Let’s go to the MED!
Rarely do we find a well-balanced “diet” or weight loss approach that peaks our interest for its health claims and manageability…
Enter: The Mediterranean Diet.
Originating in Southern Italy and Greece, this diet takes a different approach to eating— and focuses on the importance of whole, well-balanced foods including lots of fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables. In fact, it is not really a “diet” at all— it’s more of a healthy approach to food!
So, what do Mediterranean people typically eat?
This means the diet is high in healthy fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6, which are the only two fatty acids that your body cannot create naturally. In addition to fat, the diet also emphasizes the importance of eating fruits, vegetables, legumes (like beans and chickpeas), and whole grains. Lean protein, like eggs and poultry, are also included in moderation and red meat can be consumed on occasion. Clearly, this approach gives you a lot of choices— but, it asks you to cut back on the sugar. While we all love the occasional sugar fix, as we reviewed in “Sugar is Sugar is Sugar,” most of us are over-indulging.
The average American typically eats 2-3x more than the recommended daily amount of sugar. The World Health Organization recommends that we reduce the intake of added sugar to at least 10% of our daily energy intake. They further indicate that a reduction to below 5% would provide additional health benefits. This equates to about 100 calories or five to six teaspoons a day.
Taking this one step further, the Mediterranean diet recommends that you only eat refined sugar (i.e. baked treats, sweetened beverages, and candy) a few times a week.
How is the Mediterranean diet different?
And people are catching on…
Additionally, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, Department of Nutrition, “Together with regular physical activity and not smoking, our analyses suggest that over 80% of coronary heart disease, 70% of stroke, and 90% of type 2 diabetes can be avoided by healthy food choices that are consistent with the traditional Mediterranean diet.”
The Mediterranean diet is linked to reduction in heart disease
This randomized study monitored 7447 participants who were considered “high risk” for cardiovascular disease (CVD) over a five-year period. The study included three groups:
- Mediterranean diet, provision of extra-virgin olive oil
- Mediterranean diet, provision of mixed nuts
- Reduced dietary fat diet (control group)
“As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory. This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”
-study author Michelle Luciano, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland
Can I eat like a Mediterranean?
Yes! You can. It takes a more thoughtful approach to food purchase and preparation, but ingredients are readily available at any grocery store and cookbooks are full of information.
Have some fun in the kitchen, and start to recognize healthy ingredients when you dine out! What we like about the Mediterranean approach is that you are not forced into any particular diet plan. And one of its biggest benefits? A variety in food choices!
It is important to keep in mind, however, that every body is different and processes food a little bit differently. In fact, individual ingredients are not usually unhealthy or healthy on their own, but rather the overconsumption or under consumption of that one particular item. Thus, portion control and diet variety is important on this regimen. Over-consuming almonds and olive oil, for example, can be unhealthy!
In an interview with The NY Post, Lisa Dierks, Wellness Nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic, highlights a very important part of the Mediterranean diet— the dedication to number of servings. The average American falls short on the daily recommended intake of both fruits and veggies, and the Mediterranean diet asks that you increase that intake from five servings a day to roughly six or seven servings. You need to be aware of the amount of fruits and vegetables you are getting every single day.
The Bottom Line:
This is not a fad diet! It is a healthy way to approach food. The well-balanced, whole foods approach of the Mediterranean diet is beneficial to your heart and your health. Seek out recipes or menu items that honor fresh, local ingredients that are prepared simply. Eating like a Mediterranean promotes healthy eating over your lifetime.
Gunnars, Kris. “5 Studies on The Mediterranean Diet – Does it Really Work?” Authority Nutrition. N.p., 18 Aug. 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
“Heart Disease Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Aug. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., M.P.H., and Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D. N Engl J Med 2013; 368:1353-1354 April 4, 2013.
“Mediterranean Diet May Have Lasting Effects on Brain Health.” American Academy of Neurology . American Academy of Neurology , n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
McCulloch, David, MD. “The Mediterranean Diet.” Group Health. N.p., 07 May 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
Sambrook, Dr Jan. “Mediterranean Diet.” How to Follow the Mediterranean Diet | Health | Patient. Patient.info, n.d. . 4 January 2017. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
Shea, Molly. “Why the Mediterranean diet is still the best way to lose weight.” New York Post. N.p., 23 Jan. 2017. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, et al; Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2008 Sep 11 337:a1344. doi: 10.1136/bmj.a1344.