Results of my Mediterranean Diet experiment!
It’s been over a year since I embarked on a life-changing experiment. I lost fifty pounds without reducing the amount of fat in my diet. How could that be? Two words – Mediterranean Diet! No, ‘diet’ does not mean deprivation in this instance.
Remember all of those low-fat diets we were encouraged to follow back in the eighties and nineties? Remember when the shelves in our markets were suddenly overflowing with low-fat products, whispering to us that we could have our cake and eat it, too? But they didn’t tell us that when fat is removed from a product, sugar is added. Those products are still on the shelves and Americans are still eating billions of dollars worth of them every year, and our nation is just getting fatter and fatter.
I won’t even go into the increased incidents of type 2 diabetes among American children. Between fast food, processed food and little or no exercise, the average American diet isn’t very healthful for children or adults.
Last year, I adopted the Mediterranean Diet and lifestyle; the Mediterranean Diet really is a lifestyle. It’s constructed around healthful, fresh foods and drinks that have traditionally been consumed by people living in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, cheeses, yogurt, nuts, and legumes are consumed on a daily basis in the Mediterranean Diet. Fish and seafood, poultry, eggs, and sweets are eaten weekly. Mediterranean people consume red meat less often – once a month, and red wine about 1-2 glasses per day. Women should not have more than one glass a day.
Yes, I still eat pork and beef, but rarely. I still have dessert but the servings are smaller and less fatty and sugary. What can I say? I’m American and Southern. There will always be some exceptions, but portion control and frequency are the keys.
The Mediterranean Diet is more than a diet. It embraces a lifestyle that includes wholesome, healthful foods, daily exercise and fulfilling relationships. These are the things that foster living longer and happier lives. While I lost weight on the Mediterranean Diet, I gained enormous health benefits.
Health benefits. Research supports the health boosting qualities of the Mediterranean diet. In a 12-year study of close to 2,500 people, researchers found those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a significant decrease in body weight, blood pressure, blood fats, and blood sugar and insulin levels — health benefits that contribute to a longer life expectancy than that of people who follow a Western diet, according to Fred Stutman. Eating the Mediterranean way may also protect the brain. In a 4-year study, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found that subjects who followed the diet had up to 40% less risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who followed a typical Western way of eating.
I do offer one caution. The Mediterranean Diet does not cut fat across the board, but the fat choices are healthier. Those who follow this diet, eat very little saturated fat. Olive oil is the fat of choice, but like all fats, olive oil is high in calories, and while this diet has more fat than other diets, it is not unlimited. It’s all about portion size, exercise and healthier choices. You’ll have a wide variety of foods from which to choose, and I never felt deprived. I’ve been eating this way for over a year.
Basic Ingredients of the Mediterranean Diet
Fresh, healthy food. The staples of the Mediterranean diet include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, seafood, yogurt, olive oil, and small amounts of wine. Food should be eaten in season and locally grown, and Mediterrean dieters avoid processed food.
Portion control. The Mediterranean diet focuses on small portions of high-quality food. “When food tastes delicious, a little is enough because your senses have been satisfied,” Adamson points out. And healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, which are staples of the Mediterranean diet, keep you feeling fuller longer than diets that restrict fat or forbid it altogether.
Healthy fats. Unlike most diets, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t cut fat consumption across the board, according to Fred A. Stutman, MD, a Philadelphia-based physician and author of 100 Weight-Loss Tips That Really Work. Rather than limiting total fat intake, the Mediterranean diet makes wise choices about the type of fats that are used. On the menu are the monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados; and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, and trout); and fat from plant sources, like flaxseed. Limiting processed and packaged foods keeps the diet extremely low in unhealthy trans fats, which have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and strokes.
Olive oil. The Mediterranean people use olive oil in almost everything they eat, including pastas, breads, vegetables, salads, fish, and even cakes and pastries, Stutman tells WebMD. It’s the principal fat in the Mediterranean diet, replacing other fats and oils, including butter and margarine. What’s so healthy about olive oil? Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that oleocanthal, a compound in olive oil, may reduce inflammation, which could help prevent conditions like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases, as well as certain cancers.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Found in abundance in the Mediterranean diet, omega-3 fatty acids are bursting with health benefits, according to Stutman. Fatty acids have been shown to reduce the incidence of heart attacks, blood clots, hypertension, and strokes; and may prevent certain forms of cancer and lower the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
More vegetables, less meat. “A diet higher in plant foods and lower in animal products has been linked to decreased incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers,” Adamson says. The traditional Mediterranean diet is practically vegetarian, with lots of fish and very little meat. As for vegetables, Mediterranean people feast on tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, capers, spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, white beans, lentils, and chick peas, according to Stutman.
Wine. Many Mediterranean people drink a glass or two of wine each night with dinner. But portions are small, generally about three ounces (a third of a small wine glass or two shot glasses). When taken in small amounts, wine has been linked to lower rates of heart disease, likely due to the presence of antioxidants like transresveratrol and oligomeric proanthocyanidin (OPC), which keep blood circulation healthy and prevent blood clots from forming.
Whole grains. Whole grain foods like bread, pasta, potatoes, polenta, rice, and couscous are a key part of the Mediterranean diet, according to Stutman. In their natural state, grains are full of cancer and heart disease-fighting fiber, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. But stripping the grain’s outer layers to make white flour and white rice eliminates these benefits, reducing the healthy whole grain to little more than empty calories. Whole grains provide energy and calories with little fat, and because they’re slow to digest (thanks to their high-fiber content), they help you feel fuller longer.
One study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,found that men who increased their intake of whole grains experienced less middle-aged weight gain than other men. And in a 14-year study of over 34,000 people, Canadian researchers found that those who reported eating the most brown rice, dark breads, popcorn, whole grain cereal, and other whole grains (about three servings per day) were 23% less likely to develop gum disease than those who ate less than one daily serving. Filling up on whole grains helps your body metabolize glucose more efficiently, which lowers inflammation, says Anwar T. Merchant, DM, MPH, assistant professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, a researcher on the study.
Fruit for dessert. Forget gooey pastries and sickly sweet treats: For Mediterranean people, fresh fruit is the typical daily dessert. Taking advantage of fruit’s natural sweetness has double benefits. First, what you gain: the fiber and nutrients in fruits like apples, grapes, and oranges. What you lose: the added sugar, calories, chemicals, and unhealthy fats in sweet, processed desserts.
And there’s good news if you’re pressed for time: Fruit that’s been cut and stored ahead of time may be just as nutritious as freshly cut fruit, researchers from Spain and the U.S. report. Researchers sliced pineapples, mangoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, strawberries, and kiwi fruit, then packaged and chilled it. Nine days later, they measured the antioxidant levels of each of the fruits, including vitamin C, carotenoids, and phenolics, and found no significant difference in nutrient quality between the cut fruits and fruits that had been stored whole.
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