Diet

Prevent Holiday Weight Gain and Shed More Pounds With This Keto-Mediterranean Plan

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European research breakthrough: Combining the slimming effects of keto with the healthy decadence of the Mediterranean diet will have fat falling off your frame — even as you enjoy the deliciousness of the season!

Here come the holidays, with all that scrumptious food and drink — and this year you can sail right through without gaining a single pound! In fact, you can enjoy downright decadent meals and lose weight before it’s time to shimmy into that beautiful little black dress for your holiday party. How? By blending the powerfully effective slimming methods of a ketogenic diet with traditionally heart-healthy Mediterranean fare.

The diet mash-up comes courtesy of researchers from Italy and Spain, who wanted to solve one of the biggest roadblocks to keto success: It can be a challenge to follow the restrictive eating plan long enough to see lasting results (especially around the holidays!). When the researchers put their hybrid diet to the test in a series of studies published in the Journal of Medicinal Food and elsewhere, they knew they had landed on a winning formula.

“The ketogenic diet has several advantages over other diets,” says Steve Parker, MD, author of The Advanced Mediterranean Diet ($16.95, Amazon). To name just a few: Research at the University of California at San Diego shows that a ketogenic diet “reboots” metabolism so the body runs better on stored fat than on carbs. Once in this state, fat starts falling off your frame at record speed — weight loss of a pound or more a day is common. And as a fabulous “side effect,” keto has been shown to improve energy by 88 percent, memory by 62 percent, and mood by 52 percent.

As researcher Antonio Paoli, MD, a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Padova in Italy, has noted, though, “The ketogenic diet works like a sprinter. It is effective over a short distance. For a long-lasting nutritional choice, the more effective protocol is definitely the Mediterranean diet.” 

Dr. Parker agrees: “When you combine [keto] with the Mediterranean diet — which is widely recognized as the healthiest — you get a great framework to help people lose weight in a healthy way.” Indeed, in the Italian and Spanish studies, researchers found that a Mediterranean twist on keto takes the benefits to a new level, leading to massive weight loss. In one study, subjects lost 15 percent of their fat mass in six weeks, trimming an average of four inches from the waist, three inches from the hips, and one and a half inches from the thighs. In another study, subjects lost weight specifically from female trouble spots: the abdomen, thighs, hips, buttocks, waist, neck, and upper arms. The study authors even compared the results to those seen from liposuction!

A keto-style Mediterranean diet also melts away the fat you can’t see. In a new Harvard study, the diet was significantly superior to a low-fat diet at decreasing fat storage in the liver, heart, and pancreas. That’s a major plus since excess fat in these areas is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

And that’s not all: One of the Italian trials looked specifically at subjects with metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, blood-glucose imbalances, and belly fat. After just 12 weeks, the participants tested totally free of the condition. More evidence comes from the University of Cordoba in Spain. Subjects there experienced blood-sugar and blood-pressure reductions of up to 22 percent, plus their total cholesterol readings fell from high to healthy ranges and levels of “good” HDL cholesterol increased by 32 percent. Ready to dive in?

Mediterranean Skinny Secrets.

Adopting Mediterranean lifestyle habits can help you slim, says Robert Santos-Prowse, author of The Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet ($11.61, Amazon).

Enjoy the prep.

Americans spend less time cooking than people in any other developed nation, according to a recent study. We’re also among the heaviest. Coincidence? Maybe not: Research at Johns Hopkins University shows that subjects who prepare their own meals six times a week consume 137 fewer calories per day than those who cook just once a week.

Savor the experience.

In America, we spend an hour eating each day — folks in the Mediterranean linger twice as long. Why that’s best: People who eat at a leisurely pace are 42 percent less likely to be obese. When you’re time-pressed, try simply chewing each bite thoroughly and putting your fork down between bites.

Raise a glass.

Powerful antioxidants in red wine, a Mediterranean staple, boost brain and heart health. Plus, Australian researchers say alcohol reduces fat-packing blood-sugar swings by 37 percent. To keep it keto, opt for a dry red with less than one gram of sugar per ounce, such as Merlot or Cabernet.

Keto-Mediterranean Guidelines

While 80 percent of women have trouble staying the course on a traditional keto diet, Italian researchers say more than 90 percent of subjects in their studies were able to stick with the keto-Mediterranean combo. Successful slimmers report that the greater variety of foods and flavors in the diet are more palatable and pleasurable, thanks to an emphasis on fruit, non-starchy vegetables, olive oil, fish, and plenty of red wine (cheers!), plus Mediterranean-style cooking and spices. And you can forget about the drudgery of counting calories. 

The keto-Mediterranean diet relies on “spontaneous caloric reduction,” says Santos-Prowse. “If you’re eating more fat, you tend to feel satiated more quickly. So a lot of people find they are not as hungry.” As a result, you just naturally eat less without even trying. What’s more, he points out, by lowering your carbs, you won’t experience the insulin spikes and dips that can lead to feeling “hangry.”

“Many of my patients report back to say it’s easier to follow than a traditional calorie-restricted plan,” adds Parker, who commonly sees women quickly drop 10, 20, or 30 pounds. Santos-Prowse adds that there’s no limit to how much weight you can drop. “I’ve had people tell me they’ve lost five to 10 pounds in the first seven days. You should be able to lose as much weight as you want.”

Better still, those pounds will stay off. Just take it from the Italian research team: When study subjects followed a keto-Mediterranean protocol, they successfully kept the weight off a year later.

To enjoy the benefits for yourself, try these strategies:

Hit your carb sweet spot. 

Aim to limit carbs to about 30 grams of net carbs a day (calculate “net carbs” by subtracting grams of fiber from total carbohydrates). This will kick-start the metabolic conversion that gets the body to tap into stored fat for fuel. (Depending on your body size, metabolism and how much you move during your days, you may be able to have a bit more.) 

Fill your plate mostly with non-starchy vegetables like salad, leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, and zucchini. Fatty fruits like avocados and olives are excellent, and berries are good too.

Power up with protein. 

Every meal should include three to four ounces of protein. Take a cue from Spain and try to make fish your main protein source. (A four-ounce serving of fish is about the size of a checkbook.) Other good protein sources include plain yogurt, eggs, poultry, and tofu.)

Get your fill of fat and flavor. 

Add at least two to three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil to meals daily, and snack on nuts and seeds like almonds and sunflower seeds. Research links these beneficial fats to heart health and a longer life. In fact, eating them may lower heart disease risk by up to 30 percent — similar to the reduction seen from taking statin drugs.

Don’t forget dessert! 

Enjoy a (small) piece of dark chocolate (65 percent to 85 percent cacao). At just five grams of net carbs per half ounce, dark chocolate is a keto-friendly treat — plus, the polyphenols have been shown to fight health-sapping inflammation.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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