No, it’s not some kind of new fitness regime or the latest beauty trend involving blue eyeshadow and lashings of mascara, The Mediterranean Zone is a new adaptation of the best-selling Zone diet. Launched by biochemist Dr Barry Sears in the mid-90s, the original “Zone” diet turned the notion of high carbs low-fat on its head. Instead, in his breakthrough piece of work Dr Sears suggested by eating a diet that is 30% fat, 30% protein and 40% carbs, your metabolism will work more efficiently. The result is you’ll lose weight and prevent obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
While the juries still out on this theory, it seems like a pretty strong argument especially when combined with his later work around inflammation and weight-gain. This time he focuses on the imbalance in our diet of Omega-3 and Omega-6. For far too long we’ve been eating too much food (fast food, processed food etc) rich in Omega-6 and far too little food rich in Omega-3. This leads to, well you probably guessed, inflammation of the cells, pain and a constant battle with weight.
It was from these ideas that he created The Mediterranean Zone as the Mediterranean diet (pasta and pizza aside) is naturally a good split on the plate of protein, fat and carbs plus encourages you to eat plenty of stuff rich in the good Omega-3.
Alongside this philosophy, Dr Barry Sears also highlights several other factors that are worth considering including a block method of eating, which is based on the weight of carbs, protein and fat “expressed in grams”. Or more precisely, one miniblock of carbs is 9 grams of carbs, one miniblock of protein is 7 grams of protein and one miniblock of fat is 3 grams of fat. This makes up one block. The amount of blocks you eat per day is then calculated according to your activity. An average woman, for example, would aim to eat 12-13 blocks a day. While this precision around what you eat may be tricky to manage, especially if you want a relaxing meal in a restaurant, it seems to make more sense than simply calorie counting.
There are also a number of snacks you can buy to accompany the diet from an Italian company called Enerzona (www.enerzona.com/uk/products). They’re tasty and a great way to add snacks that fit in with the Mediterranean Zone diet.
Besides these quick fixes and ideas around how to consume your food, what I really liked about The Mediterranean Zone is it’s attention on things that I hadn’t really considered before. So here are 3 things I learned while in the process of reading The Mediterranean Zone:
- Think polyphenols
Yes, it’s a mouth-full to say and your spellcheck will highlight it as not recognised but polyphenols are one of the unspoken secrets of the Mediterranean diet. Found in foods you’d consider to be bitter such as dark chocolate, black olives, capers, artichokes and several spices, these micronutrients act as antioxidants in the body, helping to slow down the ageing process. More excuse to eat that 85 percent bitter dark chocolate you’ve been storing away for a rainy day.
- It’s a trio of goodness (especially for athletes)
So combine the Zone diet as explained above with Omega-3 rich food found in the Med diet plus polyphenols again found in food served up as part of the Mediterranean diet and you’ll be pretty much feeding yourself the good stuff. Seriously, you can wave goodbye to inflammation and treat your body with the freshness served up to the Greeks and Italians for centuries. As for athletes (or wannabe ones like moi), the Mediterranean diet can help in two ways. Firstly, it means your body can switch from carbs to fat easily and draws on both sources of energy. Secondly, the anti-inflammatory effects of polyphenols means you recover faster post-exercise.
- Veggies rejoice – you can eat the Med diet
Unlike certain diets that are heavy on protein and not much else, the Med diet seems more balanced for veggies. Yes, there’s a move away from dairy and Sears recommends egg-white rather than whole eggs but he also talks about whole grains, pulses and lentils as being good for you. From egg-white heavy omelettes made with peppers, aubergines and artichokes to tofu with Savoy cabbage, there’s a fair mix of recipes recommended in the books that actually sound tasty (I’ll have a go at making them in my new kitchen and let you know what I think).
Will I take it on?
While I think Dr Sears offers some very good arguments and I like the shift in focus from calorie-counting to a more balanced approach, the idea of having to weigh out every meal fills me with dread. This is the girl who finds cooking a bit of an ordeal. That being said, there are a few recipes that even a novice like me could whip up in no time at all (thank god). So I will be definitely trying to add them to my very limited repertoire.
- Think polyphenols