Rosso's earlier books, but instead of tips just on entertaining or presenting a beautiful platter of food, she this time focuses on the character of wheatberries or the benefits of adjusting to skim milk.

It's also, she said, a book for everyday cooking, in part because of her own move from New York City to Saugatuck, Mich.

''I live in a small town, and I can't run to the store and get prosciutto at the drop of a hat, so there's a lot of Canadian bacon in this book,'' she said.

When she includes recipes for foods with fat above 30 percent of calories, she provides fair warning with a little red devil sitting on the page.

Rosso, Ornish and O'Connor all provide nutritional breakdowns with the recipes.

All three books require some work in the kitchen. But the benefit is getting to eat more healthfully without resorting to a bland and boring diet.