New book about a 21-day diet that will help you live longer

Aug 14, 2017, 14:34 IST | Sonia Lulla

The seaside village of Pioppi. Pic Courtesy/Spinoziano - Own work; Wikimedia commons
The seaside village of Pioppi. Pic Courtesy/Spinoziano - Own work; Wikimedia commons

While counselling a patient a day after he performed a life-saving operation on him following a heart attack, Dr Aseem Malhotra encountered what he refers to as the biggest scandal in the junk food industry. The UK-based cardiologist remembers counselling the middle-aged man on the ill-effects of a poor diet when a health care assistant served him with a plate of burger and chips. "How do you expect me to change my lifestyle if you're serving me the same crap that brought me here?" his patient shot back, leading Malhotra to realise that education is ineffective in bringing about a change in society if your environment works against you.

Malhotra has been an active campaigner against obesity, and is vocal in his fight against sugar consumption. He recently released The Pioppi Diet (Penguin Random House), inspired by the healthy lifestyle of inhabitants of a small Italian village by the same name, where the average man lives till 89 years, and does not contract illnesses like Type-2 diabetes (associated with obesity).

He arrived in the village and chronicled study the secrets of their health in this book, which promotes a 21-day plan, referred to as the Pioppi diet. It hopes to eliminate the fear associated with the consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol, make sugar obsolete, promote the concept of movement over exercise, and focuses on living a stress-free lifestyle.

Salmon and eggs

Salmon and eggs
Salmon and eggs

Excerpts from an email interview with Dr Malhotra:
How does an individual benefit from a 21-day format?
Within 21 days [of incorporating] changes to your lifestyle by adopting the Pioppi Diet, you will see a noticeable impact on your health markers. This will be in addition to the improvement in the way one feels by reducing the intake of sugar and refined carbohydrate, an excessive consumption of which is driving obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.

Given the limited portions and number of meals, does this diet lead to undernourishment?
On the contrary, this dietary pattern puts good nutrition at the forefront, and has thus been backed by a number of internationally eminent dietitians.

Sweet potato
Sweet potato

Can intermittent fasting be a health invention? Where does this stand in the debate about frequent meals boosting metabolism?
The message to adopt a diet including frequent meals was pushed by the food industry to sell more food. There's no sound science to suggest we should be snacking. Intermittent fasting can be a powerful tool to reduce insulin resistance, which is the number one risk factor for heart attacks and a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.

Mixed nuts
Mixed nuts

What is the proportion of exercise for this diet?
The book emphasises on the benefits of habitual movement, even prioritising it over scheduled exercise. The evidence is clear now that maintaining movement and mobility into old age is important for a long, healthy and happy life. The individual exercises take a few minutes each day. Within that, the optional High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) protocol is for readers who are keen to up their fitness.

Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil

Feta cheese
Feta cheese

Health care practitioners want to bridge the gap between food cravings and adopting a healthy dietary habit. Will such a diet discourage one from appreciating foods?
I am a big foodie and the best part of this diet is that the food is nutritious and delicious. The book [hopes to highlight that] sugary foods and desserts [should be considered] as a treat, not to be consumed regularly. Currently, junk food is the default selection for many, and healthy foods are being considered as a treat, which is terrible for our health. It leads to chronic suffering and premature death. this must be reversed. In Pioppi, dessert is eaten once a week, on a Sunday.

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver

Jamie's wowed too
Dr Aseem Malhotra's efforts in popularising the ill-effects of sugar consumption have found support in celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who termed his initiative to tackle obesity, "inspirational". Oliver backs Malhotra's recommendations that a sugar-tax on fizzy drinks be implemented in the UK. "A reduction in sugary drink consumption by about 15 % — which would happen if we had a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks — would, within one year, prevent 180,000 people from becoming obese," says Malhotra about the campaign.

Sandeep Sachdev
Sandeep Sachdev

From the Indian stand point
Celebrity nutritionist Sandeep Sachdev upholds the argument that when an individual makes peace with a sugar-free lifestyle, s/he will have many benefits to reap. However, he cautions "In Mumbai, many don't have 9-5 jobs. Slotting meals in three plans might be tough. Also, we look at our food as comfort, so eliminating food groups like carbs is unlikely to be easily adopted." Sachdev also discredits the idea of consuming three meals, propagating that smaller meals consumed frequently all day help in upping metabolism and preventing muscle depletion. Nutritionist and fitness expert Rita Jaisingh reasons, "The book suggests a stress-free lifestyle, over one's eating habits, that goes a long way in determining health," adding that focus on exercise could enhance long-term fitness. "At first glance, it comes across as fitness is a secondary parameter. Movement is crucial, but keeping the heart rate high is important enough. That seems lacking."

Dr Aseem Malhotra
Dr Aseem Malhotra

Pioppi Diet in a nutshell

  • Eat non-starchy veggies, a handful of nuts, eggs, bacon, two-four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, oily fish like salmon daily, butter and ghee
  • Avoid snacking, consuming sugar, syrups and fruit juices, carb-heavy foods like pasta, bread and rice, and sunflower, canola and corn oil
  • Eat two to three meals a day and eat till you are full; consume 14 units of alcohol in a week
  • Fast for one day in a week: skip dinner one night, skip breakfast and lunch the following day and consume only fluids in between
  • Aim for movement rather than exercise, or a 21-day protocol of exercise including lunges or squats
  • Sleep for seven hours at night
  • Breathing exercises are important
  • £ Spend time with friends and family every week

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