The World's Healthiest Diets
Week Four: The Mediterranean
In one study, people who consumed the traditional diet of the Mediterranean (key elements include produce, healthy fats, whole grains, lean protein, and red wine) for 25 weeks lost an average of 8 percent of their body weight.
Get an oil change. Extra virgin olive oil, a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, may help control your appetite. A study from the University of California, Irvine, found that the oleic acid it contains triggers the production of a hunger-curbing compound in the small intestine. I've always used the golden oil in dressing, but I also marinated meat in it with salt and pepper. And because I learned from Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, a coauthor of Low-Fat Lies: High-Fat Frauds and the Healthiest Diet in the World, that the body needs fat to absorb the beneficial compounds in produce, veggies roasted in olive oil became my go-to side dish.
Spice things up. Mediterranean cooks are all about fresh herbs -- basil, dill, bay leaf, fennel, and mint -- and spices. These weight-loss secret weapons pack serious flavor, allowing you to cut back on high-cal ingredients. Alas, in the kitchen I'm more Paula Deen than Giada De Laurentiis: I use a lot of salt, sugar, and butter. "Buy at least one fresh herb a week and add it to your meals," Scritchfield suggests. I learned to love cilantro in chili, where it made my usual dollop of sour cream unnecessary.
Use meat sparingly. Supersized steak dinners are uncommon in the traditional Mediterranean diet; meat plays a supporting role and is used to add flavor. "The amount of meat consumed by Americans is a large contributor to excess weight," says Flynn, who notes that it's also linked to heart disease and cancer. I found some new vegetarian faves: portobello burgers and baked spaghetti squash. I never felt weighed down after dinner, and -- bonus! -- I saved cash. "Meat is probably the most expensive part of the grocery bill," Flynn says.The Wrap-Up
This four-week staycation has been better for my waistline than any vacay I've taken. I dropped five pounds! And some of the healthy changes have stuck: I planted an herb garden on my balcony; meatless Mondays (Thursdays, too) are a staple in my household; and my pantry is stocked with dark chocolate so rich that I don't want to stuff the whole bar in my mouth. Turns out, a bit of global inspiration was just what I needed to shake up my all-too-American eating habits.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2012.
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