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Book review: The Pioppi Diet by Dr Aseem Malhotra and Donal O’Neill

A compelling read with a powerful message, ‘prevention is better than cure’, the book is named after a little hamlet in Italy named Pioppi, where the population have long life expectancies and live a generally healthy life.

This was the same population that Professor Ancel Keys studied and on which he based his recommendation for the Mediterranean diet to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Co-authors Donal O’Neill, an athlete and film-maker, and Dr Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist and international campaigner for the sugar tax, revisit the village and share their findings as a backdrop for their book.

The book’s focus is how to change one’s diet and lifestyle to lead a healthy life. It is split into two parts with the first focusing on the theory of healthy living and the second half providing practical solutions – including example recipes and a 21-day workout regime.

In modern medicine, we are all aware of the two biggest killers – cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Yet despite new treatments there has been little change in the numbers affected by these two conditions. Dr Malhotra explores this using his own anecdotes as well as medical theory, presented in a simple manner, to explain how the conditions can be prevented through diet and lifestyle changes alone – an approach he believes could save the NHS and the economy billions of pounds if implemented.

He proposes that these conditions are both caused by increased intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates in our daily lives, and that restricting these can improve insulin resistance, thus reducing the risk and complications of both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

More controversially, he takes the discussion further and argues that cholesterol and saturated fats are needed to lead a healthy life, and so questions the efficacy of statins to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Dr Malhotra encourages healthcare professionals to reflect on their current practice and lifestyle knowledge, as he cites hard hitting research published in renowned journals such as JAMA and the Lancet throughout the book – questioning the benefit of statins and whether counting calories makes a difference.

Interestingly this book, unlike others, does not focus on diet alone but on the other aspects of healthy living. Donal O’Neill uses his expertise as an athlete to explore the benefits of exercise in various forms, as well as the value of reducing stress and good sleep to reap the most significant benefits of a healthy life.

Overall it is a thought-provoking read that makes you reflect on your own knowledge and lifestyle in regards to healthy living. A must-read for everyone, but especially for GPs who can make the most impact as they provide diet and lifestyle advice daily.

Dr Pooja Arora is a freelance GP in Birmingham and member of the GPC

The Pioppi Diet: A 21-Day Lifestyle Plan is published by Penguin