For the fourth year in a row, “Mediterranean diet” has been ranked by “U.S. News & World Report” as “the Best Diet for healthy eating 2021”. In fact, research supports the use of Mediterranean diet as a healthy eating pattern for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases & diabetes, maintaining brain’s health, increasing lifespan, and healthy aging. When used in conjunction with caloric restriction, this diet also supports healthy weight loss. Despite this evidence, the typical popular “Western diet” is the low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet; however, scientific studies have shown that it is not the healthiest diet in the long term…and not even the more beneficial for weight loss!
In fact, an epidemiological study (Levine et al) of 6000 Americans suggested that consuming a “high-protein diet” is associated with a 75% increased risk of overall mortality, and a three- to fourfold increased risk in cancer mortality compared with consuming a “low-protein diet”.
In support of a “diet also including complex carbohydrates” being the best even for weight management, when a “diet very low in carbohydrates and high in protein” was compared with a “moderate carbohydrate regimen” (M.U. Yang et al), fat loss was similar in both cases. However, the “very low-carbohydrate diet” caused a much higher loss of water and proteins, indicating that the seemingly large effect of “very low-carb diets” on weight loss actually represents loss of water and muscle in addition to fat.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
This diet consists of legumes, whole grains, fish, moderate amounts of lean meat and cheese, healthy fats like nuts and olive oil, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, and wine.
The 3 Pillars of the Mediterranean diet are:
1. Eat a variety of foods:
Our body needs all the different types of nutrients, such as proteins, essential fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6), fibre, minerals, vitamins, and, yes, sufficient levels of sugar, to stay healthy and fight the many battles raging inside and outside cells. When your intake of certain nutrients becomes too low, the body’s repair, replacement, and defense systems slow down or stop, allowing the damage to accumulate and microorganisms and cancerous cells to proliferate.
2. Consume low but sufficient proteins:
if you are below the age of 65, keep the intake of protein low (0.8 grams per kilo of body weight). Those beyond age 65 should instead slightly increase their protein intake to 5-10 grams more per day. Source of proteins should mainly be fish and legumes but also, especially as you age, eggs, white meat, and products derived from goats and sheep, to preserve muscle & bone mass and prevent two of the most common causes of death in the elderly, sarcopenia and osteoporosis.
3. Minimize bad fats and sugars, and maximize good fats and complex carbs:
Your diet should be rich in good unsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, almonds, and walnuts, but as low as possible in saturated, hydrogenated, and trans fats. Likewise, the diet should be richer in complex carbohydrates, such as those provided by whole bread, legumes, and vegetables, and lower (but not deficient!) in simple carbs, such as pasta, rice, bread and fruit, which are easily converted into sugars by the time they reach the intestine.
Virtually all diets fail because they lack in many important nutrients and are too extreme to maintain in the long run. Balance is the key to everything. As an italian, I’m proud to be prescribing “Mediterranean diet” to my patients. The only side effects are staying healthier and looking good!
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Valeria Acampora