A healthy diet is essential for good health and nutrition. It can improve your athletic performance, protect you against chronic disease, and reduce obesity. The only problem is that most diets are so restrictive, that they’re unsustainable long term. Drastically cutting calories and eliminating foods, doesn’t induce change, but promotes failure. The Mediterranean diet is based on traditional foods eaten by those living in the Mediterranean region of Europe. It’s full of nutrient dense whole foods, whole grains, fish, vegetables, and healthy fats. Studies have shown that eating a Mediterranean based diet, can help reduce obesity, reduce your risk of heart disease, and improve overall quality of life. We’re going to dive into the details of the Mediterranean diet and give you the information, so you can decide if it’s a good fit for your lifestyle.
What Is The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is not really considered a diet, nor is it marketed as a traditional diet, which are associated with supporting short term weight loss. Instead, it’s intended to create a lifestyle change in your eating habits. It’s a pattern of eating deeply rooted in the coastal Mediterranean region established in countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy, and France. Numerous studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can promote weight loss, minimize the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Mediterranean Diet Foods
The Mediterranean diet promotes healthy dietary choices based on the foods available in the Olive-tree growing areas of the Mediterranean basin. The Mediterranean diet follows a similar dietary pattern across different countries; however, there are differences due to regional, cultural, and religious factors. However, amongst those variations olive oil serves a central position.
Unlike traditional diets, the Mediterranean diet does not follow strict guidelines, a rubric, or diet template. No counting calories, no tracking macros, just simply eating a well-rounded diet consisting of healthy fats, lean proteins, and high-quality carbohydrates, with minimally processed foods. You eat when you’re hungry, consuming the traditional three meals per day. If you get hungry between meals you can eat fresh raw vegetables, fruit, or high protein snacks like Greek yogurt.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by the following guidelines
- Base every meal around an abundance of fruits, vegetables, full of antioxidants and darker in color
- Include nuts, legumes, and whole grains free of preservatives, refined grains, and minimally processed foods
- Cheese and yogurt are too be consumed daily yet in minimal amounts
- Fish and poultry consumed in moderate amounts a few times a week
- Red meat is limited and consumed in moderate amounts and less frequently than other forms of protein
- wine consumed in low to moderate amounts, usually with meals
- Water should be consumed abundantly
Mediterranean Diet Foods List
- Vegetables: Tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams
- Fruit: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts, chickpeas
- Whole grains: Whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole-grain bread, and pasta.
- Protein: Salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, mussels, Chicken, duck, turkey, eggs, quail eggs, duck eggs, lamb
- Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, Greek yogurt,
- Herbs and spices: garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper.
- Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado, avocado oil, walnuts
- Drink: Water, tea, coffee, moderate amount of red wine
Mediterranean Diet Benefits
Reduces The Risk Of Heart Disease
A research study, called the Seven Countries Study, investigated the Mediterranean diet pattern of eating, and how the intake of individual fatty acids affected dietary cholesterol and mortality rates from coronary heart disease.
Between 1958 and 1964, risk factors for coronary heart disease were measured among 12,763 middle-aged men constituting 16 cohorts in seven countries. During the 25-year follow up, strong positive associations were observed between 25-year death rates from coronary heart disease and average intake of the four major saturated fatty acids, lauric, myristic, palmitic, and stearic acid. The study concluded that foods consistent with the Mediterranean region and pattern of eating were associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) compared to northern European countries and dietary habits in the United States [R]
Supports Weight Loss
Including quality lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates made from whole grains, is the best approach to creating a sustainable healthy dietary lifestyle. Diet culture and conventional diets, such as Keto, Atkins, and Paleo can be restrictive, eliminating foods, and cutting calories. Although the Mediterranean diet has been shown to provide longevity, there really are no restrictions, just general guidelines that help you choose healthier food choices, based around natural, raw ingredients.
A large cohort study with more than 32,000 participants found that those following a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of obesity and abdominal fat [R].
Even though the Mediterranean diet promotes weight loss and a sustainable lifestyle change, if you want to lose weight, you still need to be in a caloric deficit, between your total daily energy expenditure and your resting metabolic rate.
May Slow Cognitive Decline
Evidence suggests that following a Mediterranean diet can potentially protect against cognitive decline and prevent progressive disease states such as Alzheimer’s disease.
A review published in the journal Frontiers In Nutrition analyzed 11 studies which investigated the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on brain health. The review concluded that that greater adherence to Mediterranean diet is associated with slower cognitive decline and lower risk of developing Alzheimer disease [R].
Mediterranean Diet: Takeaway
No one diet works well for everyone. It’s important to choose a nutrition plan that works well for you and that meets your dietary needs. The Mediterranean diet is a well-researched and proven pattern of eating, which can reduce your risk of heart disease, help you lose weight, and reach your goals. Instead of a short-term solution, it’s a long term and sustainable change for your health and longevity.
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Kromhout D, Menotti A, Bloemberg B, Aravanis C, Blackburn H, Buzina R, Dontas AS, Fidanza F, Giampaoli S, Jansen A, et al. Dietary saturated and trans fatty acids and cholesterol and 25-year mortality from coronary heart disease: the Seven Countries Study. Prev Med. 1995 May;24(3):308-15. doi: 10.1006/pmed.1995.1049. PMID: 7644455.
Agnoli, Claudia et al. “Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and long-term changes in weight and waist circumference in the EPIC-Italy cohort.” Nutrition & diabetes vol. 8,1 22. 25 Apr. 2018, doi:10.1038/s41387-018-0023-3
Lourida, Ilianna; Soni, Maya; Thompson-Coon, Joanna; Purandare, Nitin; Lang, Iain A.; Ukoumunne, Obioha C.; Llewellyn, David J. Mediterranean Diet, Cognitive Function, and Dementia: A Systematic Review, Epidemiology: July 2013 - Volume 24 - Issue 4 - p 479-489 doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e3182944410