Heading out to dinner tonight but don’t know where to go? If you want to stick to your weight-loss goals while dining out, a good bet is to choose a Mediterranean-style restaurant. Here’s why: Cuisines from countries like Greece, Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey rely on fresh produce, nutrient-dense and fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, healthy portions of lean poultry, beef, and seafood, and good fats from extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, and avocado — all of which are staples of the South Beach Diet.
Health Benefits of Mediterranean Foods
While research on the health benefits of Mediterranean-style eating is ongoing, a major study recently found that the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular death in high-risk individuals by 30 percent.
The five-year study, published on the website of the The New England Journal of Medicine on February 25, was part of the PREDIMED project, a multicenter trial conducted from 2003 through 2011, which focused on how the Mediterranean diet affects the primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases. The large and rigorous study followed 7,447 men and women ages 55 to 80 in Spain with major cardiovascular risk factors, such as being overweight, smoking, or having diabetes, but who had no cardiovascular disease at enrollment. Researchers divided the participants into three groups: One group followed a typical Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil; a second group followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with a combination of tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts); and the third (control) group followed a low-fat (animal and vegetable) diet. All three groups were provided with nutritional counseling.
The findings showed that the participants on both versions of the Mediterranean diet lowered their cardiovascular risk significantly, while the participants on the low-fat diet did not. The one caveat, as the study’s researchers pointed out, is that more research still needs to be conducted to determine the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on individuals at low risk for cardiovascular disease. However, the study’s coordinator, Dr. Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona, expects that the Mediterranean diet has potential to help low- risk individuals as well as people at high-risk, and suggests that developing Mediterranean diet-style eating habits during childhood is the best way to reap the heart-healthy benefits over the long run.
Weight-loss was not a benefit cited in this study, but an earlier PREDIMED study with a smaller group of participants compared the Mediterranean-style diet with a low-fat one found that those on the Mediterranean diet had better blood sugar, better blood pressure, better LDL to HDL cholesterol ratios, lower levels of C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation) than those on the low-fat regimens — and they also lost weight.
Since the basic principles of the South Beach Diet follow the Mediterranean way of eating, many people on our diet have experienced these same health benefits along with weight loss, particularly since exercise is a key component of our plan.
On the Menu
When you’re dining out at a Greek or Middle Eastern restaurant, go for dishes like kebabs made with lean grilled meat (sirloin steak or skinless chicken breast, for example) or seafood (such as scallops, shrimp, or salmon). For a healthy side dish, enjoy steamed vegetables on all Phases or whole-grain dishes like couscous and bulgur on Phase 2 and beyond. You can also choose dips like hummus or tzatziki (a yogurt, cucumber, and garlic dip) served with vegetable sticks or whole-wheat pita bread, depending on what Phase you are on. Also enjoy a glass of heart-healthy red wine with your meal, if you like.