Nutrition

The Mediterranean Diet: Why It’s The Healthiest Approach to Eating Food

These days, there seems to be a new diet fad or weight loss program every week. But we all know - diets aren't sustainable. Wondering if there is a well-researched, sound concept around healthy eating that works for the long run? Cue the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is far from a fad. It's a way of life! We've mapped out exactly what it is, and why the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle you should consider adopting.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

First, let’s take a look at the Mediterranean diet. When people refer to it as a “diet-that’s-not-a-diet,” they are implying that you shouldn’t view this diet in the traditional sense of fad meal plans and structured eating programs. The Mediterranean diet is a way of life, and rather than a step-by-step means to lose weight. In fact, weight management is just one of many Mediterranean diet benefits.

The American Heart Association (AHA) notes there are 16 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, the region of the world where the Mediterranean diet originates. All of these countries have their own eating patterns, but they all share some core concepts that make up the Mediterranean diet as we know it in the US.

These basic principles include:

  • Olive oil as a primary healthy fat source
  • High consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds
  • Low consumption of dairy products
  • Moderate consumption of fish and poultry
  • Little to no consumption of red meat
  • Low consumption of eggs
  • The inclusion of low to moderate amounts of wine weekly, usually with meals, average 7 glasses a week
  • Use of herbs and spices for flavoring; little to no salt
Unlike other diets, the Mediterranean encourages quality time with friends and family. This way of eating encourages moderate amounts of red wine — around 1 glass per day.

For diehard dieters, it may seem concerning that a high amount of calories in the Mediterranean diet come from fat, but according to the AHA, the fat in the Mediterranean diet is monounsaturated fat, the kind that doesn’t raise blood cholesterol like saturated fat does. What’s more, the average Mediterranean diet plan has less saturated fat than the average American diet.

The Benefits of A Mediterranean Diet

What’s the most important thing on your mind right now? Does it have to do with weight loss? If so, you’ll be pleased to know one of the many Mediterranean diet benefits is that of weight reduction.

In April 2016, Harvard Medical School reported a review of five dietary studies showed favorable results for the Mediterranean diet. When compared to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet, low-carb diets, and low-fat diets, the Mediterranean diet had one of the highest weight loss success rates. According to the data, individuals on this diet lost between 9 and 22 pounds over the course of a year, a rate similar to that of low-carb diets and the ADA diet.

Now that you’ve been assured of the potential Mediterranean diet benefits linked to weight management, it’s time to look at some other benefits as well.

Numerous studies have shown that this way of eating can trigger weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and premature death.

While weight loss tends to be the biggest worry on a dieter’s mind, it’s not necessarily the most important of the Mediterranean diet benefits, though it does have a lot to do with the primary benefit. What is that primary benefit? The reduction of cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Over the last ten years, there have been a number of studies–both large and small–pointing to cardiovascular benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but in 2013, research published The New England Journal of Medicine showed the Mediterranean diet is the number one diet option for people who seek better cardiovascular health.  According to the study, “an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet supplemented with either extra-virgin olive oil or nuts resulted in an absolute risk reduction of approximately 3 major cardiovascular events per 1000 person-years, for a relative risk reduction of approximately 30%.”

What does that mean for you? It means focusing on a Mediterranean diet plan could significantly reduce your risk for issues like heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and hardening of the arteries.

It just so happens the 2013 data also supported previous findings that Mediterranean diet benefits also include:

  • Reduction of inflammation in the body
  • Less harmful oxidation in the body
  • A decline in cellular dysfunction
  • Reduced metabolic dysfunction and diabetes risk

Examples of Mediterranean Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, & Dinner

While there is no cookie-cutter Mediterranean diet program, the American Diabetes Association offers these example meals that showcase the core food principles of a Mediterranean lifestyle:

Though there is not one defined Mediterranean diet, this way of eating is generally rich in healthy plant foods and relatively lower in animal foods, with a specific focus on fish and other seafoods.

Breakfast

Cereal with fruit and soy nuts

  • ¾ cup of bran flakes cereal served with:
  • ½ cup skim milk
  • 1 cup cubed cantaloupe
  • ¼ cup unsalted soy nuts
  • 8 fluid ounces coffee served with:
  • 1 packet of artificial sweetener
  • 1 tablespoon fat-free half-and-half

Lunch

Salmon stuffed with spinach and feta

  • 1 fillet salmon stuffed with spinach and feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup herb and olive oil mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup steamed sugar snap peas
  • 1 peach

Snack

Hummus and fresh vegetables

  • 1/3 cup hummus
  • 1 cup cucumber slices
  • 8 baby carrots

Dinner

Mozzarella, tomato, and chickpea salad

  • 1/2 cup mozzarella, tomato, and chickpea salad
  • 1/2 whole wheat pita
  • 2 tablespoons of Greek yogurt dip (tzatziki sauce)
  • 3/4 cup red grapes

Evening snack

Greek yogurt

  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt mixed with 2 tablespoons of chopped pecans and 1 Clementine

Beverage

  • One glass of wine a day
  • Water

Remember, just because you’ve adopted the Mediterranean style of eating doesn’t mean you can ignore other important healthy lifestyle habits. Be sure to exercise regularly, and while eating healthy, be sure to keep appropriate portion sizes. Any healthy diet can become unhealthy if you overindulge!

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