More and more scientific studies are suggesting that a Mediterranean diet is an excellent choice when it comes to good health. Not only this but the people of the Mediterranean have long been a healthy population, in general they are plagued with far less lifestyle diseases than other parts of the western world and live longer as a result.
There is little doubt that a Mediterranean style diet confers health benefits and can reduce risk of various diseases if followed for an extended amount of time.
So is the Mediterranean diet something we should all be aiming for? How easy is it to follow and why is it so healthy for us?
What is a Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is one based on the traditional foods eaten in the Mediterranean region. The diet is based on a high intake of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and wholegrain cereals, as well as fish and poultry which are the main sources of protein.
Red meat is limited and low fat dairy is consumed in only moderate amounts. The diet contains moderate levels of fat; however these fats are from healthy unsaturated sources such as olive oil, rather than saturated forms such as animal fats.
A Mediterranean diet also ideally contains limited amounts of processed or fast food.
In terms of beverages, water is the main drink of choice, however moderate amounts of wine, particularly red, are also consumed daily. Tea and coffee are also common as part of this eating style.
Aside from the food components of the diet, the attitude to food found in this region is also thought to be important in developing healthy eating habits. Meal times are seen as important and not be rushed, with the family usually sitting down together to eat.
Numerous studies have cited the benefit of a Mediterranean style diet or one of the various components of such a diet. A meta-analysis of a range studies that analysed the association between adherence to a Mediterranean diet with mortality and incidence of disease suggested that increased adherence to such a diet was significantly associated with decreased cardiovascular death and mortality from cancer, as well as reduced incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2011 study also suggested that those following a Mediterranean diet have a decreased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, whilst another suggested decreased risk of diabetes and increased insulin sensitivity.
A Spanish study this year looked at the effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts and olive oil in one group compared with a group advised to follow a lower fat diet. This study concluded that the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower risk of stroke and major cardiovascular events.
Note: You can Download the caloriesecrets diet which is based on the mediterranean dietary pattern
Healthy Components of the Mediterranean Diet
The main fat source in a Mediterranean style diet, olive oil is high in healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids. These are thought to play a key part in reducing risk of heart disease, benefiting blood sugar control and possibly even in weight management.
Olive oil also contains antioxidants which are thought to protect the body against damage from harmful compound we encounter in day to day life. To follow a Mediterranean diet, try replacing saturated animal based fats such as butter, which are unhealthy, with olive oil.
Fish is lower in saturated fats than red meat, and so makes an ideal protein alternative. Not only this but oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel and salmon which are common in the Mediterranean region contain high levels of omega three fatty acids which are thought to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Fruit is an excellent source of various vitamins and fibre, while still providing very few calories and no fat. A wide variety of vitamins are needed in the body in order for it to carry out its functions correctly. Fibre keeps the digestive system healthy and can also have some benefit for heart health.
High in fibre, vitamins and minerals, yet low in fat and calories, it is easy to see why vegetables are one of the healthiest components of a Mediterranean diet.
A wide variety of vegetables of different colours will provide you with a good array of different nutrients that are essential for the body to function correctly. High vegetables intakes have been associated with lower body weight, as well as reduced risk of various diseases.
A diet rich in whole-grains has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Foods made with these less processed grains contain more fibre, and higher levels of important B vitamins and so make a much healthier alternative to more processed grains.
High in fibre and healthy fats, nuts make a great healthy snack. A moderate nut intake has recently been linked to decreased risk of heart disease and stroke. Choose unsalted, unroasted varieties for the healthiest option.
Red wine is a staple in Mediterranean countries and has been linked with benefits for heart health due to its antioxidant content. Moderation is the key though, and women should consume no more than one standard drink per day and men two.
References used in this article