Mediterranean Diet

History

The Mediterranean Diet gained popularity in the 1990s. However, it has been a part of the culture of many European countries, including Greece, Spain and Italy, for ages. The principles of the Mediterranean Diet are generally consistent from country to country but specific food choices are altered depending on the region and what food is available.

An essential feature of the Mediterranean Diet is a focus on fruits, vegetables and grains as well as including extra virgin olive oil and a moderate consumption of red wine.

Attention began to surround the Mediterranean Diet in the 1990s after studies showed that residents of the Mediterranean region had far lower rates of cardiovascular disease when compared to people living in the United States.

This was shocking to many scientists because the Mediterranean Diet is relatively high in fat; however, they soon realized that the portions and types of food consumed provided a number of antioxidants, healthy fats and beneficial fiber.

Basic Principles

One of the basic principles of the Mediterranean Diet is a focus on plant-based foods including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts. Bread is an important component of the diet, and whole grain breads offer very few unhealthy fats.

Fruits and vegetables provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients and are typically consumed whole and unprocessed. Some preparation can occur, but rarely should any foods be fried. On the Mediterranean Diet, each meal should be centered around these plant-based foods.

Another principle guiding principle of the Mediterranean Diet is the consumption of fish and seafood as the primary source of protein. One of the benefits of consuming fish is the addition of Omega-3 fatty acids. These are healthy fats which help in controlling cholesterol levels. In fact, red meat should be consumed rarely, perhaps only once or twice per month. Other acceptable forms of protein on the Mediterranean Diet include poultry, eggs, nuts and low-fat dairy.

A third principle of the Mediterranean Diet is the addition of olive oil to most meals. Rather than using unhealthy fats like butter, the addition of extra virgin olive oil has several health benefits. First, extra virgin olive oil is minimally processed so it retains phytochemicals that offer tremendous health benefits, similar to other antioxidants. Second, as a monounsaturated fat, olive oil helps to lower LDL cholesterol levels.

The final principle is that this should truly be a Mediterranean lifestyle, rather than a Mediterranean Diet. The lifestyle involves eating healthy foods, being physically active, and enjoying leisurely meals. In fact, people living in the Mediterranean region do not think of themselves as on a diet, but rather living their lives.

This healthy lifestyle results in many health benefits–healthy weight, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, decreased risk of cancer, decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease and decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Considerations

The Mediterranean Diet is one of the few diets that has a substantial amount of research and studies supporting it. In fact, research has proven that the Mediterranean Diet is one of the best in the world. Because the diet only allows for limited amounts of sodium, sweets, red meat and saturated fats, significant health benefits have been noted.

These benefits typically result in a longer, healthier life. Additionally, being physically active and eating a variety of healthy, whole foods can contribute to weight loss.

A 2011 study concluded that the Mediterranean Diet decreases the risk of getting metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and increased abdominal fat.

Furthermore, the Mediterranean Diet also reduces risk factors that lead to heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Research does seem to support that in choosing the Mediterranean Diet you are clearly making a choice that leads to a healthier lifestyle.

One of the final factors to consider in choosing the Mediterranean Diet is the cost. Although there is no subscription fee and there are no prepackaged meals to buy, you will most likely encounter a higher grocery bill. The diet calls for fresh, whole foods.

Finding ways to purchase seasonal fruits and vegetables is one way to keep the cost under control. You can also find a number of recipes and food plans, which are available online and in books.

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