As passionate foodies, we are constantly seeking how to maintain our good health and trim figures (!), whilst enjoying the delectable ingredients we so love. It’s a universal conundrum: to savour a mouth-watering menu without paying the price on one’s waistline – or more importantly with weight-related health issues (such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes). We believe the Mediterranean diet (one rich in olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, with protein coming from fish, lentils, nuts and lean meat) is one of the best lifestyle diets we’ve come across and we enjoy eating these healthy ingredients regularly in the guilt-free knowledge that we are nourishing our bodies and minds.
But, recently, another lifestyle diet is finding widespread popularity as a simple way to enjoy a varied menu and maintain a healthy weight. It’s known as the 5:2 diet because it has been found that eating normally for 5 days of the week and ‘fasting’ (eating a reduced calorie intake) for the remaining 2 days is a tried and tested route to weight maintenance and good health.
Intermittent Fasting: The 5:2 Diet
One of the best known advocates of the diet and presenter of the BBC Horizon programme exploring The Fast Diet, Dr Michael Mosley, calls this pattern ‘intermittent fasting’. Although reducing calorie intake for two days each week will result in some initial weight loss (on average 1 pound per week), the real benefits are health-related: reduced blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improved insulin-sensitivity and even increased life span and brain function. You can read more about his ideas on The Fast Diet site.
Guardian columnist and award-winning food writer, Felicity Cloake, approves of the concept, saying, “The 5:2 diet is the only one I’ve ever tried which feels do-able long term – the idea of depriving myself of anything seven days a week is so depressing I inevitably give up, but nothing seems so terrible about fasting for a single day at a time. After all, I can always have that cake tomorrow!”. She also regularly writes about the delicious low calorie dishes she enjoys on her fasting days such as currys, obviously without all the oil!
Not really new
The 5:2 phenomenon may be new but this pattern of eating actually replicates how our ancestors would have eaten – enjoying feasts when food was in plentiful abundance and having enforced leaner days when there was a food shortage. Indeed, most cultures and religions feature periods of fasting, from the Christian Lent to Islamic Ramadan and Ayurvedic de-tox therapies, with the idea not only to practise abstinence but also for its associated health benefits and mental clarity. By restricting food consumption for two days a week, researchers believe that the body gets a break from digesting and processing food, giving it time to burn toxins in the gut and leaving body and mind lighter and cleaner.
Fasting Day Dishes
On fasting days, Dr Mosley suggests reducing intake to a quarter of our normal daily allowance: that’s 500 calories for women and 600 for men. It’s really up to the person how and when those calories are consumed during the day but his approach on a fast day is to eat two light meals at breakfast and dinner time, with just liquids such as herbal teas or vegetable stock drunk in between (to give your body maximum fasting time from solid food).
It’s important to keep in mind that just because you’re eating less, there’s no reason why these calorie-controlled fasting days should feature food that’s any less tasty than your normal fare. In fact, probably the best way to stick with any regime is to ensure you enjoy the food you’re eating, even if it’s lighter and leaner than usual. A tomato salad for example with torn basil leaves is great low calorie flavoursome option that could keep you going during the day. Tomatos also contain lycopene, which research has shown can help guard against cancer and strokes.
Another of our favourite low-calorie dishes with that all important Mediterranean flair is our Courgetti Tricolore. It uses spaghetti-like strands of courgette as a substitute for pasta, which not only makes it a low-calorie dish but also means it’s a great option for anyone looking to avoid wheat or who’s following a gluten free diet. It’s a delicious dish and because it’s such a generous serving, it keeps you going even though it’s only 200 calories per serving!
We’ve been trying intermittent fasting ourselves and found it surprisingly easy to follow. Our approach however is definitely to ensure maximum taste in any of the meals or dishes that we enjoy on our fasting days. After all this is a lifestyle diet and our motivation is one of ensuring good health more than anything. We’ll be continuing to add a selection of 5:2 friendly dishes to our collection of recipes over time, but ensuring as with all our others that the focus is most definitely on maximum taste and enjoyment.
On the remaining five days of the week, we still enjoy our usual mediterranean fare. Dr Michael Mosley actually recommends this lifestyle on his blog, saying it’s best to practise “energy restriction for 2 days and then eat a healthy Mediterranean diet for the other 5 days”.
Why not give it a go and tell us what you think?