When you hear ‘the Mediterranean’, you probably think of countries like Greece, Spain, Italy and Israel where foods like pitas, gyros, pizzas, falafel and pasta reign supreme.
While those foods may sound delicious, they’re certainly not part of the incredibly healthy Mediterranean diet, which consists of fruits and vegetables, including grain, light seafood and a drizzle of olive oil when appropriate. The Mediterranean diet is praised around the world as a delicious way to fight off heart disease, various cancers and diabetes.
The combination of vitamins, healthy fats, fiber and macro nutrients in this diet strengthen your cardiovascular health, promotes cognitive function, and helps fight off a plethora of cancers, diseases and cognitive decline. A steady dietary selection of foods within the Mediterranean diet has been proven to lengthen your lifespan.
Background on the Mediterranean Diet
There has been a substantial amount of research done on this diet from as early as the 1950s.
After World War II, Ancel Keys of the Mayo Foundation compared the diet and health of roughly 13,000 middle-aged men from various countries worldwide, including the United States, Japan, Italy, Greece, Finland, Yugoslavia and the Netherlands.
The research compiled showed that American men with a hearty, calorie-dense diet were most susceptible to heart disease, while men living in the Southern Mediterranean regions of Greece and Italy displayed the best cardiovascular health. This was partly because of the depriving effects of the second world war and the associated increase in physical activity, but mainly because of the dietary traditions of that particular region.
Even in more recent times, the Mediterranean diet continues to be praised for its unmatched benefits on cardiovascular health.
The Harvard School of Public Health concludes that “together with regular physical activity and abstinence from smoking, the food choices prominent within the Mediterranean diet can help reduce 80% of coronary heart disease, 70% of stroke and 90% of type-2 diabetes.
The Mediterranean Food Pyramid
Foods and food groups in the Mediterranean food pyramid include:
- Non-processed fruits and vegetables
- Especially leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale
- Non-starchy vegetables like eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, artichokes, tomatoes and fennel
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds, primarily almonds, walnuts and sesame seeds
- Legumes and beans such as lentils and chickpeas
- 1-2 servings of fresh fish and/or seafood weekly
- Quality, unprocessed poultry meats in moderation
- Quality, unprocessed dairy in moderation
- Goat milk
- Limit cow milk
- Unprocessed red meat recommended to be included in meals once or twice monthly
- 64 ounces of water daily
- Coffee and/or tea
- No more than two glasses of red wine per day alongside meals
The Mediterranean Diet works even better when accompanied by a physically active lifestyle. While physical activity is not imperative to enjoy this diet, it is highly recommended, especially for dieters attempting to lose weight.
This includes simple and easy physical activities such as walking, jogging, bike riding, hiking or any steady state physical activity done at at least 30 minutes per session 3 times a week.
8 Reasons to Start the Mediterranean Diet Today
1. Low in Processed Foods and Sugar
This diet primarily consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains–foods straight from nature which are significantly healthier than average everyday packaged foods.
This means that unlike a traditional American diet, it’s almost devoid of sugars. Use organic meats if possible to avoid unhealthy GMOs, preservatives and a other harmful chemicals, medications (such as antibiotics) and hormones.
2. Promotes Weight Loss
The reason why many dieters have chosen the Mediterranean diet is that it provides low calories and carbs while keeping you feeling full. The wide range of nutrient-dense foods it features make this diet sustainable as a long-term diet plan.
The Mediterranean Diet has a food choice for everyone while providing vital nutrients–it can be consumed as a low-carb diet, a low-protein diet, or even an exclusively vegan diet, and as long as you follow the guidelines for portions it doesn’t go overboard on calories.
3. Improves Heart Health
The Mediterranean Diet’s main benefit is that it has been shown to reduce cardiac-related deaths by 30% and sudden cardiac death by 45%. This is mainly due to the healthy fats it contains.
The foods in the Mediterranean Diet as well as the Mediterranean food pyramid result in a steady intake of the optimal amount healthy fats. A high amount of the essential fatty acid alpha-linoleic acid is found in olive oil–a staple food of the diet.
The nutrients in olive oil also lower hypertension due to their ability to make nitric acid more bioavailable to the body, which aids the cleansing of arteries.
4. Helps Fight Cancer
The European Journal of Cancer Prevention has established that the Mediterranean Diet’s ability to prevent and suppress growing cancers is due to the abundant yet balanced levels of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids it provides.
The fatty acids in combination with the high amounts of fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols derived from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and wine are proven to prevent cancers from developing.
5. Prevents and Fights Diabetes
The Mediterranean Diet is proven to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes , once again with the help of the essential fatty acids it provides, which help regulate insulin levels.
The Mediterranean food pyramid is almost devoid of sugars (homemade desserts and honey are the only sweet foods in it) making it an optimal diet for diabetics.
6. Improves Mood and Fights Cognitive-Related Diseases
The antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet, in combination with a steady consumption of anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables, are known to keep age-related cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay.
7. Keeps Your Gut Healthy
Probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir, and goat milk promote healthy productivity by your intestines and stomach by aiding in the digestion process. This will help your gut digest essential nutrients better while filtering out unwanted chemicals as waste.
8. Promotes a Long Life
Once again, healthy fats prove to be the most essential macronutrient in this diet. If there’s one macro-nutrient that helps extend your lifespan, it’s mono-saturated fat, and there’s plenty of it here.
Mono-saturated fat has been proven time and again to be the number one factor in the prevention of heart disease, depression, cancer, cognitive decline, inflammatory disease and many other health issues. In combination with the myriad of nutrients and vitamins found in the Mediterranean diet, mono-saturated fat can definitely help add healthy years to your lifespan.
How to Make The Change Today
The Mediterranean diet is revered by many nutritionists not only because of the myriad of health benefits it provides, but because it can be undertaken by just about anyone with relative ease due to its wide range of foods.
Since it encourages fruits and vegetables above all else, you can quickly start by increasing your intake of vegetables. Replacing the common ingredients in pizza with tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers, or simply slicing up a couple of tomatoes in combination with a hint of feta cheese is a great way to get going.
Organic meat may be hard to find and even expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to cook up meals with grass-fed beef portions in order to undertake this diet. Simply spreading out small strips of organic, free-range chicken onto salads or adding snippets of organic meat onto everyday meals is enough.
Breakfast is the most important meal to get you going. Make sure to have a high-fiber breakfast–fruits and whole grain foods make for the perfect start.
The seafood in a Mediterranean diet doesn’t have to be fresh off the boat. A serving of tuna, sardines, salmon, or herring with a meal once to twice a week is enough to keep your body filled with those beneficiary healthy fats.
Leafy greens, nuts, beans and fruits are a staple, so it won’t hurt if you try making a vegan dish once in a while. Try cooking up a vegetarian meal once a week, and work your way up.
Get creative in the kitchen and see what you come up with. Focus on beans, vegetables and whole grains as the prime ingredients in a vegan meal. If eating out is your thing, plenty of restaurants and takeaways provide delicious vegan menus that will help you develop a taste for the vegan side of this diet.
The Mediterranean Diet is about avoiding saturated fats and focusing on healthy fats. Replace vegetable oil with extra virgin olive oil, and if you’re up for a snack, a small serving of olives, sunflower seeds or avocados can fill you up while contributing healthy fats.
When it comes to dairy products, focus on natural cheeses, yogurt, goat’s milk, and kefir. Make sure to choose whole-milk dairy products, as they’re a healthier option than specially processed ‘low-fat’ dairy products. void highly saturated, processed cartons of cow milk–always look for organic milk.
When it comes to desserts, try sticking to sweet fruits like strawberries, figs, grapes or apples. Homemade desserts may be challenging, but you’d be surprised at just how great tasting they can be.
And don’t forget–a daily glass of red wine is encouraged, although it’s important you drink no more than two glasses daily. Any more will reverse the positive effects wine has on your cardiovascular system.
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most popular diets in the world, as it yields a large variety of health benefits, from improving heart health to fighting cancer and cognitive diseases. Its wide-range of foods allows for even the pickiest eaters to undertake it, and the low amount of calories encourages those attempting to lose weight to try it as well.
The most important thing to remember about this diet is that it’s derived from a demographic that’s physically active on a daily basis, so daily exercise will definitely help you realize the many health benefits of this diet even faster.