Is a green Mediterranean diet, minus fish & chicken, a better way to burn belly fat? – The Indian Express

The virtues of having a Mediterranean diet on the body, particularly with regard to heart health and weight loss, are well-known. That’s because it emphasises vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes, excludes processed foods like breads, includes low-fat or fat-free dairy products like fish, poultry and uses plant-sourced oils like olive. But if a new study is to be believed, then eliminating fish and poultry from the traditional Mediterranean diet can further help you burn calories and belly fat, the most obstinate kind of harmful visceral fat. This stripped down diet is now gaining currency as a “green Mediterranean diet.”
The key element of the new diet is cutting out fish and dairy, keeping it completely plant-based and including walnuts, which are rich in polyphenols.
The study, which appeared in the journal BMC Medicine, was conducted by the DIRECT-PLUS trial research team led by Prof Iris Shai, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and Dr Hila Zelicha, now at the University of California, Los Angeles, aided by colleagues from Italy, Germany and the US.
As plant compounds, polyphenols are linked to protection from Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease besides boosting brain health and digestion. Polyphenols are usually found in dark chocolate, berries, red wine, tea and nuts. But for the sake of the study, each test subject consumed 28 grams of walnuts — about seven nuts — 3 to 4 cups of green tea and 100 milligrams of duckweed in a smoothie or shake each day. All are rich in polyphenols. The test group was also put on a physical exercise routine over the 18-month study and researchers found the green Mediterranean diet had actually doubled the benefit of the “traditional” Mediterranean diet.
“By avoiding fish, dairy and poultry, the green Mediterranean diet is essentially a plant-based diet, which is making up for the deficit of animal foods with a lot of tofu and nuts, where antioxidants and polyphenols are higher,” says Dr Ritika Samaddar, Regional Head, Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Max Healthcare.
There are a lot of inflammatory markers in our body, not just because of diet stressors but also as a consequence of a disease and pollution-induced toxin-buildup. “The function of polyphenols is to fight inflammation and remove toxins from the body. The antibodies bind themselves with toxins and literally throw them out. The reason that researchers have left out fish, dairy and poultry is because cooked at a high temperature, they cause inflammation in the body,” she says.
Samaddar also urges not to fall for the weed component in the green Mediterranean diet. “If we have our normal seasonal fruits and vegetables and increase their portion in our diet, we are good. We have enough local plant heritage to support our needs. Our country is rich in tribal shoots, wild berries and roots, locally grown millets and greens. The body absorption for these products is the best for people located in that geography, so go local and seasonal to keep your health markers in check,” she advises.
So how do polyphenols help in weight loss? Says Samaddar, “They neutralise a major enzyme that causes your body to store fat. This boosts body metabolism and allows you to burn more fat. Besides polyphenols increase glucose uptake, reduce chances of excess glucose floating in the bloodstream and being converted to body fat.” In fact, a 2011 study in Science Direct had found that a diet rich in polyphenols interacts with bacteria in the intestines to support weight loss, especially when combined with a diet low in probiotics. Another study on the polyphenol-rich curcumin, conducted by Italian researchers in 2015, had found that taking curcumin supplements increased weight loss more than a placebo in people who were overweight and had metabolic syndrome.
“The green Mediterranean diet clearly has no added sugar, sugary beverages, sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats. There is some evidence that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may help the body remove excess cholesterol. Olive oil, being the trusted source of fat in a Mediterranean diet, provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL),” adds Samaddar.
Explaining how the green Mediterranean diet could be a recommendation, Dr Zelicha was quoted as saying that “visceral adipose tissue (VAT) around internal organs has been linked to several health issues, such as high blood pressure, obesity, dyslipidemia and diabetes. It also increases mortality risk, making it more important to keep an eye on.”
Since it cannot be seen, assessing one’s VAT is a difficult task. So Dr Zelicha mentioned how waist circumference is a fairly good indicator. “Eating more plant-based fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds, and avoiding simple carbohydrates and trans-fatty acids can help reduce VAT.”
Prof Shai’s earlier research had shown that exercise along with walnut consumption amplified the effect of the standard Mediterranean diet in reducing VAT, Dr Zelicha was quoted as saying.
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