What is the Pioppi diet?

Which foods are allowed on the Pioppi diet and how does it differ from most Mediterranean eating plans? We look at whether it's safe, effective and sustainable.

A selection of Mediterranean ingredients

The Pioppi diet is named after a village in southern Italy where the population are said to enjoy a longer life expectancy. The village of Pioppi was recognised by UNESCO as being the home of the Mediterranean diet – described as more than just a diet, but a lifestyle and heritage hailed as one of the healthiest in the world.

Although the name of the Pioppi diet implies a close link with the food and habits of the village, the diet, as advocated by the book, is somewhat different. It is a low-carb, higher-fat plan which the authors claim follows the principles of a Mediterranean diet.

An introduction to the Pioppi diet

The Pioppi diet encourages plenty of vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish, but discourages red meat, starchy carbs and sweet treats.

Although there is no one 'Mediterranean diet', most traditional diets from the region are high in heart-healthy fats such as the monounsaturated fats from olives and olive oil. Of course, the traditional Italian diet also incorporates many starchy foods, such as bread and pasta.

By comparison, in the book The Pioppi Diet, the authors recommend a low-carb diet that is rich in fat, including saturated fats from ingredients like coconut oil which are not typically part of an Italian diet. It also limits starchy foods such as bread and pasta.

The diet was created by Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, and Donal O'Neill, a former international athlete and documentary film-maker (Cereal Killers). Both authors are advocates of the 'low-carb, high-fat' approach to eating. The authors recommend avoiding all sugars (including honey) and most starchy carbs including rice, white potatoes, bread, pasta, cereals as well as other flour-based foods. Eggs, cheese and full-fat dairy, including fermented dairy products, are allowed on the plan.

The Pioppi Diet is presented as a 21-day lifestyle plan that includes dietary changes combined with an active lifestyle, adequate sleep, regular socialisation, as well as alcohol in moderation. You are also advised to do a weekly 24-hour fast.

Is there evidence that the Pioppi diet works?

Malhotra and O'Neill make many claims for the diet they've devised; that it will help you lose excess body fat, reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, manage or reverse impaired blood glucose conditions, reduce high medication loads, help to prevent and treat heart disease and reduce your risk of developing dementia and cancer. Although various references are cited, there is no specific research or evidence to support this version of the Pioppi diet in particular, or its three-week 'quick fix'.

As already mentioned, the book offers an unconventional take on the Mediterranean diet, using some unexpected ingredients such as coconut oil. Coconut oil is a controversial ingredient that is still being researched, but in the meantime, current guidelines recommend that we consider it a saturated fat and, as such, limit our consumption to within UK recommendations.

Read more about whether coconut oil is healthy.

Is the Pioppi diet safe?

Some aspects of the diet are aligned to UK government guidelines. These include eating plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least five to seven portions, daily), including fish – especially the oily variety – and keeping red meat to an average of 70g per day (500g per week). The diet recommends consuming extra virgin olive oil and nuts daily and suggests drinking alcohol in moderation. The diet also promotes fresh, whole foods cooked from scratch rather than a reliance on processed, refined foods. Finally, it emphasises the importance of an active lifestyle.

However, the diet does not comply with NHS reference intakes for total fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates and instead promotes a higher fat intake with fewer carbs. Guidelines currently promote limiting saturated fat whilst incorporating carbohydrates, preferably the wholegrain variety. Critics of the plan may argue that a better balance would be achieved if the diet included carbohydrates in the form of wholegrains (e.g. brown rice or oats), whilst minimising saturated fats.

Followers of Malhotra and O'Neill's Pioppi diet are also recommended to fast for a 24-hour period each week. Although some studies suggest intermittent fasting may be an option for achieving weight loss it is not a feasible solution for individuals with blood sugar issues, including those with diabetes as well as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Read more about intermittent fasting diets.

Is the Pioppi diet effective for weight loss?

You are likely to be consuming less food and calories on the plan and as such, you may well lose weight, especially if you start to exercise more and fast weekly. However, this depends on your starting weight and your existing dietary and exercise habits.

Discover how to lose weight and keep it off.

Is the Pioppi diet sustainable in the long-term?

The diet is presented as a 21-day plan with suggestions as to how to continue after the first three weeks. Whether this is a sustainable way to maintain weight loss and to eat in the longer term is debatable. Diets that omit whole food groups are typically hard to stick to, and when you reintroduce the banned foods you may regain some or all of the weight you lost.

Discover the six things you should consider before starting a diet.

Who shouldn't consider the Pioppi diet?

Those who should be cautious about adopting The Pioppi Diet include the elderly, those under 18 years of age, those who are on medication, those who have a low body mass index (BMI) and those with emotional or psychological issues around food, including any history of eating disorders.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or have a condition that requires you to keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels you should avoid fasting. Speak to your GP before embarking on any radical change to your eating patterns.

Please note, if you are considering attempting any form of diet please consult your GP first to ensure you can do so without risk to your health.

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This page was published on 29 August 2018.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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