The Mediterranean Diet: Good for Health, Good for Life.

The Mediterranean diet is consistently promoted by health professionals as one of the healthiest and most balanced diets available.  You may have wondered, what makes the Mediterranean diet so great? For starters, it’s a well balanced style of eating that is rich in fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and seafood.  Other foods like dairy, red meats, and sweets are not entirely eliminated, but consumed less often.  The Mediterranean style of eating differs from many other diets because no single food group is deemed the token villainous “bad” food group. Foods from all food groups are included.  As illustrated in the Mediterranean diet pyramid, some foods are encouraged to be eaten more frequently, while others less often.  Most people find this particular style of eating relatively reasonable to follow and adhere to (versus more restrictive, less balanced diets).

Aside from dietary recommendations, the Mediterranean style of eating also encourages physical activity and enjoying meals. Focusing on diet, physical activity, and the mind/body (social) aspect of living, contributes to the well-roundedness of the Mediterranean diet. 

What does the research tell us?

Many large scale clinical and population health studies have tested the efficacy of the Mediterranean style of eating.  The results indicate that a diet similar to that of the Mediterranean region is linked with many physical health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease; reduced risk of death from heart disease, cancer and Parkinson’s; reduced blood pressure and cholesterol; reduced risk of obesity in children andadults; and reduced risk of Type II Diabetes

Research has also demonstrated the positive effects of a Mediterranean diet on mental health, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.  Adherence to a Mediterranean style diet is linked with reduced risk and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.

What makes the Mediterranean Diet so healthy?

There are a few staples of the Mediterranean diet that make it such a health style of eating.  Overall, it is a diet that is high in healthy (unsaturated) fats and low in highly processed, sugary foods-which have been linked with many adverse health outcomes such as heart disease and type II diabetes.  Consisting of many fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, olive oil, and fish, Mediterranean foods are generally lower in calories and higher in vitamins, minerals, fiber, heart healthy fats, and protein, than the typical Western diet.

How can I start eating the Mediterranean way?

Familiarize yourself with the Mediterranean diet pyramid and try to stick to the core principles of this style of eating.  Base every meal off fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and/or legumes. Consume poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt once or twice per week. Try to eat meats and sweets once per week or once every other week at most.

Here are a few tips that highlight the difference between the Mediterranean vs. Western style diet:

·         Stick with whole, fresh foods rather than prepackaged or precooked meals.

·         Grill, broil, and bake instead of frying.  

·         Use fresh herbs and spices instead of salt or sugar to flavor food. 

·         Use olive oil instead of butter.

·         Drink red wine in moderation (optional).

·         Be physically active.

·         Enjoy sit-down meals with others instead of eating alone or on the go.

Remember, the Mediterranean style is ideally fresh, flavorful, and abundant in variety; it’s far from boring, tasteless, and rigid (like many other “diets”). Note the word “style” versus “diet”. Diet implies restriction and something that cannot be maintained long-term. The Mediterranean “style” of eating is healthy and flavorful and can most definitely be maintained long-term for well beyond weight management benefits – as aforementioned.

So- experiment in the kitchen, be active, and share meals with others. These are the foundations of the Mediterranean way! 

Omega Fatty Acids

You’ve probably heard about Omega fatty acids, and that they are good for your health. What many people may not know, however, is that there are two types of Omega fatty acids and both play a role in the necessary processes of inflammation and blood clotting, but in a very different way.

What are Omega fatty acids?

Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). Both of these types of unsaturated fats are healthy and essential in the diet. Both are biologically active in the body, unlike most fats which are used for energy or stored. This means that they play important roles in sustaining health, specifically in blood clotting and inflammation. Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, and Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect. The inflammatory process is a normal and healthy function of the body, specifically when an injury occurs. The early stages of inflammation enlist the immune system to help control infection, and wound healing and tissue re-growth occur in the later stages of inflammation. It is also necessary for blood to have the ability to clot in order to prevent excessive bleeding. The problem occurs when there is excessive inflammation and clotting in the body, which can lead to heart disease, arthritis, and other serious diseases. The key is to balance the consumption of Omega-6 and Omega-3.

How much do I need?

Health experts do not endorse a daily recommended intake for Omega-6 or Omega-3, rather, the emphasis is on the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. Most people consume a diet that is too high in Omega-6 fatty acids, and lacks in Omega-3s. This unbalanced ratio has a damaging effect on the body, and is one of the most negative aspects of the typical American diet. Anthropological studies show that humans evolved eating a ratio of Omega-6: Omega-3 somewhere around 1:1. The typical diet today has a ratio of 16:1!

To better balance the ratio of Omega fatty acids in your diet, follow these tips:

  • Processed oils are loaded with Omega-6s, so limit or avoid them. The oils highest in Omega-6s include sunflower, corn, sesame, and peanut oil. These are typically found in highly processed or fried foods because they are inexpensive and readily available. Limiting these foods in your diet will reduce the overall amount of Omega-6 consumed.
  • Omega-3s are found in seafood such as salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, anchovies, and halibut. Other sources are beans, nuts, and spinach. Some foods are fortified or enriched with Omega-3s, such as bread, cereal, oatmeal, and yogurt. Choose canola, flaxseed, soybean and olive oils when cooking.
  • The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (like salmon) at least twice a week. Eating a variety of non-processed foods in place of processed or fried foods will also help to improve the ratio of fatty acid consumption in your diet.
  • If you feel that your diet lacks in Omega-3s, consider taking a Fish Oil Supplement to get these beneficial fatty acids. Supplements will vary in the amount of fatty acids they contain, so look for one with at least 600mg of DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid, the primary form of fatty acid found in fish that offers health benefits). Let your doctor know if you are taking a Fish Oil Supplement.
omega