The Italian Diet – The Next Big Diet for Weight Loss?

Over the last few days The Italian Diet Plan has gained a lot of media attention and pushed as one of the next big things in the weight loss world. This new take on the Mediterranean diet promises weight loss while enjoying many of your favourite foods, cooked in ways that deliver on big flavours.

Eating pasta and drinking red wine for weight loss?

What Is The Italian Diet?

The foods that are generally included are fresh fish, lean meat, pulses, olive oil and lots of fruit and vegetables, and a little red wine. Some of the individual foods and components within the Diet which are particularly beneficial to health (for example, extra virgin olive oil), but overall it is the combination of foods which is thought to be linked to improved health. Equally, like many other popular diets, unsurprisingly, the Italian diet severely limits the consumption of energy-dense convenience foods and desserts (so no cake, ice cream or fizzy drinks).

Carbohydrates and Wine in a Diet?!

When most of us think of Italian meals, we think of pasta, probably eaten with a glass of red wine. While some diets exclude these foods to reduce your carbohydrate intake, or cut out alcohol, this combination has been shown to have some benefits to health. For example, pasta and wine are major sources of polyphenols – compounds that have been linked to health and longevity (and even our gut health). Observational data shows that one or two glasses of red wine a day might even reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease(1).

One of the reasons why this diet has seen a surge at the turn of the New Year is no doubt in part to its backing from Celebrity Chef Gino D’Acampo ahead of the release of his new cook book. But is it worth all the hype?

Italian diet wine

Italian Vegetables

One of the other secrets of The Italian Diet may come from their impressive vegetable consumption rate. According to 2020 data, more than 60% of Italians eat vegetables every single day. As you might expect from our pasta and pizza loving friends, tomatoes are the most frequently consumed vegetable (we know it’s technically a fruit but…..come on). But they also consume a lot of green vegetables as well.

Healthy Fats, Healthy Heart

We wouldn’t be able to talk about the Italian and Mediteranian diet without mentioning fats and oils. Although fat tends to have a bad reputation, not all fat is the same. We know that different fats can have different effects on our health. Yes, consuming too much fat can be detrimental to our health (as with any other macronutrient or type of food). But, many of us are actually eating too little of the ‘good fats’. The recommended intake of oily fish is 2 portions per week, for example? How many of us are managing these intakes? The fats typically consumed as part of the Mediterranean diet are mainly from unsaturated oils such as fish oils, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils (such as canola, soybean, or flaxseed oil) and from nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds).

What Are The Health Benefits Of The Italian Diet?

The Mediterranean diet has long been touted as a healthy way of living. And there is some evidence that this may indeed be a better way of life than typical Western Diets. For example, one large review of the research has shown that strong adherence to the diet reduced the risk of overall mortality, cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, overall cancer incidence, neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes(2). However, if your goal is purely weight loss, this diet has been shown to only be as effective as numerous other diet approaches(3) – a finding that is seen time and time again when popular diets are pitted against each other. This tends to be because adherence to the diets reduces over time as people find it difficult to continually exclude certain foods that are restricted on particular diets.

So, what’s the bottom line? The Italian (Mediterranean) Diet could lead to health improvements if it is adhered to in the long term. However, as a weight-loss strategy, it is only going to be effective if it can help to produce an energy deficit. And it has not been shown to be any more successful for this as other diet plans.

References

  1. Teissedre, P. L., Stockley, C., Boban, M., Ruf, J. C., Alba, M. O., Gambert, P., & Flesh, M. (2018). The effects of wine consumption on cardiovascular disease and associated risk factors: a narrative review. OENO One52(1), 67-79.
  2. Dinu, M., Pagliai, G., Casini, A., & Sofi, F. (2017). Mediterranean diet and multiple health outcomes: an umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised trials. European journal of clinical nutrition.
  3. Mancini, J. G., Filion, K. B., Atallah, R., & Eisenberg, M. J. (2016). Systematic review of the Mediterranean diet for long-term weight loss. The American journal of medicine, 129(4), 407-415.