"The Mediterranean Zone" is a diet book that everyone should read (book review)
In his newest book, Dr. Barry Sears presents a convincing argument for how combatting diet-induced inflammation can increase health, longevity, and weight loss and create much higher quality of life.
In 2005 a study in the New England Journal of Medicine predicted that the lifespan of children born in the twenty-first century would be shorter than that of their parents. The study authors predicted that 1 out of 3 children would develop diabetes, which would mean that, by 2050, one-third of American adults would have diabetes; and the earlier the onset of diabetes, the more likely it is to develop Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Barry Sears, one of the world’s leading researchers on the hormonal effects of food and creator of the Zone diet, believes that we face a coming reckoning – “a global tsunami of the most dreaded disease of aging: Alzheimer’s disease.” Based on years of research, Dr. Sears states that the impending crisis has been gathering steam for the past half-century, since industrialized agriculture and processed foods changed our diets for the worse. This is what happens:
Increased diet-induced inflammation → Increased obesity → Increased diabetes → Increased Alzheimer’s
It’s a terrifying picture that he paints, when you stop to imagine one-third of the U.S. population battling Alzheimer’s, a condition with no known cure that is now the sixth leading cause of death in America. All we know is that it appears to involve inflammation.
Dr. Sears’ newest book, The Mediterranean Zone (Ballantine Books, 2014), is an injunction to eat more vegetables. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is – and that’s precisely what makes this book so profound. Since all of those unwanted conditions of obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s are rooted in dietary-induced cellular inflammation, then all you have to do is start eating in a way that reduces inflammation, and The Mediterranean Zone explains how to do that.
1) Eat far more vegetables. Vegetables contain polyphenols, which are known to be potent anti-inflammatory agents. The key is to eat enough of them.
2) Eat more omega-3 fatty acids. These acids help regulate cellular inflammation by aiding in resolving the inflammatory response in your body and help it return to normal. Historically, most Americans obtained omega-3 fatty acids from fish, but consumption levels have plummeted to the point where people nowadays get only 5 to 10 percent of what they used to. Making things worse, there has been an increase in the intake of high-glycemic index carbohydrates and omega-6 fatty acids, which together promote cellular inflammation.
3) Eat fewer omega-6 fatty acids. These come from cheap seed oils such as corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oils, which are in nearly all processed foods. They are prone to oxidation, which generates free radicals and destructive oxidation products.
4) Decrease consumption of high-glycemic carbohydrates. When you eat large amounts of bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes, you increase the secretion of insulin, which reacts with the omega-6 fatty acids in your body to create inflammation-causing arachidonic acid.
In a nutshell, The Mediterranean Zone advises deriving most of your carbohydrates from colourful, non-starchy vegetables, severely limiting your intake of starches, looking for lean sources of protein (that aren’t necessarily meat), reducing your intake of foods with omega-6 fatty acids (processed, fried foods and seed oils) and supplementing with high-dose fish oil high in omega-3 fatty acids and possibly additional polyphenols.
Why Mediterranean? Because the traditional Mediterranean diet – not the modern-day one, which is itself causing increased levels of diabetes and obesity – contains many of the key ingredients that Dr. Sears considers to be ideal in a diet, primarily high levels of colourful carbohydrates (read: mostly vegetables and some fruits) that are rich in polyphenols.
The original Zone diet advocates measuring the amounts and ratios of carbohydrates, protein and fat to effectively control hormonal response in the body, and also provides suggestions for foods which aid in this. By combining the ideas behind the Zone diet with the traditional Mediterranean diet, you end up with the Mediterranean Zone.
Then, if you can stick with it for a lifetime – and Dr. Sears believes that’s entirely realistic, without feeling deprived – this will ensure loss of excess body fat, reduction of cellular inflammation, increased energy and less fatigue, a feeling of constant satiety, better-balanced hormones such as reduction of cortisol levels that will enhance your ability to handle stress, as well as the longer-term benefits of a slower aging process, the avoidance or reversal of chronic disease, and better overall quality of life.
The Mediterranean Zone is a book that everyone should read. The guidelines are clear, the science is solid, and Dr. Sears’ argument that the future sustainability of our health care system depends on individuals taking responsibility for themselves and using diet to maintain wellness is both provocative and sensible.
Order online here or buy at your local bookstore.