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What is the Best Diet?

Written by Shamala Ratnesar

So, what is the best diet to promote longevity and prevent serious diseases like cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and cancer – and control weight at the same time?

It has long been known that Mediterranean diets have multiple health benefits including giving us protection from the lifestyle diseases of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some kinds of cancer.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (the PREDIMED Study) reinforces the benefits of Mediterranean diets. However, before you start pouring the olive oil onto your food and eating too many nuts, it is important to note that the participants in the study also significantly increased their intake of fish and legumes (peas, beans and lentils). Fat has more than double the calories of carbohydrate or protein, so if you need to lose weight, you do need to watch your fat intake.

I would like to suggest that a modified Mediterranean diet is even healthier and principles from the Lyon Diet Heart Study (a modified Cretan Mediterranean Diet) are more easily incorporated into a weight control program.

The amazing Lyon Diet Heart Study reduced recurrent heart attack, all CVD events, death from cardiac causes and total death by over 70%! It was my original inspiration for The Total Life Diet program and here are the general principles:

  • More bread
  • More vegetables and legumes
  • More fish
  • Less meat (beef, lamb, pork) and replaced by poultry
  • No day without fruit
  • No more butter and cream: replaced by canola margarine
  • Olive oil was also used

So, don’t be scared about using canola oil and margarine/spread. It will not increase your risk of cancer or macular degeneration. This unnecessary scare-mongering has been circulating in the public arena for far too long and many people are missing out on using heart-healthy canola oil and canola margarine/spread, which are a rich source of the plant omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

I usually advice my own clients to use both extra virgin olive oil and canola oil and substitute canola margarine/spread for butter – and I do this myself.

You also need to stay away from coconut oil, which has unfortunately become very trendy! Coconut oil has about 90% saturated fatty acids and it is well established that most saturated fatty acids increase our risk of heart disease, insulin resistance and even dementia. While it may be true that there are different kinds of saturated fatty acids and some are worse than others, it is important to note that none of the longest-lived people in the world consume coconut oil. The people from Ikaria (Greece), Sardinia (Italy) and Okinawa (Japan) consume healthy Mediterranean or Japanese diets respectively.

So, what is the best diet for optimum health and lasting weight loss? It can be modified Mediterranean or modified Asian; it can be a weight loss diet or a healthy weight-maintenance diet; it can be omnivorous* or pesco-vegetarian**. In other words, the best diet can take on many different forms.

However, what is important is that it needs to suit you personally. It needs to be flexible, sustainable, enjoyable, fit in with your particular lifestyle, food preferences, religious/ethical beliefs, health condition/s and the time constraints of our busy modern world.

Such a diet is the best one for YOU – enabling and empowering you to live a long, lean, healthy and happy life.

*An Omnivorous diet is a mixed diet that includes a variety of foods from both plant and animal sources

**A Pesco-vegetarian diet also known as ‘lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarian’ or ‘pescatarian’ is one that includes vegetarian foods (plant products, dairy products and eggs) plus fish and seafood.

De Lorgeril M, Renaud S, Mamelle N, et al. Alpha-linolenic rich Mediterranean diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Lancet 1994; 343: 1454-59.

De Logerill, M, Salen P, Martin JL, Monjaud I, Delaye J, Mamelle N. Mediterranean Diet, Traditional Risk Factors, and the Rate of Cardiovascualar Complications After Myocardial Infarction. Final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation 1999; 779-85.

Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. N Engl J Med 2013; 368:1279-90.

Renaud S, de Logeril M, Delaye J, Guiollet J, Jacquard F, Mamelle N et al. Cretan Mediterranean Diet for prevention of coronary heart disease. Am J Clin Nutr 1995; 115(61) Suppl: 1360-7.

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