Overweight Americans pinning their health hopes on a Mediterranean diet may find it ends in a Greek tragedy.
A study published by the The New England Journal of Medicine this week found that a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil, mixed nuts and red wine could reduce risk of heart attack or stroke by up to 30 percent.
But experts warn that it is not a license to load your plate full of pasta, olive oil and delicious cheeses.
“The key is moderation,” explains Rachel K. Johnson, Chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. “The participants [in the study] were encouraged to include four tablespoons of olive oil per day in their diet. This is high in calories. The recommended amount of wine was one glass per day or seven glasses per week. At the end of the day it is about balance and moderation. If you add healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil and nuts to your diet, you need to eliminate the other less healthy foods to avoid gaining weight.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 56 percent increase in the incidence of obesity among Americans since the late 1980s. Between 2009 and 2010, nearly 150 million adults were classified as overweight or obese. The International Food Information Council Foundation also reveals more than half of Americans (55 percent) reported they tried to lose weight in 2012.
Weight loss surgeon Dr. Joseph J. Colella is wary of people trying to lose weight indulging in rich foods that can pack on the pounds.
“In terms of following the Mediterranean diet, the key is protein, portion control and to emphasize the fresh food components, especially fruits and vegetables," says Colella. “The hidden secrets to any weight loss success rest in those main principles. But don’t kid yourself. Large amounts of red wine, chocolate and olive oil will make the scale jump just as fast as ice cream.”
While the study wasn’t conducted to specifically explore how the Mediterranean diet can influence one’s weight, its emphasis on eating fresh fruits and vegetables is one way of introducing healthier eating habits.
“Opt for meatless Mondays and Fridays,” suggests Laura Cipullo, a dietitian and diabetes educator. “Replace with legumes and wholesome grains. Purge your pantry of vegetable oil blends and choose olive oil or canola oil instead.”
Still curious about the Mediterranean diet? Dietician Lindsay Langford suggests the following meal plan:
Breakfast – Oatmeal with fruit
Morning snack – Carrots and celery with hummus
Lunch – Salad with beans, avocado, tomato and olive oil; fresh fruit cup and a whole wheat roll
Afternoon snack – Almonds and a cup of grapes
Dinner – 4-6oz. of salmon, asparagus sautéed in olive oil, ½ cup wheat pasta with pesto