Find your fit

Find your fit

Diets come and go, and over the years there have been no shortage of crash diets. Indeed, there are probably more of them than there are people who are happy with their weight. The bottom line is that a quick fix is never the answer.

Some weight loss programmes have stood the test of time, and while the old adage of not pleasing all the people all the time comes to mind and not all solutions work for everyone, is it really possible that a small handful of diets are the answer to most people’s weight issues? We investigated the top five listed in Time magazine’s annual rankings, voted for by a panel of food and health experts. The results reveal that the best choices of 2018 are a tie between the Mediterranean and DASH diets; followed by the flexitarian diet in third place; Weight Watchers in fourth; and MIND, TLC and volumetric diets all vying for fifth place.

We ask Marcelle le Grange and Natalie Grobler from Livewell Dieticians, based at Mopani at i’langa Mall and the Busamed Lowveld Private Hospital, what they think of these findings, whether they agree or disagree, and why, as well as any sage words of advice they might have regarding eating and living healthily. We also get insight from Liesbet Delport from Combrink and Delport Consulting Dieticians and Hendrik Toerien from Slender Wonder about the importance of a long-term healthy lifestyle and food regimen as opposed to a short-term or quick-fix diet.

Mediterranean diet

Incorporating all the basic tenets of healthy eating, this diet is characterised by traditional fare from this region. It is high in healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, as well as an abundance of fruits and vegetables.

The science behind the Mediterranean diet (it would be more accurate to call it the Mediterranean lifestyle), is based on a pyramid. A diversity of plant-based foods, whole grains and the occasional glass of red wine are encouraged, and this eating plan is widely embraced by industry professionals and medical experts alike. This ancient way of life, entrenched in the coastal cuisine systems of countries like Italy, France, Greece, Spain and the North African region, has proven just how beneficial it is time and again. Studies involving 7 000 unhealthy or overweight candidates showed a marked 30% decrease in cardiovascular disease after adopting a Mediterranean-style diet consisting of vegetables, olive oil and nuts for five years.

All of our experts rated this diet highly. “If you are looking for a heart-healthy eating plan, then this is for you, as research has shown that the Mediterranean diet decreases the risk of heart disease, and the incidence of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,” says Natalie.

“My only concern is that it does not emphasise portion control, and for weight loss, you will need to keep to suggested portion sizes for higher calorie options.” Liesbet and Marcelle concur with this completely. Marcelle also advises limiting fruit intake to two to three times per day.

DASH diet

Specifically designed to help lower blood pressure, DASH (dietary approaches to stopping hypertension) focuses predominantly on a plant-rich eating plan, with an abundance of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy products. Sugar, saturated fat, full-fat dairy and certain types of oil are to be avoided, and salt intake has to be drastically reduced or cut down. This diet has been ranked as the best one for eight years.

The panel of experts consistently chose this way of eating as it balances all the food groups, is proven to improve overall health and it reduces the risk of developing diabetes. It lowers the chance of heart disease including heart failure, kidney stones and strokes. It also lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, and recent studies show it to be linked to a reduced risk of depression.
“DASH is an exceptionally healthy eating plan,” says Natalie, “and it offers other health benefits besides just lowering blood pressure. It is also in line with the dietary recommendations for the prevention of osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It is not a weight loss programme, but it will certainly help lose unwanted kilos as it guides you towards healthier food choices.”

Marcelle recommends that a healthy intake of unsaturated fats is important and should be increased slightly on the DASH diet, while again the reduction of fruit to two to three servings a day. “Other than being a little high in fructose, I would certainly recommend this diet,” she states.

Flexitarian diet

Essentially an amalgamation of flexible and vegetarian, meaning that you eat primarily vegetarian food, with the occasional inclusion of meat or fish. Tofu, quinoa, lentils, nuts, seeds, eggs and legumes, are all high in protein, and high on the list of what you should be eating. Sugar, as well as refined and processed foods are out. The benefits here are that you are improving your health as well as cutting down on your carbon footprint, and instead of eliminating foods from your diet, you are adding those which are beneficial.

Seeds and nuts are high in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats, which along with lentils and beans, reduce high cholesterol levels, and provide soluble fibre and essential fatty acids. Our experts agree that to make the diet effective the correct nutrient and protein intake is needed. There is emerging evidence of a reduction in blood pressure, risk of type 2 diabetes and bowel disease such as Chron’s when followed correctly, but it is important to watch the intake of excess carbohydrates.

Weight watchers diet

Working on a point system based on nutritional value, whereby each type of food is given a Smartpoints value, you have to aim for a defined number of points every day.
Foods that fill you for a longer time cost the least, and nutritionally dense foods cost less than sugar and processed foods. Higher amounts of protein bring the point value down.
Our experts feel that while Weight Watchers is a good tool when starting a healthy eating plan as it is a balanced regime, it is not always easy or practical to follow a points system.

Mind diet

The MIND diet is a mix of DASH and Mediterranean. It recommends olive oil, red wine and the consumption of the 10 healthy foods grouping which includes green leafy veg, nuts, berries, beans, wine, whole grains, white meat and olive oil, and to avoid red meat, cheese, butter and margarine, sweets and pastries, and fried or junk food.
The acronym stands for Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay.
This diet shows improved results when it comes to blood pressure, weight loss, cholesterol and also a marked reduction in the development of Alzheimer’s.
Hendrik agrees that the Mediterranean and DASH are the best diets overall, especially for cardiovascular health and general well-being.

In a (healthy) nutshell

Marcelle’s advice is this: a healthy diet is a healthy lifestyle change, there is no quick fix. Include all food groups, but in moderation – portion control is crucial.
A healthy food lifestyle includes a high intake of non-starchy vegetables, one to two fruit servings per day, high-fibre starch (wholewheat bread, rice and pasta), moderate intake of lean protein, no sugar, low in saturated fat, and a moderate intake of unsaturated fat.
Natalie stresses that there is no ideal weight loss diet, and that individual factors such as the status of your physical and financial health, as well as your attitude towards food and your stress levels, all need to be taken into account when considering to start on a diet regimen.
Decades of research have shown that a healthy eating routine and cutting the calories, along with an active lifestyle, reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Liesbet urges readers to not go for fad diets, but instead to consult a dietician.

And just as you would go to the best vet when your pet is sick, you should go to a registered professional instead of consulting the Internet or going to an expert in a different field. If it is about nutrition, consult someone who can adjust your lifestyle and nutritional requirements according to your needs as far as possible.
This is even more relevant in light of the fact that the oldest people on earth, the centenarians (people who are older than 100 and still healthy) follow a healthy, balanced diet.
Hendrik also advises that for a better weight loss option, the MIND diet with a reduction in fruit, oil and nut intake is ideal.

Livewell Dieticians
Slender Wonder

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