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Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet


By Kim Allison
Posted on 29 Aug, 2016


Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating plan based on typical foods and recipes of Mediterranean-style cooking. Generous quantities of olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, long loaves of bread, relaxed lunches with red wine; these have become synonymous with what we call "Mediterranean."

Many long-term population studies, involving hundreds of thousands of people, have been carried out to assess the likely health benefits of switching to a Mediterranean diet. This is what has been discovered.

 

Some Background

After World War II, a study led by Ancel Keys of the Mayo Foundation investigated the lifestyle of the long-lived Mediterranean people to see if we could learn from them and use the knowledge in higher-risk populations. His study covered13,000 middle-aged men in the US, Japan, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland, and Yugoslavia.

Remarkably, well-fed American men had higher rates of heart disease than those in countries whose diets had been restricted by the deprivations of war. It was the men of Crete, arguably the poorer people of the study, who enjoyed the best cardiovascular health. This was due to physical labor and their unique food pyramid.

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is based on the dietary traditions of Crete, Greece, and southern Italy circa 1960 at a time when the rates of chronic disease among populations there were among the lowest in the world, and adult life expectancy was among the highest, even though medical services were limited.

Aside from eating a diet consisting mainly of fresh and homegrown foods instead of processed goods, other vital elements to the Mediterranean diet are daily exercise, sharing meals with others, and fostering a deep appreciation for the pleasures of eating healthy and delicious foods.

 

Health Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet

A traditional Mediterranean diet consisting of large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil—coupled with physical activity—reduces the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. More specifically:

Protects Against Type 2 Diabetes
A Mediterranean diet is rich in fiber, slowing down digestion and preventing huge swings in blood sugar.

Heart Disease And Strokes Prevention
A Mediterranean diet includes low amounts of unhealthy saturated fats and higher amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy monounsaturated fats. Refined breads, processed foods, and red meat are discouraged in a Mediterranean diet, and it encourages drinking red wine instead of hard liquor, which have all been linked to heart disease and stroke prevention.

According to a study published in The American Journal of Medicine, "There is more evidence that people who adopt a whole diet approach - such as a Mediterranean diet - have a lower risk of heart attack and cardiovascular-related death than those who follow a strictly low-fat diet."

Keeps You Agile
The nutrients gained with a Mediterranean diet may reduce a senior’s risk of developing muscle weakness and other signs of frailty by about 70 percent.

Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s
Researchers speculate that the Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and overall blood vessel health—all factors that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Halves The Risk Of Parkinson’s Disease
In a diet containing high levels of antioxidants that prevent cells from undergoing a damaging process called oxidative stress, the risk of Parkinson’s disease is practically cut in half.

Increased Longevity
When there is a reduction in developing heart disease or cancer, as in the case when you follow a Mediterranean diet, there is a 20% reduced risk of death at any age.

 

How To Make The Change

In combination with moderate exercise and not smoking, the Mediterranean Diet offers a scientifically researched, affordable, balanced, and health-promoting lifestyle choice. If you’re feeling daunted by the thought of changing your eating habits to a Mediterranean diet, here are some suggestions to get you started.

 

Eat Lots Of Vegetables
A variety of plant foods should make up the majority of your meals. They should be minimally processed — fresh and whole are best.

Use Good Fats
Saute food in olive oil, not butter. Extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados are great sources of healthy fats for your daily meals. Some vegetable oils higher in polyunsaturated fats—like sunflower, safflower, soybean, and corn oil—are more heart-healthy than the mostly monounsaturated fats in olive oil. Dip bread in flavored olive oil or lightly spread it on whole-grain bread for a tasty alternative to butter.

Change The Way You Think About Meat.
If you eat meat, have smaller amounts and leaner cuts. Put small strips of chicken on your salad, or add diced prosciutto to a whole-wheat pasta dish.

Always Eat Breakfast.
Fruits, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods are a great way to start your day, keeping you pleasantly full for hours.

Go Nuts
Nuts and seeds are good sources of fiber, protein and healthy fats. Keep almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts on hand for a quick snack. Choose natural peanut butter, rather than the kind with hydrogenated fat added. Try blended sesame seeds (tannin) as a dip or spread for bread.

 

Rein In The Red Meat
Substitute fish for red meat at least twice a week. Fish such as tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, and sardines are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish like mussels, oysters, and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health. Grill, bake or broil fish for great taste and easy cleanup. Avoid breaded and fried fish.

Cook A Vegetarian Meal One Night A Week
If it’s helpful, you can jump on the "Meatless Mondays" trend of foregoing meat on the first day of the week, or simply pick a day where you build meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Once you get the hang of it, try two nights a week. Be sure not to load up on cheese, though.

Switch To Whole Grains
Switch to whole-grain bread and cereal, and begin to eat more whole-grain rice and pasta products.

Enjoy Some Dairy Products
Try small amounts of cheese, and eat Greek or plain yogurt. You want to make sure to choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

For Dessert, Eat Fresh Fruit
Instead of ice cream or cake, opt for strawberries, fresh figs, grapes, or apples.

Spice It Up
Herbs and spices make food tasty and can stand in for salt and fat in recipes.

 

Myths And Facts Of A Mediterranean Diet

Following a Mediterranean diet has many benefits, but there are still a lot of misconceptions on exactly how to take advantage of the lifestyle to lead a healthier, longer life. The following are some myths and facts about the Mediterranean diet.

Myth 1: It costs a lot to eat this way.
Fact: If you're creating meals out of beans or lentils as your main source of protein, and sticking with mostly plants and whole grains, then the Mediterranean diet is less expensive than serving dishes of meat, cheese, and processed foods.

Myth 2: If one glass of wine is good for your heart, than three glasses is three times as healthy.
Fact: Moderate amounts of red wine (one drink a day for women; two for men) certainly has unique health benefits for your heart, but drinking too much has the opposite effect. Anything more than two glasses of wine can actually be bad for your heart.

Myth 3: Eating large bowls of pasta and bread is the Mediterranean way.
Fact: Typically, Mediterraneans don't eat a heaping plate of pasta the way Americans do. Instead, pasta is usually a side dish with about a 1/2-cup to 1-cup serving size. The rest of their plate consists of salads, vegetables, a small portion of meat, and perhaps one slice of bread.

Myth 4: If you follow the traditional Mediterranean diet then you will lose weight.
Fact: Those living on Greek islands don’t enjoy good cardiovascular health just by eating differently; they walk up and down steep hills to tend to their garden and animals, often living off what they can grow themselves. Physical labor plays a large role.

Myth 5: The Mediterranean diet is only about the food.
Fact: The food is a huge part of the diet, yes, but don't overlook the other ways the Mediterraneans life their lives. When they sit down for a meal, they don't sit in front of a television or eat in a rush; they sit down for a relaxed, leisurely meal with others, which may be just as important for your health as what's on your plate.

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