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The Omega Diet, by Dr. Artemis P. Simopoulos and Jo Robinson (a.k.a. The Mediterranean Diet) - Review.

** Recommended - with reservations **

The Omega Diet, which was previously published under the titles "The Omega Plan" and "The Aphrodite Diet", is the most genuine and credible of a number of "Mediterranean diet plans" that have been on the bookshelves in recent years that espouse Mediterranean foods and lifestyle for weight loss and health.

The Omega Diet comes close to earning my *** Strongly Recommended *** rating, though falls short due to a couple of inconsistencies within it. Despite those inconsistencies, the thrust of the book is strongly pro-health and uses very sound historic and scientific sources to justify most of it's claims.

The book explains how the Mediterranean people on the Greek island of Crete have a 5,000 year history even to the present day of longer life spans and better overall health than most other Mediterranean societies, even though the diets are very similar to those other Mediterranean diets. Scientific examination found the "missing link" that made the health and longevity of the people of Crete superior was that their food choices contained a significantly higher proportion of Omega 3 Fatty Acids in them than other communities. It also demonstrated that the ratio of Omega 6 Fatty Acids to Omega 3 Fatty Acids was a vital factor in health and longevity.

Whereas the developed Western World today has an Omega 6 Fatty Acid to Omega 3 Fatty Acid ratio upwards of 12:1 (measured as high as 40:1 in some Westerners who do not eat fish and live mostly on processed foods), the traditional Mediterranean diet of Crete had less Omega 6 and more Omega 3 Fatty Acids - in a ratio of around 4:1.

As an point of comparison, a number of other researchers, such as those who have examined Paleolithic diets, have come to similar conclusions, though they vary in their conclusions as to what constitutes the optimum ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 Fatty Acids. The conclusions range from 1:1 through to 3:1. By comparison, The Crete diet espoused by Dr. Simopoulos in "The Omega Diet" looks a little conservative and easier to achieve at 1:4, though along with the others still stands in major contrast to the miniscule Omega 3 levels in Western diets today.

It is also noted that the modern Western diet has changed enormously over even the past century. One hundred years ago, Omega 3 Fatty Acids were far more common in Western diets. Since then, there has been enormous growth in the grain and seed "edible oils" industry which has replaced Omega 3 Fatty Acid intake with greater Omega 6 intake, along with the additional detrimental trans-fatty oils (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils - an unnatural industrial production method of adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats to thicken them and extend their shelf life.)

The many health benefits of Omega 3 oils are discussed in "The Omega Diet". These range from improvements in heart health, brain function, treatment of many mental disorders, inflammatory conditions, cancer prevention, and more. Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids in fish oils, flaxseeds, green leafy vegetables and various nuts and other foods are explained.

Although "The Omega Diet" is predominantly and primarily concerned with overall health rather than weight loss (for which I commend it - weight loss should always be treated as a benefit derived from overall health and lifestyle improvements rather than merely a stand-alone goal), it presents convincing research that shows that Omega 3 oils have significant weight loss benefits.

Animal studies in mice have proven that diets heavy in Omega 6 oils or saturated fats promote insulin resistance and diabetes. The same caloric value of fish oil (an Omega 3 oil) prevented these conditions, and produced mice with significantly lower body weights than those fed Soya-bean, lard or safflower oil diets.

The weaknesses and inconsistencies that prevent me giving my top *** Strongly Recommended *** rating to this book are:

  1. An over-emphasis and probable inaccurate evidence in support of Canola Oil (also known as Rapeseed Oil);
  2. A fruit and grain content of the diet that seems excessive and has potential long term detrimental effects from the excesses of starches and fructose (fruit sugars).

I must point out that my criticisms may be seen by others as being just as subjective and open to debate as the points of which I am critical.

In regards to Canola Oil:

  1. It is simply untrue that this was a part of the Crete or Mediterranean diet for the past 5,000 years. Canola is a 1980's "edible oils industry" invention, being a hybridized version of rapeseed. Even from the hybrid seed, to produce Canola Oil requires considerable artificial industrial processing including leaching with other chemicals, bleaching and partial hydrogenation.
  2. While Dr. Simopoulos correctly identifies some of the health dangers of the hydrogenation process in modern edible oils and warns against them, she fails to point out that her strongly favoured Canola Oil is itself partly hydrogenated.
  3. The book claims that Canola Oil is high in Omega 3 fatty acids. While it is true that it does contain some Omega 3 fatty acids (and more than many other common edible plant oils) and in a favourable Omega 6 to 3 ratio of roughly 2:1, it fails to point out that neither of these essential oils are the predominant fatty acid found within Canola Oil. Around 63% of Canola Oil is Omega 9 - a non-essential monounsaturated fat also found in a similar proportion in Olive Oil.

Most natural health practitioners and a growing body of research now point to Canola Oil as being one of the more dangerous oils which should not be consumed by humans. Even the small level of Omega 3 Fatty Acids it contains is tainted, maybe even contaminated, by the partial hydrogenation process designed to give the product an enhanced shelf life and therefore better marketability.

Despite these criticisms, I recommend "The Omega Diet" for its ground-breaking revelations about the deficit of Omega 3 in the modern Western diet, the excess levels of Omega 6, its explanation of how fats (generally) are necessary in human biology and health and how low fat diets are an erroneous idea, and producing substantial evidence for a better and healthier way to attain health and longevity - and even weight loss - using the Mediterranean diet tradition of the people of Crete.

The book, though, should be read with an eye out for the weaknesses mentioned above, and would best be read in conjunction with either of the other two popular books the discuss the role of Omega 3 Fatty Acids in human health and nutrition. (These are displayed in the column to the right.)

I also strongly advise that familiarity with "The Paleo Diet" (also reviewed on this website) will go a long way towards understanding some of the concepts of "The Omega Diet" and also prepare you with some of the extra knowledge you need to identify some of its clear biases and inconsistencies.

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