Fad diets come and go, but few are effective for long-term weight control. But there’s one diet that has stood the test of time, and it’s as good for controlling weight as it is for preventing disease. The Mediterranean diet might better be called a lifetime healthy eating plan rather than a diet since diet implies something short-term. What is a Mediterranean diet, and how can it help you be healthier?
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
People who live along the Mediterranean Sea are known for their good health and longevity, which experts attribute to their healthy approach to eating. The Mediterranean diet that they eat on a daily basis is rich in whole grain foods, nuts, fresh vegetables, fruits and lean protein sources prepared with heart-healthy olive oil, and they sometimes enjoy a glass of antioxidant-rich red wine with a meal. They eat red meat with much less frequency than in Western countries, and their favored form of protein is fish. They rarely eat processed foods and don’t prepare foods by frying, but steam or grill it instead.
What are the Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most heart-healthy diets you can eat. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are packed with soluble fiber that helps to lower cholesterol levels, and red wine sipped in moderation helps to raise levels of HDL, the heart-healthy “good” cholesterol. The Mediterranean diet is naturally low in artery-clogging saturated fat since it’s a diet that limits red meat.
Fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines are rich in a healthier form of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help to lower blood triglyceride levels and prevent abnormal platelet clumping that can contribute to a heart attack. These healthy fats also lower blood pressure. Nuts and seeds, which are also a part of the Mediterranean diet, are good sources of monounsaturated fats, another fat that’s good for the heart.
Worried about diabetes? The Mediterranean diet emphasizes low-glycemic carbohydrates found in whole grains and fresh produce. This helps to stabilize insulin levels and ward off type 2 diabetes. Fiber-rich foods are filling, and most fruits and vegetables are low in calories, so it also helps in the battle against middle-age weight gain and obesity.
The Mediterranean diet may also boost your mental health. Some small studies show that people who eat a Mediterranean diet are less likely to be depressed. It also offers protection against degenerative diseases of the central nervous system such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Beginning a Mediterranean Diet
It’s not difficult to switch over to a Mediterranean diet. You don’t have to calculate carbs or fat grams or eat a narrow range of foods. In fact, on a Mediterranean diet, you can enjoy a diversity of foods that please the palate, mind, and body. Start by eliminating or cutting back on processed and packaged foods. Replace them, along with potatoes and white rice, with fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead of buying white bread, choose whole grain bread with high fiber content. Use olive oil to prepare salad dressings and for low-temperature sautéing. Explore some of the many cookbooks that focus on the Mediterranean diet.
The Bottom Line?
A Mediterranean diet is both taste-pleasing and healthy. Don’t fall for every fad diet that comes along. A Mediterranean diet is one you can live with – and live longer too.
FASEB J. 21(13): 3511-21.
Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. BMJ 2008; 337: a1344. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a1344