A Mediterranean diet may prove to be an inexpensive and healthy way for South Los Angeles residents to keep the fat off.
In a study recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, a low-glycemic diet, also called the "Mediterranean diet," was found to be better at maintaining weight loss without negative side-effects than low-fat and low-carb diets. The low-glycemic diet calls for 40 percent of a person's daily calories to come from fat, 40 percent from carbohydrates and 20 percent from protein.
The diet provides a good mix of high-nutrient foods without reducing any single nutrient, which is not the case with low-fat and low-carb diets, says the study. While the low-carb diet actually burned more calories, it also led to increases of the stress hormone cortisol and increased a person's risk for heart disease. The low-fat diet burned the least amount of calories, but lowered levels of good cholesterol.
Following the Mediterranean diet means eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and grains, which may seem out of reach for some people in low-income communities. But Christiane Rivard, a dietitian and health educationist for adult weight management at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said that is a misconception. Following a healthy diet will often be less expensive than eating processed or fast-food, she said.
She said highly processed food, including snack foods, frequently cost more than natural foods – so sticking to unprocessed foods, like those in the Mediterranean diet, can in fact save people money.
"You don't have to buy special food, you just have to eat whole foods – foods in their natural states," Rivard said. "Unprocessed fruits and vegetables and whole grains, like oatmeal and brown rice."
There are sometimes roadblocks to getting access to fruits and vegetables in low-income communities, but Rivard said there are more options than ever.
More and more farmers markets are popping up in these communities – like the Central Avenue farmers market -- which can be inexpensive sources of fruits and vegetables. On top of that, supplemental nutrition programs, like Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and California food stamps, can fund the purchase of whole foods for people on a budget. Rivard added that many farmers markets are also now taking food stamps. (Central Avenue's market is one of them.)
"Access to fruits and vegetables has improved in some of our low-income communities," she said. "It's far from great, but if you make it a priority, it's possible."
To fulfill the low-glycemic diet's 20 percent protein requirement, South Los Angeles residents should look to beans. Rivard said beans are a healthy way to eat lean protein without spending too much money.
"You don't have to eat lean chicken," she said. "There are other sources of lean protein that are inexpensive."
And when trying to stick to the Mediterranean diet, Rivard advises people plan ahead and prepare food at home when possible, which allows greater control over the ingredients used in meals.
"Inevitably even something as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread may be less expensive and healthier than going through the fast food line," she said.
Photo by Martin Cathrae via Flickr Creative Commons.