There’s only one diet that has any strong evidence base for long-term health: the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is based on good-quality, natural, healthy foods consumed more during breakfast and lunch, with minimal food at night. There is no processed, packaged muck masquerading as food in this diet, with minimal sugars and refined carbohydrates. This diet has demonstrated in a number of carefully designed trials over a number of years to reduce risk for most of our common diseases by anywhere from 25 to 50 per cent.
In many ways, this is the wrong question. It is a little-known fact that 70-80 per cent of cholesterol is manufactured within the body and has nothing to do with diet. No expert in the area would encourage anyone to have food laced with bad fats and refined sugars, but if your cholesterol is elevated, you should have an assessment of your cardiovascular risk to see whether your cholesterol is spilling into your arteries leading to fatty plaques in the walls. For more on cholesterol, you can read my previous article, here.
The centre of everyone’s diet should be two to three pieces of fruit per day, and three to five servings of vegetables (a serving is, for example, half a carrot). You may say, well, that’s easy. But if it is, why is it that less than 10 per cent of people consume this amount of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis? The people who do consume this amount of fruit and vegetables have the lowest rates of heart disease and cancer in the community. Consuming this amount has no relation to your cholesterol level, but it’s still extremely healthy for you in terms of reducing our modern killers.
Sadly, when we hit 50, the metabolism starts to slow. Over the age of 60, our metabolism tanks, and what you could do in your 20s and 30s is no longer possible. Unfortunately, you will now find that it is so much easier to put on weight.
Especially as we age, weight loss is 80 per cent food and 20 per cent exercise. Many fat people go to the gym and struggle to lose weight because they do not change their eating habits. The cyclists we see doing their Sunday morning exercise typically end up at the patisserie destroying their 50km cycle. If you go for a brisk half-an-hour walk, you burn 300 calories. If you have a small piece of chocolate cake, there’s your 300 calories re-gained.
Unfortunately, weight loss has to be a negotiation, and it is typically calories in versus calories burnt. Calories in is everything that goes into your mouth including food and fluid (excluding water), while calories burnt is exercise, movement and metabolism.
Losing weight, especially as we age, involves cutting back calories (i.e. reducing your overall intake), cutting back carbs (what I call white death: sugar, white bread, pasta, potatoes and to a lesser extent white rice) and cutting back your intake of alcohol and any form of soft drinks, including those with artificial sweeteners. The above is 80 per cent of your program, with three to five hours of exercise per week the remaining 20 per cent.
I have the ‘Walker 19 out of 21 rule’. For 19 meals out of 21 (in a week) you should follow the program and the other two you can relax the rules somewhat. A treat may be consumed occasionally, but don’t make it a regular habit.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.