Science and the Mediterranean Diet

I know I am supposed to be going through my ever-growing collection of faith-based diets but an article on the New York Times website caught my eye this week and I couldn’t resist taking a break from the books to share it. The article, “Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke,” written by Gina Kolata was published on February 25, 2013. Kolata explained that a new study published on the New England Journal of Medicine’s website was “the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks” (1).  Almost all of the books I have covered so far have promoted a variation on the Mediterranean diet for both health and religious reasons. The religious reasons were clear from the books and the authors provided biblical evidence to support the idea that the Mediterranean diet is the right diet for religious people. This study helps to support the additional claims many of the authors made about the Mediterranean diet’s health benefits.

The study posted on the New England Journal of Medicine website is titled “Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet.” The study noted that the “traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetable, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation, consumed with meals.” For the purposes of the study, a random trial was set up with 7,447 participants in Spain who were at high-risk for a cardiovascular event. During the study a third of the participants followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, another third followed a Mediterranean diet supplements with nuts and the remaining participants followed a control diet of low-fat foods. Participants were not given a calorie restriction and physical activity was not promoted. After five years, the researchers determined that those who followed either of the Mediterranean diets (supplements with nuts or extra-virgin olive oil) reduced their relative risk of cardiovascular events by 30%. The study concluded “The results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

In the New York Times article, Kolata noted that the participants tasked with following the Mediterranean diets stayed on them, but that those who were supposed to follow a low-fat diet “ did not lower their fat intake very much” (2). So, in the end the study compared the standard modern diet of “red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods” (2) with the Mediterranean diet that prohibited all such foods. The results of the study are only relevant for those at high-risk for heart disease and according to the article some proponents of other diets to reduce heart disease risk have already dismissed the study. Meanwhile others have hailed it and Kolata concluded by pointing out that many of the researchers on the study are now following the Mediterranean diet. For those interested, the New York Times website also has a quiz so you can find out if you follow a Mediterranean diet.

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Bod4God: The Four Keys to Weight Loss by Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds, nicknamed “the Anti-Fat Pastor” by the media, wrote Bod4God after his diabetes diagnosis and subsequent 100 pound weight loss journey. He explained, “I want to share what I’ve learned, because it works” (13). Bod4God is intended for use in a communal Christian setting. Reynolds started the program in his own church, Capital Baptist Church in Annandale, VA, and provided resources in the book and on his website (http://www.bod4god.org/) to enable readers to start his “Losing to Live” program at their home church.

The four keys to weight loss laid out in the book are:

Dedication: Honoring God with Your Body

Inspiration: Motivating Yourself for Change

Eat and Exercise: Managing Your Habits

Team: Building Your Circle of Support (14)

The book laid out a twelve-week plan for a complete lifestyle change based on these four keys to weight loss. Reynolds also listed the three reasons that “Losing to Live” would work: It is biblical, it is personal and it is incremental (14). Each of the twelve chapters (one for each week) began with a bible verse, suggested incremental steps to lose weight, highlighted a success story and provided information on a number of issues related to weight loss including diseases related to obesity, food, and mental health. Each chapter ends with worksheets including a “Small Steps to Life Record” for recording “skinny things” including exercise, eating less and drinking water, a “Bod4God Victory Guide” in which the reader is prompted to answer questions based on the week’s memory verse and issues brought up in the week’s chapter, and a “My Bod4God Journal” page to “record what God is telling you to do this week to apply the four keys to a better body.”

Bod4God provided all of these helpful worksheets and suggestions for eating less and exercising more but it is not as prescriptive as the diets I covered previously. The book does not explicitly prohibit any foods or promote a specific diet plan. Reynolds simply recommended that his readers eat “better and less” (128) and encouraged them to consult the USDA food pyramid, read food labels, and drink water. Reynolds even allowed for a “cheat meal” once per week in which dieters are permitted to enjoy foods that should otherwise be avoided. Reynolds did include information on the difference between living food (made by God, raw or unprocessed) and dead food (made by man, chemically processed or without nutrients) but he never goes so far as to say his readers should avoid all processed foods (212).The entire plan is a flexible one that is more dependent on community support and God than on a detailed diet plan. The “Losing to Live” program sets people up in teams that compete to be the biggest losers. With their community support in place, readers are also encouraged to “Put God on Your Team, Live a Full Life in God, Rely on God for the Victory, Pray Regularly, Be Consistent in Daily Bible Reading and Attend Church Weekly and Participate in Church Activities (177-178). Since the program is intended as a short-term community-based program, Reynolds suggested the First Place 4 Health program as a follow-up to Bod4God and used the program for alumni of his church program. Based on the “Bod4God Close-Ups” throughout the book, which include before and after pictures, the alumni of Reynolds’ program are well on their way to healthier lives.