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Is a Mediterranean Diet Best?
We know that a Mediterranean diet is supposed to be healthy – we’ve all seen the commercials where elderly people gamboll around olive groves like young lambs after enjoying a meal of olive oil and vegetables. And we also know how delicious a Mediterranean diet can be, with all the lovely fresh flavors that evoke holiday memories. Just a whiff of fresh herbs can transport us back to a sunny Greek island…
The “Mediterranean diet” can be simplified to three elements:
plenty of olive oil, fruit, vegetables, fish, grains and legumes (peas, beans and lentils)
moderate amounts of wine – usually with food
small amounts of meat, milk and dairy products
Analysis of the eating habits of 74,000 Europeans over 60 revealed that following a Mediterranean diet could mean living longer – by as much as a year.
While the healthiest diet is low in saturated animal fat but high in unsaturated fat, in the UK we consume less fruit and vegetables and more high-fat dairy, alcohol and soft drinks – according to the Office for National Statistics.
Further research into the daily diet of Greek people has been published in British Medical Journaland was reported in Daily Telegraph newspaper in July 2008. More than 26,000 men and women were monitored for 8 years and the results were astonishing. For those whose diet closely resembled the Mediterranean ideal, women reduced their risk of developing all types of cancer by 16% and men reduced theirs by 9%.
In 2007, it was also claimed that a Mediterranean diet could help prevent the development of asthma, respiratory allergies and Alzheimer’s disease.
Another recent study, published in New England Journal of Medicine in July 2008 compared the effects of three popular diets over 2 years. Obese individuals aged 44–59 living in Israel were randomly assigned to follow either a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet or a low-carbohydrate diet.
In the low-fat diet group, 80 men and 14 women completed the study and lost 3.4 kg and 0.1 kg, respectively. This diet was based on American Heart Association guidelines: an energy intake of 1800 kcal per day for men and 1500 kcal for women, with 30% of calories from fat, 10% of calories from saturated fat and 300mg of cholesterol per day.
In the Mediterranean diet group, 76 men and 17 women completed the study and lost 4.0 kg and 6.2 kg respectively. This diet was high in vegetables and low in red meat, with poultry and fish replacing beef and lamb; added fat was from 30-45 g olive oil and 5-7 nuts daily. Energy intake was 1800 kcal per day for men and 1500 kcal for women, with a target of no more than 35% of calories from fat.
In the low-carbohydrate diet group, 77 men and 8 women completed the study and lost 4.9 kg and 2.4 kg, respectively. This diet was based on the Atkins diet and aimed to provide 20 g of carbohydrates per day for the first 2 months, gradually increasing to 120 g per day. day. Intake of total calories, protein and fat was not restricted, although participants were advised to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein and to avoid hydrogenated/trans fat.
All groups lost weight, with the maximum rate of loss during the first 6 months. While the men tended to lose more weight on a low-carb diet, the women lost more on a Mediterranean diet.
But those on the low-fat diet had regained up to a third of their 6-month weight loss after 18 months, before their weight reached a steady state. The Atkins dieters had a similar experience, regaining up to a quarter of their 5-month weight loss after 15 months before reaching a plateau. In contrast, the group following a Mediterranean diet lost weight rapidly in 6 months, but went on to lose weight for another 6 months, when their weight reached a stable value, AND they did not do gain weight.
After 2 years, women had lost 6.2 kg – that’s almost a whole stone – on the Mediterranean diet. So it’s official girls – the Mediterranean diet really can do wonders for our thighs!
Let’s tuck into a dish of Mediterranean vegetables roasted in olive oil to celebrate – maybe with a (small) glass of red wine on the side…
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