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!