It takes a village to raise a child, they say, so perhaps it now can be said that it takes a village to save the western world.
That village is Pioppi, Italy, which is home to the healthiest and longest-living people in the world. UK cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra has made it a mission to examine the people of Pioppi and look at the reasons behind their longevity.
Based on five years of research and drawing on more than 100 studies on Pioppi, Dr Malhotra has created a 21-day plan inspired by the village in The Pioppi Diet.
The small Italian village of Pioppi is home to the healthiest, longest-living people in the world
He is clearly a man with a plan. In his introduction, the cardiologist points out that more than 60 per cent of the UK adult population is overweight or obese. (Similar figures exist in Australia.)
Dr Malhotra is a fearless health campaigner in the UK, regularly writing in both academic journals and newspapers
And it gets worse, he says. “Obesity itself is just the tip of an enormous iceberg of chronic diseases driven by poor lifestyle, namely heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancer and dementia,” Dr Malhotra adds.
His book, co-written with filmmaker Donal O’Neill, explodes several myths, including why you need to stop fearing saturated fat and cholesterol, why you must stop counting calories, why an ageing population is not really an issue and why sugar deserves its reputation as public enemy number one in the western diet.
Dr Malhotra and O’Neill first collaborated on a documentary called The Big Fat Fix, which looked at Pioppi’s inhabitants and their lifestyle. Located in southern Italy, about two hours south of Naples, Pioppi has a population of just 197 people.
In the book, O’Neill details the life of the locals: “Every day, a handful of small boats leaves the picture-book harbour to fish for their designated catch. The boats return with enough to sustain the community and the very small number of local restaurants. Each afternoon, all the people in this village (which doesn’t have a supermarket) retire for the traditional siesta.”
The local inhabitants even enjoy a glass of wine with their dinner. It’s not a bad lifestyle in fact.
According to Dr Malhotra, the Pioppi Diet combines layers of multiple ‘health positive’ lifestyle choices – of which food is but one to provide a healthy way of living. Chapters in the book include information about saturated fats, cholesterol and insulin as a root cause of heart disease – plus some controversial statements about Type 2 diabetes and how to reverse its effects.
It might make you rethink everything you have heard about healthy eating, particularly in regards to low-fat food and carbohydrates. Malhotra is adamant that not all calories are the same – a contradiction of what many of us have heard over the years. He is a big advocate of a high-fat, low-carb diet, in keeping with what other weight-loss experts have been saying recently.
The Pioppi Diet includes some great recipe ideas such as this grilled halloumi and kale salad
“Scientific evidence clearly reveals that, for people who are overweight or obese, low-fat, low-calorie diets have not only been an epic failure, but also potentially harmful,” Malhotra says.
And this is where it starts to get even more interesting. The book details a simple 21-day plan – with foods you can enjoy, foods to avoid and a few tips on exercise, alcohol, red meat and sleep. There’s even recipes to help set you on the path to good eating.
Actionable? Enjoyable? It seems so. High-risk? Not at all.
What works for you in terms of healthy eating? Share your thoughts here.