Life / Food

Mediterranean diet helps weight loss: study

What if you could eat a tasty Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fish, poultry and olive oil and lose weight?

The Mediterranean based diet compared favourably to other globally popular diets including those involving low carbohydrates or low fat, according to a long-term study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Scientists randomly selected 322 participants for one of three weight loss plans in a workplace study that spanned six years.

The dieters were given choices of a low fat, restricted calorie diet, a Mediterranean restricted calorie diet, or a low carbohydrate diet without calorie restriction.

Low fat diet participants consumed grains, vegetables and fruits and limited their consumption of fats and sweets.

Low carbohydrate diet participants followed the popular Atkins diet and had no restriction on caloric intake.

Mediterranean diets were rich in vegetables and low in red meat with poultry and fish replacing beef and lamb.

The initial study carried out between July 2005 and June 2007 was completed after two years, with follow up after another four years.

After six years the total weight loss was 3.1 kg (6.8 pounds) in the Mediterranean group, followed by 1.7 kg (3.7 pounds) in the low carbohydrate group, and 0.6 kg (1.3 pounds) in the low fat group.

“The weight loss was significant for the Mediterranean group and the low-carbohydrate group but not for the low fat group,” concluded study authors Dan Schwarzfuchs of the Nuclear Research Centre Negev, and Rachel Golan of Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

In an interview with the Star, Dr. Schwarzfuchs said when undertaking a diet it was important to take into consideration personal food preferences and health.

“When a person needs to change their life habits, adherence to the complete strategy and stability are key factors,” he said. “I try to tailor the dietary strategy to their personal preferences and metabolic needs.”

In terms of metabolism, those with high cholesterol may be better off with a low-carb diet, and those with high triglycerides might choose the Mediterranean diet, he said.

One positive finding was that many of the participants decided to stick to their diet, even after the study ended, he said.

“Some of my colleagues expected the participants to regain all of the weight they had lost in the original study, since this is what usually happens after a short diet ends,” he said. “But most of the volunteers just went on with the diet they had gotten used to.”

Schwarzfuchs said he wasn’t surprised.

“I felt that after two years of healthy eating, people had made a real change in their lifestyle and wouldn’t go back to their previous habits.”

What he did learn is that talking about diet changes in the workplace can be effective at promoting a healthier lifestyle.

“We spend most of our waking hours at work. We should take better advantage of this platform. A dedicated team of doctors and health workers who are willing to engage in promoting employee health can make a real difference.”

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