How would you like to spend some time at a café in Ibiza or lose yourself on a Greek island? To get to know Nice, visit Naples, or explore Morocco? While waiting for these dream vacations, you can start out by adopting the way people eat in that part of the world—and enjoy the many Mediterranean diet benefits.
A Mediterranean-style eating pattern (hereafter referred to as “Med diet”)—rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and high in fish and low in red meat—relies on unsaturated fats from sources such as olive oil and sunflower seeds.
Below are seven powerful reasons you should switch to a Mediterranean style of eating.
#1 It’s good for your heart. The Med diet is highly comprised of fresh foods. As much as you can, banish (or minimize intake of) processed foods and junk food from your diet. Many foods found in the Med diet may also be good for the heart. Olive oil and nuts help to lower cholesterol. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help to keep the arteries clear. Intake of fatty fish can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts, and in fish) help to lower triglycerides and blood pressure and support heart health.
#2 Healthy fats are permitted, in moderation. Healthy fats are found in foods like nuts, olives, and olive oil. These ingredients can add flavor to food and help fight diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Healthy fats are also well-known to provide cognitive health benefits. On the other hand, avoid saturated fats and trans fats, which are found in many processed foods.
Elements of the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern
- Focus on plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
- Replace butter with healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil
- Limit the use of salt in your cooking
- Use fresh herbs and spices to add delicious and complex flavors to your foods
- Keep red meat intake to a minimum (a few times a month, maximum)
#3 Have your wine…and drink it too. It’s customary to drink wine with meals in the countries of the Mediterranean region, especially red wine. Wine may help promote relaxation and can help fight cardiovascular disease. But keep it to one glass a day for women and two for men. By the way, if you don’t drink, you don’t have to start.
#4 Variety. And lots of it. The Med diet includes not only Greek or Italian cuisine, but also the foods of France, Spain, Turkey, and other countries in the region. But choose the healthier foods from these varied cuisines. Remember that French cuisine can be heavy in saturated fats from butter and cream. And Spanish food can include lots of white rice. Be choosy! Remember the basics: Avoid red meat, whole milk, and dairy products prepared with whole milk. You can eat fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fresh fish, and whole grains.
#5 Enjoy a plethora of fresh herbs and spices for an unbelievable flavor experience! Mediterranean herbs and spices such as bay leaves, coriander, rosemary, garlic, pepper, and cinnamon, among others, give meals lots of flavor. Some of these even have antioxidant properties that help fight various diseases. (You don’t need added salt!)
#6 Fill up on fiber! Because many of these foods are good sources of fiber, they are digested slowly and can help keep you feeling full longer. And an additional benefit: the Med diet can help you maintain a healthy weight after a weight-loss diet. This was revealed in a study by the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Israel, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
#7 It’s good for your brain! Foods that protect the heart may also protect the mind. A research study at The University of Exeter suggests that the Med diet may protect the brain from aging and reduces the risk of schizophrenia and age-related diseases such as dementia.
Benefits of the Med Diet: Fending off Disease
If you want to give your family the gift of health and even prolong your life and theirs—switch to a Med diet at home as soon as you can. From your own kitchen, you could be fighting conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity.
But remember that, more than just a way of eating, the Med diet is a lifestyle. If you want to maximize its great benefits, combine elements of this dietary pattern with appropriate levels of physical activity, and aim to reduce stress. The dietary adaptations along with behavior change may be just what you are looking for!
—Kristen N. Smith, PhD, RDN
(Adapted from www.universityhealthnews.com)