There’s a difference between “diets” as they are commonly thought today and “eating plans.” While technically a ‘diet’ is just another word for ‘eating plan,’ most of the time we think of weight loss diets when the word ‘diet’ pops up. As a result, calling healthy eating styles (such as the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet) ‘diets’ does them a disservice. Just thinking about a ‘diet’ causes a lot of us to shudder.
When it comes to the Mediterranean and DASH diets, though, I encourage moving beyond such prejudices. Genuine Italian fare (not the Americanized meatballs-and-pasta version) is one of the best examples of how great the Mediterranean diet can taste – not a drop of deprivation in sight! The DASH diet might not be so familiar but it’s essentially a Mediterranean-type eating plan that was devised by researchers looking at how to reduce high blood pressure. It’s characterized by plenty of vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy products, whole grain cereals and legumes such as beans. While many people turn this type of eating plan into a weight loss program, and can successfully lose weight on it, it offers so much more to our ultimate health and fitness.
For example, a study highlighted last December in Medscape Medical News showed the DASH diet can help with metabolic syndrome, a condition characterized by excess abdominal fat, high levels of blood fats, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and a pro-inflammatory state, all of which can increase risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The study showed the DASH diet to be superior to typical reduced-calorie weight loss diets in its ability to improve various biological markers associated with metabolic syndrome, such as reduced triglyceride levels, increased HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol) levels, lower blood pressure and – what inevitably catches the eye – reduced waist circumference. Analysis also showed that the reduction in these risks was not due to the weight loss alone that occurred but was affected by the composition of the diet.
So on this day after Valentines, in the month famous for its heart themes (including National Heart Month), let this post serve as a reminder that being healthy and feeling great is about more than a number on a scale. We can actually reach the numbers by a variety of means, but it serves us well to be particular. Eating Mediterranean style not only tastes great but it’s something we can stay with, thereby avoiding the fits and starts of typical diet programs.