Dr Mark Atkinson's Blog

13Aug 2010

What’s the best diet?

That’s a question I get asked often. After years of trying to find an answer I have come to the conclusion that their isn’t really one ‘best’ diet, that we all need to eat a diet that is individually tailored to us and our needs. Our age, gender, rate of metabolism, activity levels and level of health all influence what we need to eat.  Some people have food allergies and sensitivities and therefore need to avoid or restrict certain foods. Some individuals need to eat a diet relatively high in protein, in order to experience a stable blood sugar and optimum health, others a diet low in protein. Put another way we really have to discover for ourselves what diet is best. However if I had to choose a dietary approach that comes near to ideal – I would probably go for the mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean Diet

Whilst there isn’t a specific mediterranean diet as such, there are various eating patterns that are common to many of the countries that border the mediterranean sea – these patterns include

  • High consumption of olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, lentils) and unrefined cereals
  • Moderate consumption of fish, dairy products (mainly cheese and yoghurt) and wine
  • Low consumption of meat and meat products

Researchers have found quite a few associations between this mediterranean eating pattern and the health of our bodymind. For example a 10 year study published in the Journal of American Medicine found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet and healthful lifestyle was associated with more than a 50% lowering of early death rates. Another study published in the British Medical Journal, found that the traditional Mediterranean diet provides substantial protection against type 2 diabetes. A more recent study found that a Mediterranean approach to eating was associated with a reduced risk of developing strokes.

But what aspect of the diet confers these health benefits? Is it the anti-inflammatory properties of the olive oil? Is it antioxidants of the red wine? The answer is no-one really knows. My own take on it is that what is eaten and not eaten is important but so are the small portion sizes, the physical activity levels, the emphasis on freshness, balance, and pleasure in food, the focus on family and exposure to sunlight (which triggers the production of vitamin D, high levels of which are associated with numerous health benefits.) For me the reason why researchers have found a positive association between health and the consumption Mediterranean approach is because those individuals are more likely to be embracing of a holistic way of living one that nurtures the body, mind and soul. This for me is the key to good health.

What are your thoughts?

Author: Mark Atkinson