Mediterranean Diet Prevents Overweight and Obesity In Children

Most parents are emphatic about their role as the guardian and care giver of their children.

A parent puts their child in car seat to drive three blocks for a play date. They do exhaustive research and check the references of the local day care centers before making a choice to leave their child there. At home the cabinets are secured with safety latches, the fire detectors have working batteries, and a camera keeps an eye on babies and toddlers while they sleep.

The parent needs and wants to make sure that their children stay out of harms way.  But that’s not all. As a parent, your goal is to raise children to be healthy, active, productive adults.

If you’ve watched the Fed Up movie trailer and follow the trends on childhood obesity and diabetes you know that raising a healthy child is getting harder. Currently 17% of our children are overweight or obese. By 2020 that number is expected to rise to 25%. Each year nearly 4,000 children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Fed Up isn’t the first movie to make these claims.  The HBO documentary, The Weight Of The Nation tackles the same issues and presents a startling and scary look at what is happening to the health of our children. The Weight of The Nation says that unless you do something different than the average American your children will grow up to be overweight or obese.

The good news is that your child is probably not predestined for overweight, obesity or diabetes.  There is not an unstoppable force that you, as the parent and guardian of your children, can’t do something about. You can make sure that your child doesn’t becomes a statistic and it might be easier to do than you think.

Child eating fruit

Flickr photo by Bruce Tuten

Mediterranean-Style Diet Prevents Overweight and Obesity In Children

A recent study suggests that adopting a Mediterranean eating style will help prevent overweight and obesity in children.  The study looked at the weight and eating habits of more than 9,000 children in eight countries for a two year period.  The children’s weight and body fat was measured at both the beginning and end of the study.

The study found that kids that followed a Mediterranean style diet were 15 percent less likely to be overweight or obese than those who did not follow that type of diet.

“The promotion of a Mediterranean dietary pattern is no longer a feature of Mediterranean countries,” the researchers said. “Considering its potential beneficial effects on obesity prevention, this dietary pattern should be part of obesity prevention strategies and its promotion should be particularly intense in those countries where low levels of adherence are detected.”

The study was scheduled for presentation Tuesday at the European Congress on Obesity in Bulgaria. Until then they’ve published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, findings presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary.

Adopting a Mediterranean Lifestyle Can Help You Too

The Mediterranean diet was first publicized by Dr. Ancel Keys and became popular in the 1990s. The ‘diet’ is based on mimicking the eating patterns of the people that live in countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea; Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey, to name a few.

Along with a longer life expectancy, people that live in these areas are found to have lower rates of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes. Ironically these are the same health conditions that are on the rise in the United States and Europe.

The Mediterranean Diet is similar to the Paleo plan in that it calls for eating whole or ‘real’ foods but does not go to the extreme of eliminating entire food groups.

The diet calls for eating an abundance of plant foods, fresh fruits, beans, nuts and whole grain cereals such as oats, barley, corn and brown rice. Olive oil is the main source of dietary fat. Cheese and yogurt (with no sugar added) are the main sources of dairy. Moderate amounts of fish and poultry are consumed. Eggs are limited, and so is read meat.

Below is a picture of the Mediterranean food pyramid that shows the foods that are to be eaten in quantity and those that are to be limited.

Mediterranean pyramid

Flickr photo by alenjandromercer

There’s nothing particularly epic about the eating plan. It is based on applying common sense to the way we eat so that most of the foods we consume are dense in nutrients and low in calories, sugar and fat. The diet also calls for healthy amounts of physical activity throughout the week.

Getting children started at a young age eating fruits and vegetables, lean sources of proteins, and whole grain cereals may be the best prevention there is to make sure they don’t become an overweight teen or young adult.

My call to action for you is to change the way you eat by starting a Mediterranean Project in your household. There’s no need to go it alone. Invite you friends and family join you!

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Low-Fat or Low-Carb? Which Diet Is Better?

Recent Research Shows That One Diet Helps People
Not Only Lose Weight, But Keep It Off.

“In two decades I’ve lost a total of 789 pounds. I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.”  – Erma Bombeck

Charm bracelet. Flickr photo by Sarah G

Low-carb, low-fat, cabbage soup, Fruit Loops.  Which diet shows the most promise for helping dieters not just lose weight, but keep it off?

Turns out it’s none of the above mentioned.  Researchers that have been collecting data from a two-year-work-based program called the Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial have determined that the Mediterranean diet is the winner.

Two Years and Three Diets Later

Recently, a research project conducted by The Dietary Intervention Trial followed 322 moderately obese people – most of them men – that were assigned to three diet categories:  Low-fat, low-carb and Mediterranean.

At the end of the two year trial 259 people remained in the program. After two years the average weight loss was 6.4 pounds in the low-fat group, 10.3 pounds in the low-carb group and 10 pounds in the Mediterranean group.

A follow-up six years later showed that the participants that followed the Mediterranean diet weighed almost seven pounds less than they weighted six years earlier.  In the low-carb group the total was 3.7 pounds less and the low-fat group was 1.3 pounds.

Researcher, Dr. Dan Schwartzfuchs, concluded that the workplace intervention “had long-lasting, favorable post-intervention effects, particularly among participants that received the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diets, despite a partial regain of weight.”

I don’t find it surprising that the participants on the Mediterranean program sustained better long-term weight loss.  The Mediterranean diet – if it’s even fair to call it a diet – is non-restrictive and focuses on filling your plate with whole foods that are fulfilling and provide plenty of nutrition. It is not based on deprivation, starvation, and doesn’t promise quick results in a short amount of time, all of which can set people up for failure.

A Dream Diet

The Mediterranean diet is one where you don’t have to track calories, carbs or grams of fat, and you get to indulge in moderate amounts of olive oil and red wine.

According to the Mayo-Clinic the basic components of the Mediterranean diet are:

  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Eating generous portions of plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Substituting olive and canola oils for butter and other unhealthy fats
  • Using herbs and spices in place of salt
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Drinking red wine in moderation

Benefits of Eating Mediterranean Style

Around the globe, different cultures embrace a style of eating that is based on tradition.  Italians are famous for their rich, hearty pasta dishes, the French for their breads and pastries.  My husband’s family are of Polish decent. Traditional dishes that are served at celebratory events include kugeli – a potato dish drenched in bacon and butter -, dumplings stuffed with farmer’s cheese and, of course, Polish sausage.  In America we eat a blend of dishes from all of these cultures with McDonalds, Taco Bell and Olive Garden thrown in.

The folks that live near the Mediterranean Sea follow a plant-based diet that’s plentiful in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil, and flavorful herbs and spices.  Studies have shown that this population live longer and suffer less than Americans from cancer and cardiovascular ailments.

The Harvard School of Public Health partnered with Oldways, a non-profit food think tank in Boston, to develop a Mediterranean diet food pyramid that provides a colorful visual of the foods that should be eaten in generous portions daily.

The beauty of this diet is that it focuses on what you should eat instead of what you shouldn’t.  If most of the foods you eat come from the bottom of the pyramid, you will be nourished and full and won’t be as likely to have cravings for the less nutritious, processed foods that are so plentiful in the American diet.

Is Weight Loss Inevitable?

Following the Mediterranean way of eating has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  A guarantee that you’ll lose weight isn’t built in.  In order to lose weight, you have to create a calorie deficit.  A pound of weight is equal to 3,500 calories.  To lose a pound a week, a reduction of calories, an additional expenditure of energy, or a combination of both in that amount is required.

Meals that are designed around fish and vegetables as the main ingredient will, however, be naturally lower in calories than some other popular entrees like chicken alfredo with a side of garlic bread or a steak and baked potato.

Cooking Like You Live In The Mediterranean is Easy.

When you follow the Mediterranean plan you can find many recipes that are simple and easy to prepare.  One of my favorites is Pan-Sauteed Salmon Over Mediterranean Vegetables (found here).  I’ve added sautéed seasonal squash to the mushrooms and other vegetables.  This is a recipe where you can get creative and add your favorite vegetables which will provide a variety of nutrients and flavors. A quick Google search provides numerous web sites that highlight similar recipes.

What’s your favorite Mediterranean recipe?

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