Polyphenols Put the Mediterranean Diet Into Overdrive
These tiny nutrients may set you up for faster results than many strict diets.
What happens if you add even more nutrients to the already super-nutritious Mediterranean diet? According to research, if you enjoy healthy portions of Mediterranean staples like produce, whole grains, seafood, and olive oil — “plus a daily smoothie very rich in antioxidants,” adds The Lose Your Belly Diet author Travis Stork, M.D., who is a big fan of the Mediterranean diet himself — you may slim down substantially faster than you would following a stricter diet. Keep reading to learn more.
Tiny Nutrients, Big Benefits
There’s a secret ingredient that makes the smoothies Dr. Stork reveres (more on those below) work so well. “They’re loaded with polyphenols,” reveals Dr. Stork. The most dedicated Mediterranean dieters have a high intake of these potent antioxidant compounds. For example, natives of the Greek isle of Ikaria — one of the five healthiest places on Earth, per the famous “Blue Zones” study — eat local plants with far more polyphenols than most produce. “Even their wine is higher in polyphenols,” adds Dr. Stork. It’s a big reason Ikarians defy heart disease, seldom get diabetes, and have almost no dementia. It also helps keep them effortlessly lean.
According to Dr. Stork, every plant on Earth contains at least some polyphenols. Mediterranean favorites like spinach, onions, tomatoes, beans, walnuts, and olive oil just happen to be extremely rich sources of these micronutrients, “which are like a medicine that comes from your grocery cart instead of your medicine cabinet,” Dr. Stork says. Their main superpower is stopping and reversing age-related damage in our cells. If we pump enough polyphenols into our system over time, we think more clearly, move more freely, and fight off disease more easily. “Everything should start to function better,” he explains.
As for how polyphenols stimulate weight loss, there are lots of ways. Perhaps most important, they seem to spur our body to burn blood sugar faster. There’s also evidence they block enzymes that let us turn food into blood sugar in the first place. It’s an effect that ultimately slashes both sugar and the fat-storage hormone insulin. And as excess insulin comes down, we may burn more fat, “especially from our middle,” says the doc.
Separate research hints that polyphenols may trigger a surge in gut bacteria linked to weight control. And polyphenols can even cut off blood vessels running to fatty tissue, causing some fat cells to literally starve and die. Bottom line: The tiny nutrients set us up for faster results than many strict diets, “and they also improve overall well-being,” says Dr. Stork. “It’s the best way to lose weight.”
Dr. Stork’s Super-Smoothies
To see how well your body responds to a high polyphenol intake, try a version of super-smoothies, Dr. Stork recommends. The trick is spiking them with spirulina, an edible algae that delivers far more polyphenols than many other polyphenol-rich options. Dr. Stork includes the stuff daily in his own Mediterranean-style regimen.
Hesitant to try algae? TikTok may be able to change your mind. TikTokers are going crazy for the stuff, which comes in a vivid blue variety. It makes smoothies fun and gorgeous, and its infusion of polyphenols is potent. Additionally, research proves spirulina’s association with weight loss. “For something to work, it has to be easy, and that’s what I love about polyphenol-rich smoothies — they’re a small step that can build momentum for big changes,” says Dr. Stork.
One last bit of advice: To balance spirulina’s sharp taste, pair it with tropical fruit and fat. Mango, pineapple, avocado, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds do the trick and add bonus polyphenols. “You can also consider a supplement or simply focus on other polyphenol-rich smoothie ingredients,” says Dr. Stork, who suggests cocoa, flax, spices, coffee, and/or green tea.
3 Recipes To Speed Mediterranean-Style Slimming
Polyphenols from options like spirulina, cocoa, greens, berries, herbs, and seeds will boost health and fight flab no matter how you eat ’em. Want top-speed results? Whip up a spirulina smoothie for one meal a day; at other sittings, go for lots of non-starchy produce, plus a serving each of protein, starch, and good fat. Polyphenol-rich beans, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil are smart picks. Also key to Mediterranean-style success: “Limit sugar and processed food,” advises Dr. Stork. Find three recipes to eat in a day while following the Mediterranean diet below.
- MOCHA MAGIC Blitz 1 cup nut milk, 1 banana, 1 ⁄4 cup protein powder, 2 tablespoons cocoa, 1 tablespoon nut butter, a dash of instant coffee, and spirulina.
- POWER LUNCH Enjoy a big Greek-style salad with olive oil vinaigrette; add chickpeas or hummus plus whole-grain crackers.
- SIMPLE SALMON DINNER Prepare salmon or chicken with herbs and lemon; serve with olive oil–roasted veggies and brown rice.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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