Can eating spicy foods help you lose weight?

18 Jun

Written by: Caitlin Costello

Image courtesy of: Caitlin Costello

Image courtesy of Caitlin Costello.

 

Recently, there has been some buzz in the media surrounding the idea that eating spicy foods, mainly hot peppers, can help with weight loss. But is this really the case?

Research has shown that there are bioactive compounds found in hot peppers called capsaicinoids that may be helpful in weight-loss (Whiting et al., 2012). These compounds are responsible for the hot, spicy sensation that you experience when eating these foods. Capsinoids, their sister compounds, have similar physical effects but are less powerful in flavour (Snitker et al., 2009), and more tolerable if you aren’t accustomed to hot spices! Studies have shown that both of these compounds may provide their benefits through reducing appetite and increasing energy expenditure (Whiting et al., 2012). So let’s take a look at the evidence:

One study showed that capsaicinoids, given in the form of 0.9g of red pepper mixed in with tomato juice, 30 minutes before eating, may help reduce self-reported feelings of hunger and improve satiety (Westerterp-Plantenga, Smeets & LeJeune, 2005). A group of healthy adults consumed the red pepper tomato juice before each meal for 2 consecutive days. Feelings of satiety increased and the average energy intake over the 2 days was lower with red pepper consumption, compared to tomato juice alone (Westerterp-Plantenga, Smeets & LeJeune, 2005).

The results of this study are promising however, another study conducted in which healthy adults consumed a lunch containing cayenne (about 1g of red pepper equivalent), showed no significant effects on self-reported feelings of hunger and satiety, or hunger-related gut hormones (Smeets & Westerterp-Plantenga, 2009). Since this study was conducted over a number of hours, compared to the previous study which lasted 2 days, perhaps you have to become accustomed to capsaicin in order to see changes. Although, both of these studies still only represent short-term effects of capsaicinoids on hunger and appetite and more research is needed to see if these compounds have long-term benefits.

Other studies have looked at the effects of capsinoids on energy expenditure as opposed to energy intake. For example, in one study, participants took capsules containing 10mg of capsinoids or placebo capsules and measured changes in energy expenditure in a group of young, healthy males over 2.5 hours (Josse et al., 2010). The results showed an increase in metabolic rate and whole body fat-oxidation with the capsinoid treatment. However, it is important to note that these benefits were only seen for 30 minutes after the participants consumed the capsules, and the effects were not maintained throughout the remainder of the trial. Furthermore, other studies looking at capsinoid supplementation have found no significant effects on energy expenditure (Galgani & Ravussin, 2010; Snitker et al., 2009). Not only has this area of research still not reached a consensus, but the evidence is limited to the effects of capsinoids in concentrated capsules and the doses used in these studies are higher than you would normally get from foods. In order to obtain 10mg of capsinoids from food, you would have to eat about 10 hot chili peppers (Golob, 2011). Since most of us wouldn’t consume 10 chili peppers in one sitting, more research is needed to see if a realistic dose of capsinoids can boost your metabolism enough to make a difference.

In the meantime, if you want to try adding more spice to your diet, good sources of capsaicinoids and capsinoids include green and red chili, cayenne and tabasco peppers (Marie, 2014). If you can’t take the heat, sweet varieties like bell and paprika peppers also contain capsinoids, but in lesser amounts (Marie, 2014). So why not give these foods a try? You may discover some exciting new flavours, and your body just might thank you!

References:

Galgani, J. E., & Ravussin, E. (2010). Effect of dihydrocapsiate on resting metabolic rate in humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92(5), 1089-1093.

Golob, K. (2011). Can Chili Peppers help burn fat and speed up weight loss? Retrieved from: http://www.olympiasportschiropractor.com/2011/01/26/can-chili-peppers-help-burn-fat-and-speed-up-weight-loss/

Josse, A. R., Sherriffs, S. S., Holwerda, A. M., Andrews, R., Staples, A. W., & Phillips, S. M. (2010). Effects of capsinoid ingestion on energy expenditure and lipid oxidation at rest and during exercise. Nutr Metab (Lond), 7, 65.

Marie, J. (2014). Foods that have capsaicin. Retrieved from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/408453-foods-that-have-capsaicin/

Smeets, A. J., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2009). The acute effects of a lunch containing capsaicin on energy and substrate utilisation, hormones, and satiety. European Journal of Nutrition, 48(4), 229-234.

Snitker, S., Fujishima, Y., Shen, H., Ott, S., Pi-Sunyer, X., Furuhata, Y., … & Takahashi, M. (2009). Effects of novel capsinoid treatment on fatness and energy metabolism in humans: possible pharmacogenetic implications. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(1), 45-50.

Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Smeets, A., & Lejeune, M. P. G. (2004). Sensory and gastrointestinal satiety effects of capsaicin on food intake. International Journal of Obesity, 29(6), 682-688.

Whiting, S., Derbyshire, E., & Tiwari, B. K. (2012). Capsaicinoids and capsinoids. A potential role for weight management? A systematic review of the evidence. Appetite, 59(2), 341-348.

 

 

 

 

Tofu: A hidden gem

26 Mar

Written by: Sarah Heap 

Photo courtesy of: Sarah Heap

Image courtesy of Sarah Heap.

 

Meat substitutes are becoming more popular in North America and not just for vegetarians (Xiao, 2008). This may be due to the fact that some studies have shown that red meat consumption increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer (McAfee, 2010). Restaurants and grocery stores are carrying more meat-free options than ever; making choosing meat alternatives easy and convenient. One such option is tofu, which is made by steaming, cooking, and curdling soybeans (Rutgers, 2003), a type of legume. Soybeans originated in Asia, but are now grown in many Western countries as well (Xiao, 2008). Tofu is sold in the refrigerated foods section of supermarkets and comes in different forms ranging from blocks that are extra-firm, to silken which has a similar texture to yogurt (Rutgers, 2003).

There are pre-conceived notions and hesitation about tofu and meat alternatives in general; namely, they have a reputation of being unappetizing. There may be some truth to this as tofu in particular can have a bland taste and unappealing appearance. However, it absorbs flavours well and can be used in a variety of dishes. Tofu can be used as a meat alternative in sandwiches, soups, stir-fries and salads. As for cooking methods, it can be marinated, grilled, baked, fried, smoked or pickled, to name a few. On top of that tofu is very affordable, especially compared to meat. One package contains around 3 servings and can cost as low as ninety-nine cents in Canada.

It is not only versatile in the kitchen, tofu contains many important nutrients as well. It contains soy protein, the quality of which is comparable to meat protein (Messina, 2010). Soy protein contains all of the essential amino acids making soybeans a complete source of protein, which most legumes are not (Rutgers, 2003). In fact, the United States FDA approved a health claim for foods in 1999 relating 25 g of soy protein per day to a lowered risk of coronary heart disease. Other countries have approved similar claims but Canada is not one of them (Messina, 2010). Soy based foods contain between 2 and 16 grams of soy protein per serving and tofu specifically has 10 g per half cup serving (Eat Right Ontario, 2014). So it is not difficult to consume 25 g per day with multiple servings of these foods.

Soy products have also received scientific attention surrounding bone health and breast cancer.  Although more research is needed, in some cases soy foods may be protective against breast cancer (Fritz, 2013). Compounds in soybeans called isoflavones may delay menopause-related bone loss; however, research in this area is ongoing (Lagari, 2014).

While tofu may not have been your first choice when deciding what to eat, it is extremely versatile, affordable and offers variety to your diet. It is also widely available due to increasing popularity. So, even if you are not a vegetarian, give it a chance!

 

References:

Eat Right Ontario. (2014). The Scoop on Soy. Retrieved from: http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Vegetarianism/The-Scoop-on-Soy.aspx#.Uw6MdXkZdg0 Date accessed: February 26, 2014.

Fritz, H., Seely, D., Flower, G., Skidmore, B., Fernandes, R., Vadeboncoeur, S., et al. (2013). Soy, red clover, and isoflavones and breast cancer: a systematic review. Plos One, 8, e81968. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081968.

Lagari, V. S., Levis, S. (2014). Phytoestrogens for menopausal bone loss and climacteric symptoms. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 139, 294-301.

McAfee, A. J., McSorley, E. M., Cuskelly, G. J., Moss, B. W., Wallace, J. M., Bonham, M. P., & Fearon, A. M. (2010). Red meat consumption: An overview of the risks and benefits. Meat science, 84(1), 1-13.

Messina, M., Messina, V. (2010). The role of soy in vegetarian diets. Nutrients, 2, 855-888.

Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension. (2003). Tofu: Nutritious and Versatile. Retrieved from: http://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/publication.asp?pid=FS792 Date accessed: February 18th 2014.

Xiao, C.W. (2008). Health effects of soy protein and isoflavones in humans. Journal of Nutrition, 136, S1244-49.

Preventing and managing disease: Is exercise prescription the answer?

29 Nov

Written by: A. Erin Connelly

Physical activity for good health isn’t a new idea, but there is a recent push to encourage primary care physicians to prescribe exercise plans for patients. It is well known that “being active” is beneficial for health, but recent reports indicate that 85% of Canadians do not meet the exercise guidelines of 150 minutes per week (Colley et al 2011). Similar to medication, increasing physical activity levels works best when patients know what type of exercise, how much, and how often. A number of research studies have shown that specific written exercise programs for sedentary adults result in higher activity levels than just general advice as a prescription provides direction, accountability and the feeling of tangibility that comes with a prescription (Duncan et al 2005; Smidt et al 2005).

Exercise is Medicine (EIM) is one organization that is promoting this idea. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association launched EIM in 2007 and an EIM chapter has been recently established by graduate students in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph. The Guelph chapter will be promoting physical activity as a means of prevention and treatment of disease within the Guelph community, and providing information and resources to assist health care providers in prescribing exercise as medicine.

In the same way researchers test the efficacy of a drug or supplement, exercise prescription has been tested in controlled clinical trials. In one study, cardiovascular related outcomes were compared between a group of sedentary adults prescribed a walking program of specific duration, intensity, and frequency compared to a group of sedentary adults given written materials on exercise for health.  All groups exercised for 30 min per session, and the group prescribed exercise for 4 days per week at high intensity, and 7 days per week at moderate intensity, experienced the greatest improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness and positive effects on cholesterol levels (Duncan et al 2005). The group that was not given a specific walking program reported much lower levels of activity and smaller changes in fitness and cholesterol levels.  Another large study used data from 305 controlled trials with a total of 339,274 participants and concluded that exercise intervention studies are the same as or better than drugs in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, rehabilitation after stroke, treatment of heart failure, and prevention of diabetes (Naci et al 2013).

Specifically, for people with type 2 diabetes, poor fitness level is one of the strongest predictors of all-cause mortality (Church et al 2004), which is part of the reason the Canadian Diabetes Association has created an exercise prescription pad for physicians to use in prescribing exercise to diabetes patients (see figure below).   This type of prescription pad is easy for physicians to use and for patients to understand.   Although the advice is targeted to patients diagnosed with diabetes, adults needing to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes would benefit as well.

Exercise is a non-specific term. It includes activities that vary in type, frequency, intensity, and environment. It is well known that being active and exercising is a great idea for health and happiness, but many adults find excuses not to exercise.  Exercise prescription is a promising way to get people to actually change their activity levels and improve health.  Check out the Guelph EIM facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/eimguelph?fref=ts.

References:

1) Colley RC, Garriguet D, Janssen I, Craig CL, Clarke J and Tremblay MS.  (2011) Physical activity of Canadian adults: Accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Component of Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-003-X Health Reports Statistics Canada. Vol. 22, no. 1

2) Duncan GE, Anton SD, Sydeman SJ, Newton RL, Corsica JA, Durning PE, Ketterson TU, Martin AD, Limacher MC, and Perri MG. (2005) Prescribing Exercise at Varied Levels of Intensity and Frequency. A Randomized Trial.  Arch Intern Med. 165(20):2362-2369.

3) Smidt N, de Vet HC, Bouter LM, and Dekke J. (2005) Effectiveness of exercise therapy: A best-evidence summary of systematic reviews. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy. Vol. 51: 71-85

4) Church TS, Cheng YJ, Earnest CP, Barlow CE, Gibbons LW, Priest EL, and Blair SN. (2004). Exercise Capacity and Body Composition as Predictors of Mortality Among Men With Diabetes. Diabetes Care. vol. 27 no. 1 83-88

5) Naci H and Ioannidis JP. (2013) Comparative effectiveness of exercise and drug interventions on mortality outcomes: metapepidemiological study. BMJ. 347:5577

Human Clinical Trials: Expectations vs. Reality

8 Oct

Written by: Marron Law

Image courtesy of Marrow Law.

Image Courtesy of Marron Law.

It wasn’t until my third year in the Nutritional & Nutraceutical Sciences (NANS) program that I learned about clinical trials. Interested in research, but not particularly drawn towards pure lab work, I started to realize that clinical trial research might be a good fit for me. Therefore, the opportunity to help with a clinical trial investigating a functional food came at a good time when I was fortunate enough to receive an Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) working in the Human Nutraceutical Research Unit (HNRU) this past summer.

I’ve since come to learn that reading and learning about clinical trials is very different from actually coordinating one. To highlight this, I’ve created a list of the three things that I found most unexpected about clinical trials.

1. The amount of organization. I hadn’t realized how many documents are required and how much information needs to be documented. The REB application, usually at least 50 pages, was just the start. Three consent forms, instead of the one I had expected, and over 15 different documents were needed for each participant! Almost every interaction with a participant, whether through phone, email or in-person, is logged. Reminders must be emailed before every participant visit and product numbers and expiry dates for all food items given must be recorded.  Although I wasn’t expecting this level of organization, I have learned that in research, especially involving humans, attention to detail is key to reducing error, maximizing efficiency and a successful clinical trial.

2. Recruiting is hard. How slow and long the process was to recruit participants is rarely captured in a research article. Recruiting is not easy. Not every eligible person wants to be in your study and not every person who wants to be in your study is eligible. Of the 150+ people we’ve screened, only 12 have gone on to become participants. We’ve put up posters all over campus and the city, and have posted online and newspaper ads – multiple times! Still, we find ourselves waiting for a phone call or email, hoping the next person is willing and eligible.

3. The unexpected problems. As with many things in life, it’s unrealistic to expect a clinical trial to go off without a hitch. There’s opportunity for all sorts of problems to arise, such as non-compliance with protocol, scheduling conflicts or the grocery store running out of a product you need, just to name a few. While sometimes frustrating, such events are a normal part of clinical trial research and provide opportunities to develop strong problem-solving skills.

This summer was, without a doubt, an invaluable experience to me. It has taken all my preconceptions of clinical trials and given me a reality check on how it really is. However, none of this has dampened my interest and I’m still very keen on doing clinical trial research. So for all those who were like me and only had experience with clinical trials through research articles and the classroom, please know: clinical trials involve lots of files, lots of waiting, and lots of problem-solving.

Coconuts for Health: Hold the Lime!

13 Sep

By: Jessica Ingram

Jessica.Blog.Coconut.2013

Image Courtesy of Jessica Ingram.

Coconut appears to be an impressive fruit, as I have recently taken notice from the abundance of marketing ads for coconut-based products. The Cocos Nucifera palm flourishes in tropical and subtropical regions and has traditionally been used in Ayurvedic medicine for supposed prevention and treatment of  bronchitis, gingivitis, and fever (DebMandal, 2011).  Coconut – or parts thereof – are thought to be healthful. Although there is a lot of exciting potential with coconut, what does the scientific evidence say?

Coconut water (CW) has gained a reputation as a great hydrating beverage, with benefits beyond water. But why? Water is considered a sufficient means of pre- and post-workout hydration for relatively short periods of exercise (<75 minutes), although aerobic exercise of any kind can potentially disrupt fluid and electrolyte balance within the body (Kalman, 2012).  Electrolytes help to maintain nerve and muscle function. They are naturally found in CW, with 1 cup CW providing 600 mg of potassium, 252 mg of sodium, 60 mg of magnesium (USDA, 2013). CW is reported to be as effective as a sport drink or bottled water in restoring hydration status after a strenuous exercise period (Kalman, 2012).  Other human exercise studies have found CW to provide superior rehydration and blood volume restoration compared to drinking water, although it was less effective than commercial sports drinks (Ismail, 2007; Saat, 2002).  However, CW has the benefit that it does not contain added sweeteners or artificial flavours, as are found in many carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages (Nevin, 2009).  Whether your drink of choice for hydration or pleasure, be sure to read the product label to ensure you are buying 100% pure coconut water without added sugars.

As a food ingredient, coconut oil (CO) sometimes gets a bad reputation due to its high concentration of saturated fatty acids that are believed to be hypercholesterolemic (Arunima, 2012). In fact, the oils found in coconut are composed of approximately 60% medium chain fatty acids. These are rapidly absorbed and metabolized by the body for fuel and energy production, and not main culprits in CVD risk (Nevin, 2009; Arunima, 2012). Attention has also focused on virgin coconut oil (VCO) extracted from coconut milk by a wet process under mild temperatures, which helps to retain important biologically active components such as phytosterols, polyphenols and vitamin E (Nevin, 2009). In vitro and animal studies have demonstrated a greater reduction in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and increased antioxidant activity with VCO compared to CO (Nevin, 2009; Arunima, 2012). Importantly, however, human studies of coconut oil – regular and virgin – are limited and more research is required to validate these relationships. 

With its appealing taste and aroma, it’s no surprise that many people are attracted to using coconut for a variety of purposes, including cooking, healing, and moisturizing. In fact, some popular Internet sites list up to 100 ways coconut can be used for health! Although the research is encouraging, read and proceed with caution, as most claims are not yet fully substantiated.

References:

Arunima, S., Rajamohan, T. (2012). Virgin coconut oil improves heptatic lipid metabolism in rats- compared with copra oil, olive oil and sunflower oil. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 50, 802-809.

DebMandal, M., Mandal, S. (2011). Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): In health promotion and disease prevention. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine.  4(3). 241-247.

Ismail, I., Singh, R., Sirisinghe, R.G. (2007). Rehydration With Sodium-Enriched Coconut Water After Exercise-Induced Dehydration. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health, 38(4), 769-785.

Kalman, D.S., Feldman, S., Krieger, D.R., Bloomer, R.J. (2012). Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink on measures of hydration and physical performance in exercise-trained men. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1).

Nevin, G.K., Rajamohan, T. (2009). Wet and dry extraction of coconut oil: impact on lipid metabolic and antioxidant status in cholesterol coadministered rats. Can. J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 87, 610-616.

Saat, M., Singh, R., Sirisinghe, R.G., Nawawi, M. (2002). Rehydration after exercise with fresh young coconut water, carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage, and plain water. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 21(2), 93-104.

USDA. (2013).  Nutrient Data Laboratory; Nutrient Data for 12119, nuts, coconut water (liquid from coconuts). Retrieved From: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3645fg=&man=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort =&qlookup=coconut. Date Accessed: June 19th, 2013.

On a Roll with Sushi

27 Jun

By: Joycelyne Lai

Photo courtesy of: Joycelyne Lai

Image courtesy of: Joycelyne Lai

 

Sushi. For those who love it, this one word can elicit immediate cravings. Sushi is an authentic Japanese dish that has revolutionized North American cuisine (Bestor, 2000). During the 1960’s, the fad of sushi swept the food industry has since been recognized as a food of sophistication and healthfulness (Bestor, 2000). The popularity of sushi has become a global phenomenon, i.e. sushi bars, all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants, and conveyor-belt sushi restaurants are now found in many cities (Feng, 2011). Offered in numerous forms, traditional sushi consists of bite-sized portions of slightly sweetened sticky rice combined with another ingredient such as fish, seafood or vegetables (Mouritsen, 2009). It is sometimes wrapped into a roll with seaweed and presented in individual pieces.

Some of the appeal of sushi to North Americans relates to the fact that sushi enjoys a ‘healthy image’ (Bestor, 2000). Seafood has been shown to be heart healthy. More specifically, oily fishes including tuna and salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease (Davidson, 2006).  In addition, omega-3s may play a role in cognitive function, which has relevance for the aging population (Robinson, Nkechinyere & William, 2010). Seaweed contains high amounts of minerals, including calcium, iron, iodine, magnesium and phosphorous (Feng, 2011). Furthermore, wasabi, the green condiment used to spice up sushi, is rich in beta-carotene and phytochemicals (e.g. glucosinolates and isothiocyanates) (Feng, 2011).

Sushi is also relatively low in calories when consumed in moderation (Mouritsen, 2009). Of note, however, select sushi ingredients and accompanying dishes may counteract sushi’s health benefits. It is important to realize that the authenticity of sushi has been adapted for the tastes and comforts of Western consumers. In North America, sushi often contains ingredients such as beef, avocado, high fat cheeses, spicy mayonnaise and tempura which may negate some of the health attributes of a sushi meal (Bestor, 2000). Tempura is deep fried in oil that contains high amounts of fat, which may increase the risk of heart disease (Matsunaga et al., 2003). Furthermore, the rise of all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants speaks to the issue of serving size and portion control. As with other foods, overconsumption of sushi could lead to excess calorie consumption. .

Sushi containing raw fish may also present potential microbiological risk for aged persons, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses and impaired immunity (Feng, 2011). Improper handling increases the risk for growth of dangerous parasites and salmonella bacteria in uncooked or undercooked seafood (Atanassova, Reich, & Klein, 2008). As with all foods, proper sanitation and handling practices, at home and in commercial establishments, are imperative.

Japanese cuisine remains incredibly popular in North America. Whether it’s the tradition of impeccable Japanese etiquette or the appeal of a seemingly exotic ethnic specialty, sushi has taken North America by storm and it appears to be here to stay. So… go ahead and grab a roll. If it’s prepared correctly, sushi can be one nutritious meal!

 

References:

Atanassova, V., Reich, F., & Klein, G. (2008). Microbiological Quality of Sushi from Sushi Bars and Retailers. Journal of Food Protection, 71(4), 860-864.

Bestor, T.C (2000). How sushi went global. Foreign Policy, 121, 54-63.

Davidson, M.H. (2006). Mechanisms for the hypotriglyceridemic effect of marine omega-3 fatty acids. American Journal of Cardiology, 98, 27-33.

Feng, C.H. (2011). The Tale of Sushi: History and Regulations. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 11, 205-220.

Matsunaga, K., Kawasaki, S., & Takeda,Y. (2003). Influence of Physiochemical Properties of Starch on Crispness of Tempura Fried Batter. Cereal Chemistry, 80(3), 339-345.

Mouritsen, O.G. (2009). Preparation of Sushi. SUSHI Food for the eye, the body & the soul (1st Edition). New York: Springer.

Robinson, J.G., Nkechinyere, I., William, H. (2010). Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive function in women. Womens Health, 6(1), 119-134.

 

 

The Mediterranean Diet

17 May

Written by: Sarah Heap

Image courtesy of Sarah Heap.

Image courtesy of Sarah Heap.

 

When we hear the word “diet,” restrictive eating and weight loss immediately come to mind. However, there are various reasons for following particular dietary patterns. For instance, some diets have been shown to be beneficial for certain aspects of health. This is the case with the Mediterranean Diet and, since May is Mediterranean Diet month, it seems like a perfect time to learn a bit more about it!

In actuality, there is more than one “Mediterranean Diet”. Not all Mediterranean countries have the same cultures, religions or ethnicities and food staples vary by region (Simopoulos, 2001). For example, beef, pork and grains are very common in Italy (Ferro-Luzzi, 1995), whereas milk and fish are more plentiful in Spain (Simopoulos, 2000).  In Western countries, people tend to consume more processed foods and fewer fruits and vegetables, which translates into higher levels of simple carbohydrates and less fibre and antioxidants (Simopoulos, 2011). Incorporating some Mediterranean meals could be a great way to eat more whole foods and expand your cooking portfolio!

The Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization created a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in 1993. The pyramid is derived from the diets of three Mediterranean countries, Italy, Greece, and Crete, prior to 1960.  It was during this time period, adult life expectancy was highest in these populations and the rates of chronic disease were the lowest in the world (Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, 2009).

Middleton, George. Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Digital image. Old Ways Health Through Heritage. Old Ways Preservation Trust, 2009. Web. 8 May 2013

Middleton, George. Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Digital image. Old Ways Health Through Heritage. Old Ways Preservation Trust, 2009. Accessed online, May 8 2013.

 

As shown, the base of the pyramid is the largest component of the diet. Meals in the Mediterranean Diet are typically built around these foods. The higher up an item is on the pyramid, the less frequently it is consumed. For example, wine is near the top and is suggested in moderation (Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, 2009). Overall the pyramid is plant-based, focuses on seasonally fresh foods and avoiding processed foods. Importantly, the pyramid includes Mediterranean lifestyle factors such as physical activity and socializing with others, which are thought to contribute to the lower rates of disease incidence (Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, 2009). Therefore, the Mediterranean Diet is not just a diet but also a way of life.

This diet has been studied extensively and found to have multiple health benefits, including reducing the development of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, mortality from cardiovascular disease and overall mortality (Sofi, 2008). Consuming a Mediterranean Diet for 18 months was found to be more effective at reducing waist circumference, body weight and body mass index of overweight individuals compared to a low-fat diet (McManus, 2001). The observed health benefits are thought to be from the high levels of fiber, antioxidants, and the balanced ratio of essential fatty acids (Simopoulos, 2001); but particularly from their combination in the Mediterranean Diet (Ravn, 2011).

On the whole, it has been well established that there are numerous benefits to the Mediterranean way of eating. So, if you are looking to eat healthier or simply mix up the way you eat, you may want to give the Mediterranean Diet a try!

 

References:

Ferro-Luzzi, A., et al. “Mediterranean Diet, Italian-Style: A Prototype of a Healthy Diet.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 61 (1995): 1338S-45S. Web. 2 May 2013.

McManus, K. et al. “A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Moderate-Fat, Low-Energy Diet Compared with a Low Fat, Low-Energy Diet for Weight Loss in Overweight Individuals.” International Journal of Obesity 25.10 (2001): 1503-11. Web. 2 May 2013.

“Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.” Oldways Health through Heritage. 2009 Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <http://oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-pyramid/overview&gt;.

Middleton, George. Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Digital image. Old Ways Health  Through Heritage. Old Ways Preservation Trust, 2009. Web. 8 May 2013.

Ravn, Karen. “Eat like a Mediterranean – but How?” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 21 Nov. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.   <http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/21/health/la-he-mediterranean-diet-20111121/2&gt;.

Simopoulos, Artemis P., and F. Visioli. Mediterranean Diets. Vol. 87. Basel: Karger, 2000. xiii & 82. Web. 2 May 2013.

Simopoulos, Artemis P. “The Mediterranean Diets: What is so Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence.” The Journal of Nutrition 131.11 (2001): 3065-073. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.

Sofi, F., et al. “Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Health Status: Meta-Analysis.” British Medical Journal 337 (2008): 1344-350. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.