The folks at the Mayo Clinic have apparently decided to assert their rights by releasing an official diet program, spearheaded by Donald Hensrud, M.D., the Medical Editor in Chief of The Mayo Clinic Diet and Journal, released in January 2010.
So, what does it look like?
In a Nutshell
This diet is a calorie and portion restriction program, (1,200 calories/day in the sample menus) that appears to focus mostly on motivation and daily diarizing of goals and keeping records of one's consumption of recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, protein/dairy, carbohydrates, fats and sweets. There are separate phases for weight-loss and maintenance.
- Consumption of more fruits and vegetables is actively encouraged, which is a relief in the lingering haze of low carb-itis that is still dragging its heels on its way out the door. In fact, low-carb diets are discussed and somewhat debunked.
- This book wants to be your cheerleader. There are great suggestions for staying motivated over time, realistic goal setting, and encouragement to help with those occasions where one has succumbed to temptation. There's a good chapter on how to change one's behavior, which applies to more than just dietary goals.
- Most of the recipes are simple, and look tasty (some exceptions, see below in The Bad).
- Useful information about downsizing portions, and switching out high-calorie foods for healthier alternatives, and recipe adaptation.
- Some great sounding strategies, such as limiting the amount of television that one watches to the same amount that one has exercised. Even if you exercise quite a bit, keeping to this guideline should prevent excessive couch-potatoism.
- This diet is not really food-centric, despite the endless diarizing and checking off of circles on their food pyramid and fussing about serving sizes. It doesn't really seem to offer solid answers to the questions "What do I get to eat?" or "What do I eat when I get home late from work and I'm starving?"
- The writing-things-down part of this program appears quite time consuming. This phase is not supposed to be lasting, but it's an off-putting amount of paperwork.
- Very few actual recipes are included (ten pages in the main diet guide, a few more in the journal), many of which do not indicate the number of portions per recipe. A few are obvious stinkers: 1/3 cup cooked rice mixed with 1/2 cup sliced green onion, for example, which is suggested as a side dish for at least one of the dinners. I like green onion, but that does not sound good.
- Some of the information seems contradictory. One grain/carbohydrate serving of cooked macaroni is 1/3 cup, yet one grain/carbohydrate serving of cooked orzo (a small, rice-shaped pasta) is 3/4 cup. How can these be nutritionally equal?
- The book appears to use two definitions for the term "serving" - one being a reasonable meal portion, and one being the "servings present" in a portion (the classic example being a typical sandwich, which itself is a single portion/serving, and which contains two servings of grains/carbohydrates). It is not always clear which definition is being used, even though the book makes a point about distinguishing between the two in one of the chapters.
- Of the ten good habits they promote, eating "real food" (ie. not heavily processed) is buried second to last at number 9 (and comes after the five bad habits to break). Not only does this deserve far greater prominence, it is also in direct contradiction to the instances of highly processed "diet" foods found in the sample menu plans.
- I saw little discussion of the quality of food that one is eating, and the sample menu plans include "calorie-reduced salad dressing", "fat free, reduced-calorie yogurt" and "fat free cream cheese" and other dietetic products that may be compensating for what they don't have (fat) with other undesirables (usually sugars and texturizers, and almost universally a higher level of processing). Sample menu plans refer to "calorie-free beverage", but in the absence of any discussion of the same, tacitly allow such items as diet sodas and other artificially sweetened water-flavourants. One of the sample menus suggested non-dairy whipped topping - again, without any guidance to steer people away from the nutritionally derelict offerings and toward any of the more whole-food options that are potentially available.
Dilled Pasta Salad with Spring Vegetables
(no number of portions indicated)
3 cups shell pasta, medium sized
8 asparagus spears, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup sliced green peppers
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dill weed
cracked black pepper, to taste
Basically, you cook both the pasta and asparagus as needed, drain and rinse in cold water. Everything else is added raw. The dressing is simply whisked together and added to the salad at the end.
Recipe results: Very tasty combination of flavours - the amount of pasta could easily take more vegetables, which I may do next time. Maybe 2 cups of cherry tomato halves, for example. I doubled the amount of dill (I was using fresh dill), which was right for me, but your mileage may vary.
The dressing was surprisingly oily. Too much oil by half, I would say. I have since used the dressing recipe with only 2 tablespoons of olive oil, which I found to be perfect, to dress a green salad. I will make this again with the adjusted dressing.
It needs salt. Yes, I know that salt is going through a demonization period, and that some people need a lower-sodium diet. Even though I tend to have a light hand with the salt myself, I added a pinch of salt to the dressing, to help bring the flavours together. I think it was the right call, although, perhaps not if you are on any medical sodium restriction.
I find that I am turned off by diet books that promote use of "diet" foods. Can there really be no connection between the number of aisles in our supermarkets devoted to supposed diet-friendly foods and the ever-growing width of our nation's posteriors? I have far more respect for the idea of limiting fatty or sweet or otherwise troublesome (real) foods and enjoying them less frequently, than suggesting that it's okay to put diet products on our plates. I am disappointed that the Mayo Clinic's official diet appears to encourage the use of such things, and confused that the first sample recipe that I tried, which includes a homemade vinaigrette instead of the calorie-reduced versions indicated elsewhere, contains so very much unnecessary fat.
Mixed messages, but some very worthwhile ideas peppered throughout.