Ditch The Diet: Go Mediterranean

If you’re like me, you’ve tried a few fad diets designed to lose those extra pounds fast. You know the ones…they consist of eating large amounts of one or two foods or food combinations that “burn fat,” or they include a rigid menu from which you cannot stray. Some are low-fat, while others are low-carb. The result is you lose weight and then gain it all back. There is one diet, however, that researchers are finding not only helps you lose weight and keep it off, but has lasting health benefits as well. It’s the Mediterranean diet, so-called because it includes the kinds of foods people in the Mediterranean region eat regularly. The Mediterranean diet consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and olive products. It limits red meats to about once a month, replacing them with fish and poultry. The diet is low on carbs; breads are whole grains, which are known to metabolize in the body slower than white bread and contains higher fiber.

One study reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, September 2009, compared people newly diagnosed with type-2 diabetes who followed either a low-carb Mediterranean-style diet (less than 50% of daily calories from complex carbohydrates) or a low-fat diet (less than 30% of daily calories from fat) based on American Heart Association American Heart Association guidelines. Each group was limited to 1,500 calories daily for women and 1,800 calories for men.

Over four years, people on the Mediterranean-style diet lost more weight and had greater reductions in body mass index body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. They also needed less medication to control their diabetes. Researchers believed the latter could be due to a greater consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids from olive oil, nuts and legumes in the Mediterranean diet, which may increase insulin sensitivity. Reductions in coronary risk factors, including cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, also were greater among the Mediterranean dieters.

Another study of more than 1.5 million healthy adults not only found an association between a Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of cardiovascular problems, but also a reduced incidence of cancer as well as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, the Mayo Clinic reports.

Oldways, a nonprofit education organization dedicated to the science of eating healthy, recommends the following ways to “Go Mediterranean”:

  • Eat lots of vegetables.

  • Eat less meat; e.g., have small strips of sirloin in a vegetable sauté rather than a bigsteak.

  • Always eat breakfast and fill it with fiber-rich foods such as fruit and whole grains.

  • Eat seafood twice a week, particularly fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna and salmon, and shellfish.

  • Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week or more, using beans, whole grains and vegetables flavored with herbs and spices.

  • Use good fats, like extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados (not butter or margarine).

  • Include dairy products, such as Greek or plain yogurt, and a variety of cheeses.

  • Eat fresh fruit for dessert; save sweets for special occasions.

There’s one more element to the Mediterranean diet – enjoy a glass of red wine with family and friends. Here’s to your health!

Photos courtesy of Oldways, oldwayspt.org