What is the Pioppi diet?
Focused more on health than weight-loss, does this diet really hold the secret to a long and healthy life?
What is the Pioppi diet?
Named after a village in southern Italy where the population is said to enjoy a longer life expectancy, the Pioppi diet is one of a number of diets that encourage low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) eating. The lifestyle and heritage of this Italian village were hailed to be one of the healthiest in the world, hence UNESCO declared Pioppi the home of the Mediterranean diet.
Based on Mediterranean-style foods, the focus of the diet is on a low-carb, higher-fat plan and, the authors claim, it's a whole-life approach to health and nutrition. Although its name suggests a close link with the food and habits of the village, the Pioppi diet – as advocated by the book of the same name – is somewhat different. Created by Dr Aseem Malhotra, a UK cardiologist, and Donal O'Neill, a former international athlete and documentary filmmaker, the authors recommend avoiding all sugar (including honey) and most starchy carbs, including rice, white potatoes, bread, pasta, cereals and other flour-based foods.
How does the Pioppi diet work?
The Pioppi diet claims to follow Mediterranean-style principles, with a twist. Unlike many diets, it doesn't promote calorie counting, but does require followed to adopt specific eating guidelines. These are based on a low-carb, high-fat approach to eating.
Although there is no single 'Mediterranean diet', most traditional diets from the region are high in heart-healthy fats, including the monounsaturated fats found in olives and olive oil. The traditional Italian diet also incorporates many starchy foods, such as bread and pasta. However, the Pioppi diet is a low-carb diet that's rich in fat, including saturated fat from ingredients like coconut oil – an ingredient not typically part of an Italian diet.
Read more about the health benefits of olive oil.
How to follow the Pioppi diet
Presented as a 21-day lifestyle plan, the Pioppi diet includes dietary changes combined with an active lifestyle, adequate sleep, regular socialisation as well as alcohol (preferably red wine) in moderation. The plan also advises a weekly 24-hour fast.
More like this
What foods to eat on the Pioppi diet
- Olive oil (especially extra virgin olive oil) and coconut oil
- Unsalted nuts and seeds, including walnuts, almonds and pine nuts
- Fruit and vegetables, including avocado, tomatoes, pomegranate and berries, as well as green leafy vegetables
- Some meat and poultry
- Fish, including oily varieties such as sardines and mackerel
- Eggs, cheese and full-fat dairy, including fermented dairy products
- Alcohol in moderation, preferably wine
What foods to avoid on the Pioppi diet
- Starchy carbs, like rice, pasta and bread, as well as things made with flour including biscuits, cakes and pastries
- Potatoes and all other white root vegetables
- Cereals, including breakfast cereals and milk puddings
- Sweet fruit, such as bananas and grapes
- Sugars (including natural sweeteners like honey), as well as confectionery
Does the Pioppi diet work for weight loss?
You are likely to be eating less food and therefore consuming fewer calories on the plan, meaning you may well lose weight. This is especially likely if you start to exercise more and fast weekly, as the diet advises. The diet combines elements of low-carb eating with a Mediterranean-style diet, both of which may be effective for weight loss and offer additional benefits, such as managing blood fats (low-carb diets) and enjoying better blood sugar control (Mediterranean diet). However, the amount of weight you lose will depend on your starting weight and your existing dietary and exercise habits.
Discover how to lose weight and keep it off.
What's the evidence for the Pioppi diet?
Malhotra and O'Neill make many claims for the diet they've devised, including 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 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'. Claims in support of the effectiveness of the diet are largely based on the idea that the Pioppi community are purported to live a long and healthy life, and on the medical, nutritional and exercise expertise of the authors.
As already mentioned, the book offers an unconventional take on the Mediterranean diet, using some unexpected ingredients, such as coconut oil. This controversial ingredient that is still being researched, but in the meantime, current guidelines recommend that we consider coconut oil as a saturated fat and, as such, limit our consumption to within UK dietary guidelines.
Read more about whether coconut oil is healthy.
Is the Pioppi diet healthy? A nutritionist's view
Some aspects of the Pioppi diet are aligned with UK dietary guidelines. These include eating plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least five to seven daily portions) and 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 combined with adequate sleep.
However, the recommendations for total fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates go against NHS reference intakes, instead promoting a higher intake of fat with fewer carbs. UK guidelines currently promote limiting saturated fat while incorporating carbohydrates, preferably the wholegrain variety. A better dietary balance could be achieved if the diet included carbohydrates in the form of wholegrains (like brown rice or oats), while minimising saturated fats.
The plan also recommends fasting for a 24-hour period once a 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, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Read more about intermittent fasting diets.
The diet is presented as a 21-day plan, with suggestions for continuing 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 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.
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.
Enjoyed this? Now read:
This feature was reviewed on 8 September 2023 by Kerry Torrens, registered nutritionist
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.