Book review: The Pioppi Diet
As regular midlife edit readers will know I am not a fan of diets. They don't work. What's more, they leave most people feeling even more miserable than when they started out, as in addition to feeling unhealthy and overweight, they feel like failures too.
This said, I firmly advocate the Mediterranean way of eating and this is what The Pioppi Diet is all about. Written by one of Britain's most influential cardiologists and a world leading expert in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, Dr Aseem Malhotra (who Jamie Oliver described as an ‘inspiration’) and filmmaker Donal O’Neill (of documentary, The Big Fat Fix fame), the no-nonsense advice in the book is designed to tackle the decades of misguided public health advice, food myths and marketing campaigns which have resulted in a staggering rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, dementia and heart disease.
In the tiny southern Italian village of Pioppi (population 197), people have been and continue to live long and healthy lives without a gym or even a supermarket in sight. Pioppians live on average 10 years longer than anywhere else in the world and the hamlet has now been designated the home of the Mediterranean diet by UNESCO. Statistics show that the local men of Pioppi (who wouldn't know what the inside of a gym looked like) outlive elite Tour De France cyclists by almost a decade by simply walking and working (on their farms or as fisherman primarily). In numerous studies the Mediterranean diet consistently scores highly for longevity and significantly reduced risk of major killer diseases (think heart disease and diabetes) than those on a low-fat diet. Olive oil is a key factor in the diet and we all know just how great that is for everything from our hearts and brains to our skin and hair.
With this in mind, The Pioppi Diet introduces a simple 21-Day guide to 'lose weight, feel great and reduce your risk of type-2 diabetes and heart disease.' From an undisputed list of top 10 foods (funnily, these are not unlike my GLOW foods featured in my own forthcoming book out in early March) deliciously colourful meals can be created think Sweet Potato Rosti with poached eggs and harissa creme fraiche, Cauliflower steaks with feta, Spicy Salmon Curry, Chicken Schnitzel with Sauerkraut and Low-Carb Courgette Pizza -all destined to make our hearts sing and keep even the fussiest eater satisfied. Pioppi dissuades readers from counting calories on the basis that different sources of calories have different metabolic effects on the body (which to me is another bonus of the book!) and intermittent fasting for 24 hours every week (as the Pioppians would apparently have traditionally done due to food shortage) which I am not entirely in agreement with. The plan also tackles our general lifestyle with emphasis on relaxing and moving more, not snacking, enjoying the odd glass of wine and square of chocolate (dark, of course!), socialising and sleeping a minimum seven hours each night, which will also help ease the daily stress levels in our chaotic world, far removed from the little hamlet of Pioppi.
The Pioppi Diet recommends avoiding refined carbohydrates entirely or drastically reducing the amount you eat('in Pioppi pasta is never eaten as a main course') While keeping an eye on portion size is no bad thing, blocking out entire food groups is a bit extreme.I won't be ditching he weight of evidence - both scientific and from the Pioppi inhabitants themselves - seemingly stacked firmly in its favour, if we’re serious about health, we need to go back to basics. The people of Pioppi have never left.
The Pioppi Diet - Top 10 foods
1. Extra virgin olive oil - 2 - 4tbsp daily
2. Nuts – handful daily
3. Fibrous vegetables - specifically broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, aubergines, onions, sweet potatoes
4. Fruits - tomatoes, avocados, apples, berries
5. Herbs and spices - garlic, ginger, turmeric, basil, cinnamon
6. Fatty fish - 3 times+ per week
7. Dark chocolate - 85%+ cocoa solids and/or raw cacao powder
8. Coconut - cook ad lib with coconut oil
9. Eggs minimum 10 a week
10. Full-fat and fermented dairy -full fat Greek yoghurt, cheese and kefir, cook with grass-fed butter
Just google Aseem Malhotra and you will quickly realise how unstoppable this man is in his mission to revolutionise healthcare. What's more, he is not shy about coming forward. When I met with him recently he warned that "people need to know that government dietary advice is being corrupted by the food industry and is not based on independent science. It is a global scandal of epic proportions that is causing considerable harm. And right now, our modern day poor diet (with lack of omega 3 fats, vegetables etc) contributes to more disease and death than the combination of inactivity, smoking and alcohol combined."
In a recent article in Mens Health magazine titled, The Fight Against Dietary Misinformation Continues, Aseem concluded that "the history of public health advocacy has taught us that the science alone is not sufficient in improving population health and opposition from powerful vested interests needs to be overcome. But one thing is clear: that a diet free from processed food combined with regular activity, getting a good sleep, reducing stress and a strong sense of community could hold the secrets to a healthier and happier life."
Is it for me? It seems the weight of scientific evidence (not to forget the longevity of the locals) is firmly stacked in its favour and implementing the principles of Pioppi into our daily life makes sense for us all (regardless of our age). However, wearing my dietitian's hat, I would like to see some more complex/unrefined carbs (think short grain brown rice, quinoa, farro, wholewheat pasta) included, especially for those who exercise and have higher energy needs.
Reservations? While the Pioppi ethos and principles are great (olive oil, lots of vegetables etc) the plan also recommends fasting for one 24-hour period each week. Intermittent fasting, while not altogether detrimental, is not backed by long-term evidence. Also, pertinent to bear in mind that promising a magical transformation in 21 days is not entirely realistic. Yes, excellent results can indeed be achieved in this timeframe, but for the sake of our longterm health, further commitment is needed - which it now seems many more people are prepared to do, much of this thanks to people like Dr MAlhotra who are not afraid to speak the truth.
The Pioppi Diet by Dr Aseem Malhotra and Donal O'Neill is published by Penguin Books, £8.99/€9.99 and is available from leading bookstores and online.