Seven years ago, almost to the day, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Rather than take medication, I chose to tackle the problem myself by experimenting with my diet, says Dr Michael Mosley
Seven years ago, almost to the day, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Rather than take medication, I chose to tackle the problem myself by experimenting with my diet. Extensive research told me that cutting my calories for just two days a week could have a profound effect on my health.
Within a few months, I’d lost nearly a stone and a half and my blood-sugar levels were no longer considered diabetic. I coined my eating routine ‘The 5:2 diet’ and shared details of the discovery in what would become an international bestselling book.
In the five years that followed, I’ve witnessed a revolution in weight-loss research that has transformed the lives of millions. Type 2 diabetes is no longer a life sentence with patients reliant on endless pills to keep them alive and well.
But the benefits of eating in this way – so-called intermittent fasting – span way beyond these two (very important) things.
Some scientists now believe that this kind of eating plan may play a role in reducing the risk of cancers, heart disease, depression and even dementia.
Although research is still in the very early stages, I think the potential is exciting, not least because of the thousands of positive stories I’ve now heard from followers of my 5:2 diet, some of whom have been diabetes-free for a few years now.
However, amid the overwhelmingly positive feedback was one common complaint. ‘But I’m only cooking for one!’ many protested.
So, to coincide with the release of my latest book – The Fast 800, an updated, supercharged version of the original 5:2 – I’ve compiled a collection of mouth-watering, calorie-controlled recipes that are especially designed to be eaten solo.
After all, just because you want to diet, it doesn’t mean your other half does too. Meanwhile, the number of people living alone has doubled in the past two decades and more than four million older adults eat most of their meals alone.
Studies have shown that you could shed up to two stone in just three months. And the meals featured in this special pullout will make that process not only easy, but a pleasure
The plan is simple: stick to 800 calories on two Fast Days, while eating a normal, balanced Mediterranean-style diet the rest of the time. For those looking to lose more weight, quickly, try sticking to 800 calories a day, every day, for six weeks.
As I explain in the book, studies have shown that you could shed up to two stone in just three months. And the meals featured in this special pullout will make that process not only easy, but a pleasure.
As I’ve said, each recipe is designed to make a single portion – with the exception of a few, such as granola, which you can store and enjoy over a number of days. The calorie counts given in all cases are per single portion.
If you want to make a dish work for more than one, simply multiply the number of ingredients by the number of diners. But before we get started, here’s a quick update of why this diet really does work.
THE WEIGHT COMES OFF... AND STAYS OFF
Most people who go on mainstream diets don’t manage to keep the weight off. But studies have shown that people on the 5:2 are able to lose weight, long-term.
One recent Australian study showed that those eating the 5:2 way lost more than a stone, on average, and had kept it off a year later.
Even the NHS website recognises its lasting benefits, stating that two days of dietary restriction can be more sustainable than traditional diets, leading to reductions in ‘body fat, insulin resistance and other chronic diseases’.
SLIMMING CAN REVERSE TYPE 2 DIABETES
As we all know, Britain is facing a crisis in type 2 diabetes, with one patient diagnosed every three minutes. But a pioneering 2018 study of 298 diabetics showed that eating a diet of 800 calories every day for up to five months can, in fact, put many cases of diabetes into reverse.
Scientists from the University of Glasgow and University of Newcastle saw participants lose an average of one-and-a-half stone and, in many cases, their blood sugars returned to normal.
Almost half were able to come off their medication and were declared ‘in remission’.
Last month, a follow-up study revealed the most remarkable finding yet: two years on, most of those patients’ diabetes was still in remission. Compared to a control group who followed conventional NHS advice, they were far slimmer, had lower cholesterol and reduced blood pressure and reported a much better quality of life.
As one of the study’s authors, Professor Mike Lean, told me: ‘For years we have been telling patients with type 2 diabetes to take the pills. This is a serious disease with nasty complications, particularly if you develop it in your 40s or 50s. The good news is that, with the right help, many people can now get shot of this horrible disease.’
FASTING CAN BOOST YOUR BRAIN POWER
Another set of promising findings shows that intermittent fasting could protect brain health.
Mark Mattson, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the US, has spent decades looking into the impact of intermittent fasting on the brain. He has shown in animals that intermittent fasting stimulates the release of a protein called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF stimulates the creation of new brain cells and their connections, improving cognitive function and memory. The results of his latest study into the impact of 5:2 on people at risk of dementia are expected soon.
MEDITERRANEAN FOOD GIVES A MOOD BOOST
The recipes across the following pages, and in my books, are based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet involving plenty of nuts, fish, olive oil and vegetables. This way of eating is good for the heart and the waist. It is also an effective way to reduce depression and anxiety. In fact, some research has shown that those who stick closest to a traditional Mediterranean diet are a third less likely to suffer depression than those who don’t.
Conversely, eating a diet containing lots of takeaways and highly processed food has been linked to greater incidence of depression. These studies don’t prove food either prevents or causes mental ill health – there may be other factors at play – but the association is there.
Eating a diet containing lots of takeaways and highly processed food has been linked to greater incidence of depression
THE DIET ALSO REDUCES YOUR RISK OF CANCER
We know that being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast and bowel cancer. Excess fat, particularly around the gut, sends hormonal signals to the rest of your body telling your cells to divide more frequently, accelerating the growth of tumours, it is believed.
Studies on middle-aged women at increased risk of breast cancer have not only shown that the 5:2 is a more effective way to lose this type of belly fat than a conventional diet, but it also leads to reduced levels of hormones, such as insulin, that can drive cancer growth.
We also know that people eating high quantities of processed red meat such as bacon, ham and sausages and low amounts of wholegrain carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables have high rates of colon and bowel cancers.
But a Mediterranean-style diet low in processed meats but high in fibre-rich veg and wholegrains – such as the one I champion – is known to reduce the risk of these cancers. It is thought that nitrates added to meat during the manufacturing process interact with the enzymes in the gut, increasing cancer risk.
For more information and support about how to follow this diet safely and effectively, visit thefast800.com.
Best ever breakfasts
Roasted apple and oat granola with yogurt
305 calories per serving
Makes 8 servings
● 2 apples, cored and cut into 1cm pieces
● 2 tbsp vegetable oil
● 2 tbsp maple syrup
● 2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
● 200g oats
● 50g seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, or a mixture)
● 50g mixed nuts, roughly chopped
● 25g desiccated coconut
● 1 tsp ground cinnamon
● 1 egg white
● 1 tbsp full-fat natural yogurt per serving
Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4. Spread the apple out on a large lined baking tray and cook in the oven for 15 minutes until caramelised. Meanwhile, heat the oil, maple syrup and peanut butter together in a small pan.
Tip the roasted apple into a bowl with the oats, seeds, nuts, coconut, cinnamon and a pinch of salt, then pour over the oil mixture and mix well with a spoon.
Whisk the egg white in a separate bowl until it is frothy, then stir it into the mixture.
Spread it out on the lined baking tray and cook in the oven for 35-40 minutes, stirring two or three times, until it is golden.
Serve with a spoonful of yogurt. (A serving without yogurt is 272 calories.)
Blueberry oven-baked pancake
329 calories per serving
● 1 medium egg
● 80ml full-fat milk
● 35g wholemeal flour
● ½ tsp baking powder
● 30g frozen blueberries
● ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
● 1 tsp butter
● 1 tbsp full-fat natural yogurt
● ½ lemon, zested
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6.
Whisk the egg in a jug, then add the milk, flour, baking powder and cinnamon.
Whisk everything together well. Gently fold in the blueberries. Melt the butter in a small oven-proof frying pan (approx 16cm diameter), pour in the batter and place in the oven to cook for 15-17 minutes.
To serve, top with the yogurt and lemon zest.
Spicy beans and spinach on toast
386 calories per serving
● 1 tbsp olive oil
● 1 clove of garlic, sliced
● 2 tbsp tomato puree
● ½ tsp paprika
● 1 tsp red wine vinegar
● ½ 400g can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
● 50g fresh spinach, or 50g frozen spinach, defrosted
● 10g feta cheese
● 1 slice of wholegrain seeded bread, toasted
Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and cook the garlic for 1 minute.
Add the tomato puree and paprika and cook for 2 minutes. Next add the vinegar, cannellini beans and 100ml of water and cook for 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced.
Add the spinach, cook for a few minutes, then season and serve on the toast with the feta crumbled over.
Mexican baked egg
156 calories per serving
● 1 small wholemeal tortilla wrap
● 1 large egg
● 2 cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
● 1 spring onion, finely sliced
● Pinch of paprika
● A few coriander leaves
● Dash of hot sauce
Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Trim the tortilla so it is approx 15cm diameter using a plate. Warm the tortilla for 10 seconds in the microwave or in a frying pan so it is soft, then push it into a muffin tray to create a cup.
Cook in the oven for 5-6 minutes until crisp and golden.
Take the tray out of the oven, then crack in the egg and top with the paprika and a pinch of salt and pepper. Return the tray to the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes until the egg white has set. Garnish with the chopped tomato, spring onion, coriander and hot sauce to serve.
Parsnip rosti with a poached egg and mustard sauce
302 calories per serving
● 1 large parsnip, approx 20g, coarsely grated
● 1 small onion, approx 60g, very finely sliced
● 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
● 1 tsp olive oil
● 1 tbsp full fat natural yogurt
● ¼ lemon, juiced
● 1 egg
● Small handful of salad leaves
Mix the parsnip, onion and ¾ of the mustard together in a bowl, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan, then form the mixture into 3 patties and cook in the pan for 5-6 minutes on each side until golden and cooked through, turning carefully.
Meanwhile, mix ½ tbsp of mustard with the yogurt, lemon juice and some black pepper to make the sauce. Poach the egg in boiling water for 3 minutes or to your liking. Serve the rosti topped with the egg, the rocket and a drizzle of the sauce.
Prawn, fennel, bean and orange salad
385 calories per serving
● 10g almonds
● 1 orange
● 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
● 1 small clove of garlic, finely grated
● 1 small bulb of fennel, finely sliced
● 100g tinned cannellini beans
● 50g cooked prawns
● Large handful of mixed salad leaves
Toast the almonds in a non-stick frying pan for 3-4 minutes, then roughly chop.
Slice the skin off the orange, then cut off the top and bottom and use a sharp knife to cut out the segments over a large bowl, reserving the juice.
Put the segments to one side, then add the olive oil, garlic and some seasoning to the bowl and mix well to make the dressing. Drain, then rinse the cannellini beans under a cold tap.
Add the orange segments back to the bowl along with the fennel, beans, prawns and lettuce leaves and mix everything together. Scatter over the toasted almonds to serve.
Chicken and courgette salad with avocado dressing
360 calories per serving
● ¼ avocado
● 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
● ½ lemon, juiced
● ½ clove of garlic, roughly chopped
● 1 cooked skinless chicken breast, shredded into bitesize pieces
● ½ courgette, halved lengthways then thinly sliced
● 50g salad leaves
● 1 tsp seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, or mixed – your choice)
Toast the seeds in non-stick frying pan over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Put avocado, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper and