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'Zone' Doctor Creates His Own Mediterranean Diet

Barry Sears explains what you should be eating — and how often

Mediterranean diet, Barry Sears, book

Sue Tallon

For the rest of your life, for a long, healthy life, eat a balanced Mediterranean diet.

En español l Twenty years ago, Barry Sears' New York Times best-seller The Zone revolutionized the way we think about nutrition. Food is like a drug, he said; eat too much of the wrong foods (processed carbohydrates, in particular) and you throw off your body's ability to function properly. Eat a balanced diet — what he determined to be 40 percent unrefined carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat at every meal — and you'll not only lose weight; you'll live a longer, healthier life.

Science has since added many more nuanced aspects to the nutritional equation — and has set off an intense debate about the roles fat and carbohydrates have played in driving the nation's obesity epidemic. Into that mix, Sears has added his own stance with the release of his newest book, The Mediterranean Zone.

What is so great about the Mediterranean diet?

In the past 20 years, a slew of new research has emerged detailing the anti-inflammatory, antiaging benefits of polyphenols, the chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their color. What we're talking about here is cellular inflammation, which isn't painful but continuously damages organs until it reaches a point that we define as disease. What's more, the inflammation doesn't just stay in one part of the body. It can spread to other organs.

So multiple health issues are interconnected?

Exactly. What the research bears out is scary. One typical scenario occurs when a group of fat cells becomes inflamed from eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and omega-6 fatty acids found in polyunsaturated fats. Not only do these inflamed fat cells cause weight gain; the inflammation often spreads to the pancreas and causes diabetes, or to the brain and causes Alzheimer's. In fact, we now know diabetes patients are twice as likely as others to develop Alzheimer's. The same inflammation can also spread to the heart and inflict coronary problems. The names for these conditions are different and so are the organs they attack, but they are all caused by the same inflammation damage resulting from our diet.

What can we do to reduce inflammation?

We have 10 trillion human cells in our bodies but 100 trillion bacterial cells. The good bacteria are your first line of defense against the bad bacteria that can cause inflammation. And that's where the polyphenols come in. They're the gardeners in your gut that weed out the bad bacteria while promoting the growth of good bacteria, too.

So what should we be eating — and how often?

Eat every five hours, with one-third of your plate filled with lean protein such as fish, chicken or tofu, and two-thirds with colorful fruits or vegetables. You will live longer and feel physically and mentally energetic every day. Yes, you have to do this for the rest of your life, but few complain about eating meals such as grilled fish and vegetables with a dash of olive oil, accompanied by a glass of red wine.