The best diet for health & weight loss

1st June 2020 | Alison Turner

Most of us will want to go on a diet at some stage. Trouble is, these days there are so many different types – keto, paleo, fasting, detox, carb-cycling, gluten-free, blood type, Dukan, Atkins, Zone, South Beach – it can be about as hard to pick a diet as it is to stick to one.

In the age of social media, it’s become even more confusing, as influencers of all shapes and sizes claim their diet philosophy is the best thing ever, and can do everything from getting you back into your skinny jeans to bringing about world peace.

Well, what does science have to say about it? First off, new research in the medical journal BMJ has revealed that most diets will lead to “modest” weight loss and lower blood pressure, but these affects usually disappear after a year.

But there was one diet that continued to deliver health benefits: the study found that those on the Mediterranean diet saw continued improvement in “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.

Another study from the University of Otago, New Zealand, found that among overweight adults who followed the Mediterranean, intermittent fasting (IF) and paleo diets for a period of 12 months, there were some weight loss and health benefits, but adherence to the diets dropped off “considerably” during the course of the year.

A well-rounded diet.

Med, IF, paleo: what’s the difference between them?

• The paleo diet consists of mostly less-processed foods with an emphasis on eating fruit and veg, animal proteins, nuts, coconut products, and extra virgin olive oil.

• With IF, people limit their energy intake to about 25% of their usual diet (an average of only 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men) on two days per week.

• The Mediterranean diet encourages the consumption of fruit, vegetables, wholegrain bread and cereals, legumes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil with moderate amounts of fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy and red meat once a week or less.

During the study, while there was more reported weight loss with IF dieting, this loss was still “modest”. The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, not only led to some weight loss, it also improved blood sugar levels and blood pressure. After the year-long study, more people on the Mediterranean diet had also stuck with their program.

“If you want to try a diet, you want it to be a tasty one,” says nutritionist Rick Hay. “The Mediterranean diet is definitely tasty, and it’s also quite a colourful diet – the more colour that you can get from your fruits and veg, the bigger the antioxidant boost.”

When in doubt, choose red.

The Mediterranean diet also includes a moderate amount of red wine, which is not just good for relaxing you at the end of a long day. It’s also a source of a compound called resveratrol, which has been found to prolong lifespan.

“The only downside here is that you would need a lot more than just a glass of red to get a therapeutic dose,” Hay says. “However, you are getting a lot of synergistic phytonutrients together with the resveratrol in the wine, so there are lots of benefits to be had from it.”

Hay’s top tip to lose weight? Just do a couple of vegetarian or vegan days each week.

“It’s easy and you’re getting all the good stuff from the Mediterranean diet – all the fruit, vegies and legumes,” he says. “Plus, you’ll get more fibre, which helps you to feel full.

“Just make sure to avoid processed vegan foods or too much cheese if you’re doing vegetarian. If you do that a few days a week, I think you can lose a lot of weight.”

Make a splash with the Med diet.

Some of the many (many) benefits of a Mediterranean diet

• A study in BMJ found that eating a Mediterranean diet for a year can boost the types of gut bacteria linked to “healthy” ageing, while reducing those associated with harmful inflammation.

• Researchers at the University of Minnesota, US, found that olive oil in the Mediterranean diet may hold the key to improving lifespan and alleviating ageing-related diseases.

• A study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that people who follow the Mediterranean diet appear less likely to develop depression.

• Research from Greece found that adults who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 47% less likely to develop heart disease over a 10-year period compared to adults who didn’t follow the diet.

• Research from the University of East Anglia, UK, found that sticking to a diet rich in fruit, veg, nuts, olive oil and fish could slow down bone loss in people with osteoporosis.

• A study in Frontiers in Nutrition revealed that people eating a Mediterranean diet experienced slowed rates of cognitive decline and improved cognitive function.