As many prepare to write their New Year’s resolutions, a nutritionist has advised the Mirror which diets actually work in the long run, while cautioning against one food fad in particular
As part of our 2024 New Year’s resolutions, many of us will be looking for ways to make positive lifestyle changes – but there are some things you should bear in mind.
While some influencers may swear by certain food plans, it’s important to look out for red flags and do your research when trying out a healthier eating regime. As many of us start swapping the mid-morning mince pies for carrot sticks, a nutritionist has spoken with the Mirror about the do’s and don’t of January dieting – including the diet that many experts in the know swear by.
She’s also cautioned of the fads to avoid, with one eating plan in particular said to pose serious health risks.
Eat like a Sardinian
GP and registered associate nutritionist Dr Sarah Cooke is one of several experts who swears by the Mediterranean diet, which promotes eating plenty of whole grains, nuts, oily fish, seeds leafy green vegetables, and healthy fats. Those who stick to this diet limit sugars and processed foods, and it’s regarded as a good long-term option for managing your weight in the long term.
Dr Cooke, who specialises in helping women shed weight and find balance with eating, told the Mirror: “Fad diets are just that – a fad because they’re often not sustainable for long-term weight loss and maintenance. A diet that promises quick results is going to rely on drastically cutting calories- leaving you feeling hungry, tired, and grumpy! If a diet is asking you to cut out food groups (like no carbs, no fat) then it is not a balanced diet and will not be sustainable in the long term. A diet that have always been popular is the Mediterranean diet- which is generally a very healthy diet and is safe in the long term.”
Drawing inspiration from foods traditionally eaten in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – such as France, Spain, Greece, and Italy, the Mediterranean diet is championed by nutrition guru Dr Michael Mosley, who has written extensively about its various in his best-selling books.
Sticking to a Mediterranean diet has previously been linked to lowering risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and is also believed to increase life expectancy. Indeed, a cluster of villages in Sardinia was identified as being one of the very first ‘blue zones’ – areas that have particularly high life expectancy.
People living in this area, who tend to stick to very traditional, healthy meals, are ten times more likely to live to 100 than people living in the US, a factor that has been partially attributed to their lean diet. According to the Blue Zones website: “The classic Sardinian diet consists of whole-grain bread, beans, garden vegetables, fruits, and, in some parts of the island, mastic oil. Sardinians also traditionally eat pecorino cheese made from grass-fed sheep, whose cheese is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Meat is largely reserved for Sundays and special occasions.”
Although it isn’t strictly a weight loss programme, a study published in the journal Nutrients found that participants lost an average of 8.7 per cent body weight after sticking to the Mediterranean diet for 12 months, while long-term adherence is linked to reduced risk of regaining lost weight.
Dr Cooke added: “When discussing foods and weight loss, what matters is the overall dietary pattern. No one food is good for weight loss. Fruits and vegetables are brilliant for weight loss as they are naturally low in calories, and full of fibre and water so also help keep you feeling full. They are also a great source of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants so they’re a win-win for health and weight loss.”
‘Dangerous’ diet to avoid
Some bodybuilders swear by the ‘carnivore diet’, which involves sticking to mostly animal products such as meat, eggs, and low-lactose dairy products, while eschewing all other food groups, including fruit, vegetables, and legumes. High in protein and fat, a number of those who follow this relatively new ‘zero carb diet’ profess several benefits, including increased energy, weight loss, and improved digestive health, based on the idea that early human ancestors ate a high-meat diet.
There is currently limited scientific research as to its long-term effects, however, and Dr Cooke has urged dieters to steer clear. She explained: “Diets which promote large quantities of red meat or processed meat and animal fats such as butter and lard. These are high in saturated fat and can raise your LDL cholesterol – ‘bad’ cholesterol. This is dangerous for your heart (often seen in the keto diet) and I would not recommend following this approach. Also, the so-called carnivore diet (where only animal products and minimal fruit/vegetables are consumed) is dangerous for general health (in particular bowel and heart health), and I would not advise this.”
According to Dr Cooke, diets that involve cutting out macronutrient groups – for example, no carb and no fat diets – should also be dodged, as should plans that advise water fasting for prolonged periods – more than 24 hours.
Offering advice for those looking to make a fresh start food-wise this January 1, Dr Cooke has recommended kicking off with ‘small, manageable changes’, no matter how tempting it might be to completely overhaul the contents of your fridge.
Dr Cooke advised: “Think about adding more to your plate rather than restricting (increasing vegetables at meals, adding extra fruit to cereal or porridge) and start to think about how to set yourself up for success (stocking up your cupboards and fridge with food to make healthy meals with, having frozen fruit and veg in the freezer ready to add to meals). Don’t drastically cut calories, and don’t cut out all your favourite foods. Try and eat a little most days (for example, a few squares of chocolate in the evening) so you don’t feel deprived and crave it more.”
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