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What’s the best diet?

Judith Wills / 03 April 2017

Diet expert Judith Wills assesses the most effective diets for weight loss.

Mediterranean diet
A Cambridge University study found that the Mediterranean diet is a particularly good diet for people over 40 to help prevent heart attacks, stroke and other CV diseases.

More people in the UK start a weight loss campaign in the spring than in the new year, and as usual ‘what way to do it?’ is the tricky question.

Reading up on the research is a minefield of conflicting evidence, and if you ask an ‘expert’ or buy the latest diet book you’ll get a different perspective almost every time.

It’s all complicated, too, by the fact that diets are almost like fashion – what was in last year is forgotten this year.  Remember the Sirtfood diet or the alkaline diet for instance? All the rage 15 months ago, hardly mentioned now.

Read more about the Sirtfood diet

Basic low-calorie diets were out of fashion for years, but now I notice them creeping back into favour.  Even the ubiquitous 5:2 diet is, in effect, a low-calorie diet. While another old favourite, the Atkins high-protein diet has been around in one form or another for very many years, morphing into the Dukan Diet, the low-carb diet, and the Paleo diet.

So what to do?  I reckon a good starting point is to pick a plan that has known health benefits, which is one good reason to go for the classic Mediterranean diet from southern Italy, old-hat though it may be.  The high veg, salad and fruit regime coupled with plant oils, less red meat, more fish, and plenty of wholegrains ticks the boxes for  helping to prevent cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.  Indeed a very recent Cambridge University study found that this is a particularly good diet for people over 40 to help prevent heart attacks, stroke and other CV diseases – 20,00 lives a year could be saved, it says after looking at data over 20 years.  Such a diet is known to be one of the easiest to follow to lose weight and keep it off, too, so it does tick all the boxes.

10 healthy Mediterranean foods

Try these tasty Mediterranean recipes

HOWEVER!  Before you leap off to get the olive oil – wait …. Here’s some other research telling us that the Viking diet is much better than the Med one, after all!  The investigating team say that eating the Nordic way is the way to go, with rye bread, cabbage, root veg, fish, apples and oats resulting in a 45% less chance of women getting a heart attack.  That said, the research IS by the University of Copenhagen, so maybe they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Tempted? Try these Scandinavian recipes

Or you could try the Amazonian Hunters diet – revealed just the other day as the perfect regime for longlife and exemplary weight and heart health.  It’s a diet of lean meat, nuts, seeds, fish, vegetables, wholegrains, low-dairy ….. Oh, wait a minute, I think we’ve more or less covered that one before.  It’s a mix of Paleo, Med and Scandi, do you not think?

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While you ponder on that, I’ll just mention that there are a few dieting no-nos emerging as we speak.  Forget low-calorie sweeteners as a way to help your weight loss. They make you hungry and over time, make you fatter.  Forget the juice diets that were so big a few years ago and remain popular with celebs – turns out that what I knew all along is correct – whole fruits, not juices, are the way to go. Then the boffins at Harvard have just found that a gluten-free diet may give you diabetes and make you miss out on fibre and nutrients so if you’re going gluten-free just to be trendy, you might want to think again.

And lastly, a diet very high in animal protein and very, very low in carbs is something for women aged 50-plus to steer clear of.  It can lead to heart failure in that age group, a very large US 5-year study has found.

So, people – you know what to do.  Eat a balanced diet, smaller portions, lots of vegetables, nice oils, cut right back on the white carbs and highly processed foods, enjoy your fish, have masses of garlic. 

In defiance of the Amazonians, the southern Italians and the Scandinavians, I made a nice sort-of Provencal fish soup for supper the other day, with a good Provencal aioli sauce.  But I ate it with a slice of dark rye bread, and followed it with a handful of nuts and a large salad.

Belt, braces, buttons, elastic.  That’s me.

Next time I’ll be looking at the traditional British diet and whether or not it can help you to health and slimness.

Tasty fish soup with Aioli

Serves 2

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g shallots, sliced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and well crushed
  • 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
  • Pinch saffron threads
  • 200g chopped canned tomatoes
  • 100ml white wine
  • 200ml fish stock
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • 300g white fish e.g. hake
  • 6 very large raw prawns, shelled but tail left on
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley

For the aioli

  • 3 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • Little salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 175ml mild olive oil

First make the sauce – crush the garlic with the salt (a pestle and mortar is ideal.  Add the egg yolk, mustard and lemon juice. Using an electric hand mixer, whisk everything together, then gradually whisk in the olive oil in a very slow and thin trickle to make a thick mayonnaise-like mixture.  As the mix thickens you can pour the oil in more quickly.  Set aside.

In a lidded pan, saute the shallots, garlic and chilli in the oil over medium heat to soften (about 8 minutes) then add the saffron, tomatoes, wine, fish stock and orange, bring to simmer and cook for 20 minutes over low heat until you have a nice rich sauce.

Stir in the white fish and prawns, bring back to simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Serve with the parsley sprinkled over.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.