The pandemic has brought home to us as never before the truth of the adage ‘We are what we eat’. It has prompted us to take a close look at our diets. The Mediterranean diet has been voted ‘the healthiest diet to follow in 2021’, followed by Dash (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Flexitarian. But the abundance of information available has made it difficult to weigh up the merits of these different diets, and choose the one that suits us best. Experts demystify these diets, and explain the salient points of each.
This diet gained focus after numerous studies proved its benefits: weight loss, healthy heart, stroke prevention, management of diabetes – answers for all the health issues we face today.
“The Mediterranean diet is a beautiful blend of simple, healthy food with the traditional flavours and methods of cooking of the Mediterranean region. It is a mix of different foods customarily eaten by people of countries like Italy, Greece, etc. around the Mediterranean Sea,” says Syeda Amena Omer, Clinical Dietitian, Apollo Hospitals.
Unlike other diets, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t focus on one food group, making it nutritionally complete and easily compliable with in the long term.
“It encourages consumption of fresh and locally-grown vegetables, whole fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, herbs, spices, seafood and extra virgin olive oil. Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt are to be used in moderation. Red meat is advised rarely, while highly processed meat, refined foods and added sugar and sweetened beverages are to be avoided,” explains Syeda.
What the diet entails:
l Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
l Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
l Moderate portions of dairy products
l Limited intake of red meat
Going into specifics:
Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for 7 to 10 servings a day.
l Vegetables: Carrots, onions, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic, olives, etc.
l Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, figs, dates, etc.
l Berries: Strawberries, blueberries, raisins, etc.
l Opt for whole grains — bread, whole-grain pasta, etc.
l Have more legumes: Lentils, pulses, beans, etc.
l Use healthy fats. Try olive oil. Instead of using butter or margarine on bread, try dipping it in flavoured olive oil.
Add nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, etc.
And also seeds: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
l Eat more seafood. Eat fish twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices. Avoid deep-fried fish.
l Reduce red meat. Substitute fish, poultry or beans for meat. If you eat meat, make sure it's lean and keep portions small.
l Enjoy some dairy. Eat low-fat Greek or plain yogurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses.
l Herbs and spices boost flavour and lessen the need for salt.
l Choose Condiments: Sea salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, etc.
“The Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 31% and 28% respectively,” says Syeda.
l It can reverse the metabolic syndrome, reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease
l It prevents Type II diabetes without limiting calories in the diet
l It reduces inflammation and cardiac risks without limiting fat
Wining and Dining
Red wine is taken as part of food, but not as an alcohol session with snacks preceding dinner, which actually is the culprit in gaining weight, and falling victim to fatty liver, BP / Diabetes and pot belly, says Dr Janaki Badugu, Consultant Nutritionist, Diaita Eat Right Clinic Hyderabad.
Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, is a diet recommended for people who want to prevent or treat hypertension — also known as high blood pressure — and reduce the risk of heart disease. The DASH diet features menus with plenty of vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products, as well as whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts. It offers limited portions of red meats, sweets and sugary beverages.
“DASH diet is basically a strategic eating of fruits vegetables, dry fruits, nuts and bright coloured foods, which help lower mercury levels anywhere between 2mm Hg to 6 mmHg,” says Dr Janaki Badugu, Consultant Nutritionist, Diaita Eat Right Clinic Hyderabad
“This type of diet not only helps lower BP, but also controls weight and lowers hyperlipidaemia and sugar levels too. It is also an anti-cancer diet. While on this diet, sodium restriction is maintained for sodium-sensitive hypertensives. It provides variety in meals. It replaces fat-laden snacks with dry fruits and nuts and helps reduce fat intake. It also helps improve gut microbiota,” says Dr Janaki.
What the diet entails:
l Eat more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods
l Cut back on foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats
l Eat more whole-grain foods, fish, poultry, and nuts
l Limit sodium, sweets, sugary drinks, and red meats
DASH Diet Tips
l Add a serving of vegetables at lunch and at dinner.
l Add a serving of fruit to your meals or as a snack.
l Use only half your typical serving of butter, margarine, or salad dressing
l Drink low-fat or skim dairy products
l Limit meat to 6 ounces a day.
l Add more dry beans to your diet.
l Instead of snacking on chips or sweets, eat unsalted pretzels or nuts, raisins, low-fat and fat-free yogurt, frozen yogurt, unsalted plain popcorn with no butter, and raw vegetables