Category Archives: Diet Reviews

Review of the Science: Mediterranean Diet Reduces Cardiovascular Disease and Helps Control Diabetes

From my pantry...

From my pantry…

Click the link below if you want to know how we think the diet works.

“The Mediterranean diet can be described as a dietary pattern characterized by the high consumption of plant-based foods, olive oil as the main source of fat, low-to-moderate consumption of fish, dairy products and poultry, low consumption of red and processed meat, and low-to-moderate consumption of wine with meals. The American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association recommend Mediterranean diet for improving glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes. Prospective studies show that higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a 20-23 % reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while the results of randomized controlled trials show that Mediterranean diet reduces glycosylated hemoglobin levels by 0.30-0.47 %, and is also associated with a 28-30 % reduced risk for cardiovascular events.”

Source: Mediterranean diet for type 2 diabetes: cardiometabolic benefits. – PubMed – NCBI

FYI:  Glycosyated hemoglobin is a blood test that reflects average blood sugar levels over the preceding three months. A reduction of that value, also called hemoglobin A1c, translates to blood sugar levels lowered by 15-20 mg/dl (1 mmol/l).

Steve Parker, M.D.

Book Review: The Low Carb Dietitian’s Guide to Health and Beauty, by Franziska Spritzler

247 pages

247 pages

I just finished The Low Carb Dietitian’s Guide to Health and Beauty,
written by Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, and published last month. CDE, but the way, means Certified Diabetes Educator. Per Amazon’s rating system, I give it five stars (I love it).

*   *   *

This valuable addition to the low-carb literature is unique: No other book covers the beauty and health aspects of low-carb eating specifically in women.

I’m a strong proponent of carbohydrate-restricted eating for weight management and cure or control of certain medical conditions. The great advantages of low-carbing for weight loss are 1) suppression of hunger, and 2) proven greater efficacy compared to other types of dieting. Nevertheless, I wasn’t aware that this way of eating also had potential benefits in terms of beauty maintenance or improvement. The author persuasively makes that case in this ground-breaking book.

Just because she has RD (registered dietitian) behind her name doesn’t mean you just have to take her word for it. Franziska gives us references to the scientific literature if you want to check it out yourself.

The author focuses on health and beauty; the weight loss happens naturally with low-carb eating. That’s a helpful “side effect” since 2/3 of women in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

She covers all the basics of low-carb eating, including the rationale, potential side effects and how to prevent or deal with them, the science of “good fats,” the importance of plant-derived foods and fiber, info on artificial sweeteners, and management of weight-loss stalls.

Then Franziska does something else unique and very helpful. She offers three different eating plans along with a simple test to help determine which is the best for you. The options are 1) low-carbohydrate diet, 2) high-fiber, moderate saturated fat, low-carb diet, and 3) intermittent fasting low-carb diet with weekly treat meal. You can dig right in with a week’s worth of easy meals made from readily available ingredients.

It was interesting for me to learn that the author ate vegan-style and then pescetarian for awhile. In 2011 she was eating the usual doctor-recommended “healthy” low-fat high-fiber diet when life insurance blood work indicated she had prediabetes. So she cut her daily dietary carbs from 150 grams to 50 or less, with subsequent return of the labs to normal ranges.

I only had a few quibbles with the book. For instance, there’s no index, but that’s mitigated by a very detailed table of contents. The font size is on the small side for my 60-year-old eyes. If either of those issues bother you, get the ebook version. “Net carbs” are mentioned briefly before they are defined, which might confuse folks new to low-carbing.

A particular feature that appealed to me is the vegetarian meal options. Low-carb eating is often criticized as being meat-centric. Franziska shows it doesn’t have to be.

I also appreciate that she provides the net carb grams and calorie counts for her meal plans and recipes. All diabetics and many prediabetics need to know the carb grams. Calorie counts come in handy when analyzing the cause of a weight loss stall. Yes, calories still count in weight management.

I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the author’s top low-carb beauty foods are avocados, berries, cinnamon, cocoa/dark chocolate, fatty fish, flaxseed, full-fat dairy, green tea, nuts, olives/olive oil, and non-starchy vegetables. I was skeptical at the start of the beauty foods chapter, but Franziska’s scientific references support her recommendations. I’m already eating most of these foods. Now I’m going to try green tea and ground flaxseed (e.g., her flaxseed bread recipe).

The author will also get you going on exercise. I heartily agree with her that exercise is truly a fountain of youth.

Menopausal? The author has your special challenges covered.

If you’re curious about the paleo diet, note that only about a quarter of these recipes are pure paleo. Dairy products disqualify many of them.

Here are a just a few tidbits I picked up, to help me remember them:

  • a blood test called fructosamine reflects blood sugar levels over the previous three weeks
  • you’ll have less wrinkles if you can reduce the advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) in your skin
  • Japanese women on the highest-fat diets have less wrinkling and better skin elasticity
  • soluble fiber from plants helps to reduce appetite, improves blood sugar control, and helps with weight regulation (see her table of high-fiber plants, including soluble and insoluble fiber)
  • seitan is a meat substitute for vegetarians
  • erythritol (an artificial sweetener) may have less gastrointestinal effects (gas, bloating, diarrhea) than many other artificial sweeteners
  • maltitol (another artificial sweetener in the sugar alcohols class) tends to increase blood sugar more than the other sugar alcohols
  • I’m going to try her “sardines mashed with avocados” recipe (Alton Brown popularized sardine-avocado sandwiches, so it’s not as bizarre as it sounds!)

I wouldn’t be surprised if Franziska’s recommendations help men as well as women keep or regain their youthfulness.

Steve Parker, M.D.

What’s the Healthiest Way of Eating?

Amby Burfoot has an article that asks, “what is the healthiest diet?” His answer comes from the Journal of Nutrition. Looks like there are four winners. Quoting Mr. Burfoot:

They differ slightly in the degree to which they favor, or disfavor, certain foods and food types, such as the following:

  • The Healthy Eating Index 2010: Considers low-fat dairy products a plus.
  • The Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010: Considers nuts/legumes a plus, as well as moderate alcohol consumption. Trans fats, sugary beverages, salt, and red meat get a minus.
  • The Alternate Mediterranean Diet: Considers fish, nuts/legumes, and moderate alcohol a plus; red meat, a minus.
  • The DASH Diet: Considers low-fat dairy and nuts/legumes a plus; sugary beverages, salt, and red meat get a minus.

I think the Mediterranean diet has the most and best data to support it.

Steve Parker, M.D.

 

Mediterranean Diet Helps With Maintenance of Weight Loss After Ketogenic Diet

Italian seaside tangentially related to this post

Italian seaside tangentially related to this post

Investigators affiliated with universities in Italy and Greece wondered about the effect on obesity of two ketogenic “Mediterranean” diet spells interspersed with a traditional Mediterranean diet over the course of one year. They found significant weight loss, and perhaps more importantly, no regain of lost weight over the year, on average.

This scientific study is right up my alley. I was excited when I found it. Less excited after I read it.

The Set-Up

This was a retrospective review of medical records of patients of a private nutritional service in three fitness and weight control centers in Italy between 2006 and 2010. It’s unclear whether patients were paying for fitness/weight loss services. 327 patient records were examined. Of these, 89 obese participants met the inclusion and exclusion criteria and started the program; 68 completed it and were the ones analyzed. (That’s not at all a bad drop-out rate for a year-long study.)  The completers were 59 males and 12 females (I know, the numbers don’t add up, but that’s what they reported). Ages were between 25 and 65. Average weight was 101 kg (222 lb), average BMI 35.8, average age 49. All were Caucasian. No diabetics.

Here’s the program:

  1. 20 days of a very-low-carb ketogenic diet, then
  2. 20 days of a low-carbohydrate non-ketogenic diet for stabilization, then
  3. 4 months of a normal caloric Mediterranean diet, then
  4. repeat #1 and #2, then
  5. 6 months of a normal caloric Mediterranean diet

In the ketogenic phases, which the authors referred to as KEMEPHY, participants followed a commercially available protocol called TISANOREICA. KEMEPHY is combination of four herbal extracts that is ill-defined (at least in this article), with the idea of ameliorating weakness and tiredness during ketosis. The investigators called this a ketogenic Mediterranean diet, although I saw little “Mediterranean” about it. They ate “beef & veal, poultry, fish, raw and cooked green vegetables without restriction, cold cuts (dried beef, carpaccio and cured ham), eggs and seasoned cheese (e.g., parmesan).” Coffee and tea were allowed. Items to avoid included alcohol, bread, pasta, rice, milk, and yogurt. “In addition to facilitate the adhesion to the nutritional regime, each subject was given a variety of specialty meals constituted principally of protein and fibers. “These meals (TISANOREICA) that are composed of a protein blend obtained from soya, peas, oats (equivalent to 18 g/portion) and virtually zero carbohydrate (but that mimic their taste) were included in the standard ration.” They took a multivitamin every morning. Prescribed carbohydrate was about 30 grams a day, with macronutrient distribution of 12% carb, 36 or 41% protein, and 51 0r 52% fat. It appears that prescribed daily calories averaged 976 (but how can that be prescribed when some food items are “unrestricted”?).

I found little explanation of period #2 mentioned above, the low-carb non-ketogenic diet. Prescribed macronutrients were 25 or 33% carb, 27 0r 31% protein, 41 or 44% fat, and about 91 g carbohydrate. Prescribed daily calories appear to have averaged 1111.

After the first and second active weight loss ketogenic phases, participants ate what sounds like a traditional Mediterranean diet. Average prescribed macronutrient distribution was 57% carbohydrate, 15 % protein, and 27% fat. Wine was allowed. It looks like 1800 calories a day were recommended.

Food consumption was measured via analysis of 3-day diaries, but you have to guess how often that was done because the authors don’t say. The results of the diary analyses are not reported.

What Did They Find?

Most of the weight loss occurred during the two ketogenic phases. Average weight loss in the first ketogenic period was 7.4 kg (16 lb), and another 5.2 kg (11 lb) in the second ketogenic period. Overall average weight loss for the entire year was 16.1 kg (35 lb).

Average systolic blood pressure over the year dropped a statistically significant 8 units over the year, from 125 to 116 mmHg.

Over the 12 months, they found stable and statistically significant drops in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”), triglycerides, and blood sugar levels. No change in HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”).

Liver and kidney function tests didn’t change.

The authors didn’t give explanations for the drop-outs.

Although the group on average didn’t regain lost weight, eight participants regained most of it. The investigators write that “…the post dietary analysis showed that they were not compliant with nutritional guidelines given for the Mediterranean diet period. These subjects returned tho their previous nutrition habits (“junk” food, high glycaemic index, etc.) with a mean “real” daily intake of 2470 Kcal rather than the prescribed 1800 Kcal.”

Comments

A key take-home point for me is that the traditional Mediterranean diet prevented the weight regain that we see with many, if not most, successful diets.

However, most formulas for calculating steady state caloric requirements would suggest these guys would burn more than the 1800 daily calories recommended to them during the “normal calorie” months. How hard did the dieters work to keep calories around 1800? We can only speculate.

Although the researchers describe the long periods of traditional Mediterranean diet as “normal caloric,” they don’t say how that calorie level was determined  and achieved in the real world. Trust me, you can get fat eating the Mediterranean diet if you eat too much.

I’ll be the first to admit a variety of weight loss diets work, at least short-term. The problem is that people go back to their old ways of eating regain much of the lost weight, typically starting six months after starting the program. It was smart for the investigators to place that second ketogenic phase just before the typical regain would have started!

There are so few women in this study that it would be impossible to generalize results to women. Why so few? Furthermore, weight loss and other results weren’t broken down for each sex.

I suspect the results of this study will be used for marketing KEMEPHY and TISANOREICA. For all I know, that’s why the study was done. We’re trusting the investigators to have done a fair job choosing which patient charts to analyze retrospectively. They could have cherry-picked only the good ones. Some of the funding was from universities, some was from Gianluca Mech SpA (what’s that?).

How much of the success of this protocol is due to the herbal extracts and TISANOREICA, I have no idea.

The authors made no mention of the fact the average fasting glucose at baseline was 103 mg/dl (5.7 mmol/l). That’s elevated into the prediabetic range. So probably half of these folks had prediabetes. After the one-year program, average fasting glucose was normal at 95 mg/dl (5.3 mmol/l).

The improved lipids, blood sugars, and lower blood pressure may have simply reflected successful weight loss and therefore could have been achieved  by a variety of diets.

The authors attribute their success to the weight-losing metabolic effects of the ketogenic diet (particularly the relatively high protein content), combined with the traditional Mediterranean diet preventing weight regain.

The authors write:

The Mediterranean diet is associated with a longer life span, lower rates of coronary heart disease, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. But it is difficult to isolate the “healthy” constituents of the Mediterranean diet, since it is not a single entity and varies between regions and countries. All things considered there is no “one size fits all” dietary recommendation and for this reason we have tried to merge the benefits of these two approaches: the long term “all-life” Mediterranean diet coupled with brief periods of a metabolism enhancing ketogenic diet.

I’ve attempted a similar merger with my Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet. Click here for an outline. Another stab at it was the Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet. And here’s my version of a Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Paoli, Antonio, et al. Long Term Successful Weight Loss with a Combination Biphasic Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet and Mediterranean Diet Maintenance Protocol. Nutrients, 5 (2013): 5205-5217. doi: 10.3390/nu5125205

Book Review: Zest for Life – The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet

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A couple years ago I read and reviewed Zest For Life: The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet, by Conner Middelmann-Whitney, published in 2011. I guess I forget to pull and re-post my review off my old Advanced Mediterranean Diet blog. Per Amazon.com’s rating system, I give it five stars (I love it). Here it is.

 ♦   ♦   ♦

The lifetime risk of developing invasive cancer in the U.S. is four in ten: a little higher for men, a little lower for women.  Those are scary odds.  Cancer is second only to heart disease as a cause of death in western societies.  The Mediterranean diet has a well established track record of protecting against cancers of the prostate, colon/rectum, uterus, and breast.  Preliminary data suggest protection against melanoma and stomach cancer, too.  I’m not aware of any other way of eating that can make similar claims.

So it makes great sense to spread the word on how to eat Mediterranean-style, to lower your risk of developing cancer.  Such is the goal of Zest For Life’s author.  The Mediterranean diet is mostly, although by no means exclusively, plant-based.  It encourages consumption of natural, minimally processed, locally grown foods.  Generally, it’s rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, olive oil, whole grains, red wine, and nuts. It’s low to moderate in meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt).

Note that one of the four longevity hot spots featured in Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones was Mediterranean: Sardinia.  All four Blue Zones were characterized by plant-based diets of minimally processed, locally grown foods. (I argue that Okinawa and the Nicoya Peninsula dwellers ate little meat simply due to economic factors.)

Proper diet won’t prevent all cancer, but perhaps 10-20% of common cancer cases, such as prostate, breast, colorectal, and uterine cancer.  A natural, nutrient-rich, mostly plant-based diet seems to bolster our defenses against cancer.

Ms. Middelmann-Whitney is no wacko claiming you can cure your cancer with the right diet modifications.  She writes, “…I do not advocate food as a cancer treatment once the disease has declared itself….”

She never brings it up herself, but I detect a streak of paleo diet advocacy in her.  Several of her references are from Loren Cordain, one of the gurus of the modern paleo diet movement.

She also mentions the ideas of Michael Pollan very favorably.

She’s not as high on whole grains as most of the other current nutrition writers.  She points out that, calorie for calorie, whole grains are not as nutrient-rich as vegetables and fruits.  Speaking of which, she notes that veggies generally have more nutrients than fruits. Furthermore, she says, grain-based flours probably contribute to overweight and obesity. She suggests that many people eat too many grains and would benefit by substituting more nutrient-rich foods, such as veggies and fruits.

Some interesting things I learned were 1) the 10 most dangerous foods to eat while driving, 2) the significance of organized religion in limiting meat consumption in some Mediterranean regions, 3) we probably eat too many omega-6 fatty acids, moving the omega-6/omega-3 ratio away from the ideal of 2:1 or 3:1 (another paleo diet principle), 4) one reason nitrites are added to processed meats is to create a pleasing red color (they impair bacterial growth, too), 5) fresh herbs are better added towards the end of cooking, whereas dried herbs can be added earlier, 6) 57% of calories in western societies are largely “empty calories:” refined sugar, flour, and industrially processed vegetable oils, and 7) refined sugar consumption in the U.S. was 11 lb (5 kg) in the 1830s, rising to 155 lb (70 kg) by 2000.

Any problems with the book? Only relatively minor ones. The font size is a bit small for me; if that worries you, get the Kindle edition and choose your size.  She mentions that omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are “essential” fats. I bet she meant to say specifically that linolenic and linoleic fatty acids are essential (our bodies can’t make them); linolenic happens to be an omega-3, linoleic is an omega-6.  Reference #8 in chapter three is missing.  She states that red and processed meats cause cancer (the studies are inconclusive).  I’m not sure that cooking in or with polyunsaturated plant oils causes formation of free radicals that we need to worry about.

As would be expected, the author and I don’t see eye to eye on everything.  For example, she worries about bisphenol-A, pesticide residue, saturated fat, excessive red meat consumption, and strongly prefers pastured beef and free-range chickens and eggs.  I don’t worry much.  She also subscribes to the “precautionary principle.”

The author shares over 150 recipes to get you started on your road to cancer prevention.  I easily found 15 I want to try.  She covers all the bases on shopping for food, cooking, outfitting a basic kitchen, dining out, shopping on a strict budget, etc.  Highly practical for beginning cooks.  Numerous scientific references are listed for you skeptics.

I recommend this book to all adults, particularly for those with a strong family history of cancer.  But following the author’s recommendations would do more than lower your risk of cancer.  You’d likely have a longer lifespan, lose some excess fat weight,  and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, stroke, and vision loss from macular degeneration.  Particularly compared to the standard American diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclosure: The author arranged a free copy of the book for me, otherwise I recieved nothing of value for writing this review.

Kevin Trudeau In Trouble With Feds Again

I’ve written before about twice-convicted felon Kevin Trudeau. He’s a well-known infomercial pitch man who wrote Weight Loss Cures “They” Don’t Want You To Know About.

Problem now is, he never paid his $37.6 million (USD) fine to the Federal Trade    Commission. Says he ain’t got the moolah, but the FTC doesn’t believe him.

ABC News has the story:

According to the government, credit card records demonstrate that the corporate entities owned or directed by Babenko [his wife] have been paying almost all of Trudeau’s American Express and Diner’s Club bills.  Her companies, the authorities say, have also paid for Bentley automobiles, private jet travel and the rent on a 14,000-square-foot mansion in Illinois.

I don’t feel sorry for Trudeau; I’m sad for the  folks he mislead in to buying his book.

The Much Anticipated “Foodist” Is Now Available

I’ve been reading Darya Pino Rose’s blog religiously for many years. She’s got a new book out, Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting.

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m certain that it’s loaded with accurate, helpful information that will help most anyone get healthier through diet and other lifestyle changes.

Order your copy now before they run out!

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: I have no financial ties to this product or Darya.