The Mediterranean diet has been around for years but recent studies have shed more light on the numerous benefits of this Mediterranean lifestyle and way of eating. There have been quite the number of diet crazes over the past few decades, from low-fat to low-carb and everything in between, but recently there has been a turn toward a more “natural” way of eating that includes cutting out all processed foods and returning to the natural source of our food. Some people adopt a raw food diet while others go vegan and some just work to replace refined carbs with complex carbs. Whatever your choice, it is a good idea to start thinking of improving our eating habits as a lifestyle change and not a diet. Interestingly enough although we are a nation known for our “dieting,” looking at the numbers, we do not really have evidence that our style of eating is working for us. Just look at the statistics
for obesity rates worldwide. Rates are highest in the United States and Mexico and lowest in Japan and Korea, where they eat more fish and unprocessed foods.
So, what exactly is the Mediterranean diet and why should more Americans adopt this way of eating? The Mediterranean diet emphasizes primarily plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts, replacing bad fats with healthy fats, such as olive oil, eating fish and poultry and limiting red meat, reducing additional salt intake and drinking red wine in moderation. Some popular staples of the Mediterranean diet include wild caught
salmon or other kinds of fish, various types of olives
, feta or goat cheese, and of course, extra virgin olive oil
. To most of us who have tried “diets,” the idea of drinking wine and eating cheese as a healthy way of living is enough to make us jump for joy, and maybe that is part of it too: reducing stress and enjoying the foods we eat in moderation. The many physical benefits of adopting this way of eating may be enough to make you question your day to day eating habits.
Reduce the risk of heart disease.
Research supports that following a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, which happens to be the leading cause of death in the U.S. An analysis
of more than 1.5 million healthy adults who followed the Mediterranean diet benefited from reduced risk of death from both cancer and heart disease. The reason for these outstanding benefits has to do with the good fats that are part of the diet. Replacing bad fats, like trans fats or saturated fats, with good fats, like monounsaturated fats, we can lower the “bad” cholesterol LDL and increase the good cholesterol HDL. An easy way to incorporate the good fat, bad fat swap is simply to replace butter with olive oil or replace palm oil with avocado.
Increase your life span.
A 15 year-long study
out of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that after evaluating the diets and medical records of 10,670 women in their late 50’s to early 60’s who followed a Mediterranean diet, 40 percent of these women were more likely to survive to the age of 70 without diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic diseases. Most of us know that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and healthy fats is better for us than eating a diet rich in refined carbohydrates and processed foods but the overall impact on our bodies can affect our lifespan. Beyond the nutritional benefits of the diet, there are also psychological benefits as well. Those who adhere to a Mediterranean style of eating tend to have lower stress, which comes from the lowered cortisol levels and moderate alcohol consumption.
Reduce internal inflammation.
Most of the pain and ailments we experience are a result of inflammation in the body. One of those inflammatory disorders affecting women is Endometriosis. One study
conducted by Dr. Seckin, Co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America, found that a Mediterranean style of eating can actually cure or reduce the inflammation associated with endometriosis. Because the diet contains anti-inflammatory foods, internal inflammation is reduced overall. This diet is also almost entirely naturally gluten free and free of processed foods that are known causes of inflammation.
Slow cognitive loss that leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
looked at patients who adhered to a Mediterranean diet and found that “there was a marked improvement in executive functioning in male participants versus females who consumed a Mediterranean diet.” Like many other studies, this particular study by Samantha Gardener, PhD candidate of the Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, also showed the association of the Mediterranean diet with “slowing of metabolic syndrome, protection of the kidneys, and less risk from other chronic diseases.” In conclusion, Gardener states “our results highlight the importance of eating a healthy diet, with respect to reducing risk for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.” While this research is fairly new, it is an interesting finding that could lead to more research and development in the prevention of cognitive loss disorders.
Prevent and help cure Type II Diabetes.
Diabetics may be at the most advantage for adopting this type of lifestyle. One study
found that “following a Mediterranean and low glycemic load diet may help protect people from developing Type II Diabetes, reducing their risk by up to 20 percent.” Glycemic Index indicates the raise in blood sugar after eating a particular food; diets high in GI, like that of the traditional Western diet, increase insulin demand which can then lead to insulin resistance. The Mediterranean diets of lean proteins, beans, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats, lowering the GI, and therefore prevent the development of Type II Diabetes.
If you are looking to adopt a more Mediterranean style of eating, there are multiple cook books, recipes, and guides on the market. While there are multiple physical and psychological benefits to this way of eating, those who are obese and looking to lose weight should adhere to a meal plan with strict calorie counting. The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating and not necessarily a meal plan so it is best to consult a doctor before any drastic change in eating habits.