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Me Minus 10 and the Mediterranean diet

I am pretty well convinced that the Mediterranean diet is good for your health and particularly for your heart. And I know its components -- from fish and fiber-rich vegetables and nuts to olive oil and wine -- are delicious, particularly when enjoyed in the company of friends and family.


So why am I not adhering to the Mediterranean ways while I march along my Me Minus 10 path?

I hadn't thought about it until I was writing this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about the death of K. Dun Gifford, founder of the Oldways "food think tank" and a leading advocate of the Mediterranean diet. In that column, I try to reconcile his premature death -- from heart failure at age 71 -- with the notion that the Mediterranean diet is supposed to offer protection against just such an outcome.

When my editor asked me whether I had tried the diet, I realized that my current eating patterns in some ways resemble the Mediterranean approach, in other ways not so much. With the help of experts Pam Peeke and Brian Wansink, I've cobbled together a way of eating that works for me right now and, I hope, will continue to serve me for years to come.

That means, for me, lots of lean protein, mostly grilled chicken (and some not-so-lean protein, in the form of peanut butter, which I use sparingly to satisfy my sweet-salty-fat cravings in a relatively nutritious, fill-me-up way) and, yes, some fish. I eat lots of vegetables, though not generally dressed with olive oil, as is the Mediterranean way. I rely heavily on my daily dose of home-made yogurt for protein and calcium. And I continue to enjoy alcohol in moderation, in the form of my nightly martini.

That last bit's not exactly what the Mediterranean diet folks have in mind, though. They'd rather I sipped my drink while eating a meal. But I don't enjoy it as much that way. That martini serves as dessert for me, especially as I don't do sweets any more. (The Mediterranean approach calls for sweets in moderation and for enjoying fruit as dessert.)

I used to eat tons of bread and nuts and at least my share of pasta; the Mediterranean folks are big on all three. But I've found that cutting way back on them has made a huge difference in my waistline. I may one day learn to indulge more modestly than before, but for now I'm happy with the difference their absence has made.

So, how am I doing with Me Minus 10? Really well. To find out just how well, you'll have to wait until July 8, when "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" will be about my progress, the things that I've found have worked best for me and the things that didn't work for me well at all. I will actually be in Italy -- Mediterranean diet central -- that week. That will be the first big test of my new eating and exercise routine, seeing if they can survive a 10-day trip to Europe.

When I launched Me Minus 10, a number of readers pledged to join me in my journey. I wonder how many of you have actually done so -- and how you are doing. Please contact me at checkup@washpost.com and tell me about You Minus 10!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 8, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Me Minus 10 , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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Comments

Your diet may well be as healthy as the traditional Mediterranean diet of the mid-20th century.

We just don't have as much scientific data to prove it.

I have a guest post at The Skeptic's Health Journal Club that summarizes the documented health benefits of the Mediterranean diet:

http://healthjournalclub.blogspot.com/2010/06/health-benefits-of-mediterranean-diet.html

Reducing refined carbs like modern white bread and pasta tends to help with weight loss and control.

-Steve Parker, M.D.

Posted by: SteveParkerMD | June 8, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I think you're missing out on the pasta/bread olive oil aspect. 4 years ago my overweight husband and I decided to make a lifestyle change in order to help him lose weight. He'd been carrying 50 to 75 lbs. extra for almost 20 years and I had just put on that 50 lbs. that comes with being a woman in her mid-forties.

We have zero discipline when it comes to portion control, love big dinners with seconds and thirds, and have no patience with counting calories. By getting rid of saturated fats in the form of meats and dairy fat we accidentally stumbled onto the Mediterranean diet one choice at a time.

It probably took us a year to even figure out that our diet was very close to the Med. diet. By that time he'd lost 68 lbs. and I'd lost 55. Oddly, the percentage of body weight that we each lost was exactly the same: 24 percent. It's three years later, we enjoy food more than ever and we haven't gained a pound.

We eat mad amounts of regular (not the whole-grain, yuck) pasta and sourdough bread - usually with an olive oil sop - have probably quadrupled our peanut butter intake, overindulge on pinenuts - they go good in EVERYthing - and have compiled or invented 33 ways - and counting - to prepare skinless, boneless chicken breasts. Throw in about 2 ounces per week of very low-sodium kippers, gotta be the wild kind to get maximum Omega-3 action, wild caught halibut or other fish, about 1/4 C. per day of ground flax-seed, lots and lots of vegetables and a never-ending mega-bowl of almonds and walnuts still in the shell, and we're happy.

We don't do the wine thing, though, but I drink beer every day with no weight gain.

I can't, of course, back this up with science, but I swear I think the key to our weight loss and subsequent maintenance has been more about the fat that we eat than the fat that we don't eat. Lots of olive oil - 750 ml. every 3 weeks or so between 2 people, flax-seed - very high in good fats, kippers, nuts, pinenuts (high in Omega-6s) and peanut butter (I know, still a nut).

We're psyched that our cholesterol numbers are good, really good, but diet can't be just about not dying; diet has to be about enjoying life, and food is way up there on the list in the enjoying category.

My perspective - don't fear the fat.

Posted by: rbyrone | June 8, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Oh wait, did the math wrong. We each lost 30 percent or our body weight.

Posted by: rbyrone | June 8, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Diet is only one component of a long life, as we can't neglect genetics. And, what is the expectation that we will live, somehow, forever! Remember Jim Fixx, the runner, who inspired many of us, but still fell in the end to his genetic predisposition for heart disease. He did live 10 years longer than his own father, as I recall.

Diet and exercise can help us live a happier and healthier life - we look better, we feel better, and have more energy. Why would we pretend we can live forever?

Every day after 50 is a gift!

Posted by: k2bird | June 9, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Good grief, since when is dying at 71 considered "premature"? Dying at 40, even into the 50s is premature. I will even accept that someone dying in their 60s is still younger than "necessary", but just because average life expectancy is around 78 in this country doesn't mean that dying in your 70s or even in your 60s doesn't mean you haven't had a full life. I think there needs to be more concentration on having an active full life for the time that you are here (which means being as healthy as possible) and not so much emphasis on age.

Posted by: Wiggs1 | June 9, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

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