Michael Pollan said: “Real food is things that your great-grandmother (or someone’s great-grandmother) would recognize.” I believe the Mediterranean diet has been shown time and time again to be a healthy, effective diet because, first and foremost, it’s based on fresh, whole ingredients.
Among the many benefits of the Mediterranean diet, it has been considered the best anti-aging diet since some of the world’s oldest and healthiest people—mainly in Greece and other parts of the, ahem, Mediterranean—follow it. The diet is based on fatty fish, vegetables, ripe fruits, olive oil, nuts, seeds, unrefined grains, an occasional glass of red wine and minimal amounts of meat and full-fat dairy.
Other benefits of this ageless diet are:
- Great for heart health! A large cohort study (PREDIMED trial) showed that adapting a Mediterranean diet*—specifically increasing extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) or mixed nuts intake—could be used as primary prevention for cardiovascular disease, showing as much as 30% of reduced incidence of major cardiovascular events among high-risk individuals. In addition, a small study showed a 9% decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.
- Reduces incidence of cancer, cancer mortality, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases
- 19% less likely to develop thinking and memory problems and better retention of mental skills
- Fewer hot flashes and night sweats—up to 20%!
- Anti-inflammatory, due to its high amount of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and omega-3 fatty acids
*PREDIMED Trial: Generally, the Mediterranean diet groups consumed fatty fish 2-3 times per week, legumes 3 times per week, 4 tbsp. olive oil per day, 1 ounce of nuts each day, at least 3 servings of fruit and 2 of vegetables each day, and, for those accustomed to drinking, ~7 glasses of red wine per week.
Why does it work? The diet focuses on natural, unprocessed foods (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans) that often maximize the health-promoting micronutrient and antioxidant content as well as fiber content. It is high in mono and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil/avocados/pine nuts and fish/nuts, respectively. Olives are also particularly rich in polyphenols, which are very strong antioxidants. In addition, it limits saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and sodium, which have been shown to have an increased association with heart disease, cancer and stroke, among other chronic conditions. Usually, sweets are limited to fruits and/or honey, while processed snacks and empty calories are scarce—a great recipe for decreasing diabetes and metabolic syndrome! The lifestyle component or “non-food component” of the diet, as shown in the Mediterranean Food Pyramid, encourages pairing the diet with daily exercise, mindful eating and stress management. Enjoying meals with family is also considered to be an important aspect of the diet.
How to follow it? Generally speaking, the below is a good guideline to follow.
- Include a vegetable and/or fruit at every meal. Aim for 5 to 9 cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Think about including deep, colorful choices.
- Always choose whole grain! Some tasty options are buckwheat, bulgur, brown rice, oats, and millet.
- Non-meat proteins are encouraged from a variety of legumes (beans, dried peas and lentils) and eggs (anywhere from 4 to 7 per week).
- Olive oil is the principal source of fat: approximately 1-2 tbsp. daily, in addition to nuts and seeds (about ¼ cup).
- Fatty fish or poultry (free-range) should be consumed 2 times per week, 3-4 ounces per portion.
- Limit red meat (ideally lean and grass-fed) to a few times per month.
- Limit sweets to fresh fruit and a touch of honey.
- Consume moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt, preferably low-fat/non-fat.
- If you drink, drink wine in moderation (optional): about 1 glass for women and 1-2 glasses for men (5 oz. per glass).
- Flavor with herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Slow down. Sit down at a table to eat each meal/snack.
- Be active! Even though going to the gym usually translates as a stronger, more powerful workout, it’s important to also remain active throughout the day by taking the stairs, walking during your lunch break, or standing instead of sitting while you type!
What do you like the most about the Mediterranean diet?
Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD
Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr
Edited by TCabrarr
Photo of Tuna (Yellowfin, preferred) by Evan Goldenberg on Flickr.