Over the past several decades, dozens of diet trends and fads have come and gone (think: low-fat, low-carb, grapefruit diet!), yet none of them gained real traction in terms of long-term success. Until recently.
Enter the Mediterranean diet.
Now, I’m not a fan of fad diets. But the Mediterranean diet is neither a fad nor a diet. Rather, it’s a healthy lifestyle and eating approach that is not the least bit restrictive, and easy to follow and maintain over the long term.
Just as importantly, several meta analyses and numerous clinical studies carried out in huge numbers of people (well over 1 million) have demonstrated that following a Mediterranean-type diet can help to promote better cardiovascular health, blood sugar control, and cognitive function. This means lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive decline. And while it’s not a weight-loss plan, research shows that you can lose weight, particularly belly fat, by adhering to it.
So what exactly is the Mediterranean diet?
It is a set of nutritional recommendations inspired by traditional diets found in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Spain, France, Turkey, and southern Italy. Dietary staples include lots of fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, olives and olive oil, and herbs and spices. Poultry, eggs, and select dairy products are also eaten in moderation. Red wine, while not mandatory, is also among the items enjoyed occasionally among followers of this diet.
Heart-healthy, unsaturated fats are frequently consumed—mainly in the form of olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Plus, significant levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids are obtained from fish such as salmon, trout, and mackerel.
Notably missing from this list: processed food, fatty red meats, and sweets. These foods are usually reserved for very special occasions or avoided altogether.
Every day you enjoy delicious, nutrient-dense food, you never feel deprived, and you rarely feel the need to “cheat.” And even if you do, your foundation is so strong that the occasional ice cream cone or slice of pie will tend not to do much harm. Because the Mediterranean diet is a sustainable long-term disease prevention strategy, it becomes a wonderful way of life.
How this translates to the Gene Smart Diet
As you may know, one of my primary areas of interest and research has been systemic inflammation and finding ways to reduce this disease-causing process that’s linked to so many health problems, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer.
Genetically speaking, our bodies are not programmed to eat processed foods, high amounts of sugar, trans fats, and loads of vegetable oil and other pro-inflammatory foods. So it’s no surprise that, when exposed to these assaults day in and day out, sometimes three times a day, our bodies react by becoming inflamed and sick.
The Mediterranean diet is just one example of how we can change the way we eat to coincide with the way we are genetically programmed to eat. The approach is so in line with my own research and beliefs that it was the foundation of the science-backed program I developed called the Gene Smart Diet. The primary difference between the Mediterranean and the Gene Smart Diet is that I added foods that enhanced satiety and further lower inflammation, thereby placing a special emphasis on weight loss, weight control, and reducing inflammatory diseases.
Specifically, the Gene Smart diet emphasizes the consumption of foods that are naturally rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, as well as fiber, protein, polyphenols, and other nutrients. These items tilt the scales toward anti-inflammation while at the same time providing your body with the compounds it needs—and is biologically designed to—absorb and use.
And decreased inflammation isn’t the only benefit. Coincidentally, high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods are typically low in calories, yet still very filling. So you eat less, feel satisfied longer, and end up losing weight in the process. And when you lose weight, you further reduce inflammation.
How it works
Gene Smart stands out because it harnesses the power of your body’s adaptive stress response. Whereas most stress is viewed as bad, adaptive stress is actually beneficial to the body and may even strengthen cellular maintenance and other body functions over time. (Another good example of adaptive stress is exercise. Placing this type of stress on your body is advantageous in many ways.)
In addition, it helps alter gene expression in favor of good health. Let me explain.
Every one of us is walking around with good genes and bad genes. Yet not all of us get sick. What we’ve learned over the years is that it’s not simply the presence of bad genes that determines our fate. It’s whether or not these bad genes get expressed (turned on) and whether our protective genes are down-regulated (turned off). The Gene Smart program has a positive effect on our protective genes and “turns off” bad genes.
In a nutshell, the Gene Smart program encompasses three different phases. In the first two phases, you reduce the amount of calories you consume. Cutting calories not only jump starts your body into weight loss, it has been shown to lower blood pressure and insulin, improve blood lipids, and reduce white blood cell count (which are the cells that participate in inflammatory responses). After about a month, you go into “maintenance” mode.
Here’s an example of a typical Gene Smart daily meal plan for the adaptive response (most calorie restrictive) portion of the program. You’ll see that, even though you are lowering calories, you are still eating plenty of food to feel full and satisfied:
- 1 cup mixed berries with 4 oz. low-fat vanilla yogurt
- 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1 oz. reduced fat cheese
- 6 oz. tea blended with ¼ cup cranberry or pomegranate juice
- 1 fish oil and 1 borage oil capsule
- 3 oz. fish
- Salad: 2 cups dark green lettuce; ¼ cup grated carrot; ¼ red onion; 1 oz. feta or goat cheese; 1 tsp. olive oil and vinegar to taste
- 1 slice whole-wheat bread
- 1 cup red grapes
- 4 oz. pork loin chop
- ½ cup cooked brown rice
- 1 cup sautéed spinach
- 1 medium apple
- 2 fish oil and 1 borage oil capsules
In future letters, I’ll go into greater detail about how the foods we eat influence our genes and genetic responses. But in the meantime, you can learn more about the Gene Smart diet on this website.