With the abundance of “diets” that you might read about, it can be head-spinning to figure out which one you should follow. A number of different studies, including one by US News and World Report, along with a panel of experts, concluded that of the 41 diets they compared, the Mediterranean diet came out on top.
What’s important to understand about the Mediterranean diet is that it is actually a lifestyle that doesn’t prevent you from eating anything in particular but instead emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil, fish and seafood as well as moderate consumption of eggs, dairy and red wine. Red meat plays a very small role and processed foods are not encouraged. In addition, it emphasizes physical activity and social relationships.
The health benefits of following the Mediterranean diet are wide-ranging:
- Improved heart health – studies of thousands of people who consume the Mediterranean style diet show that they have a much lower risk of heart attack or stroke. This is likely due to the regular consumption of healthy fats like those found in nuts, olive oil and fatty fish.
- Preventing or reversing metabolic syndrome – the combination of high blood pressure, excess fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, known as metabolic syndrome, leads to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. The Mediterranean diet helps reduce belly fat and high blood pressure while increasing HDL “good” cholesterol and lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol. It also helps improve blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.
- Healthier weight and metabolism – one of the many benefits of eating whole foods that are high in fiber is that you stay full longer and are less likely to overeat and gain weight.
- Great for brain health – the consumption of healthy fats also benefit your brain resulting in improved cognition and memory.
- Reduced risk of cancer – the variety of colorful plant foods in the Mediterranean diet are high in antioxidants that reduce chronic inflammation. This results in a much lower risk of breast, colorectal and gastric cancers.
- Gut health – this plant-heavy diet is high in fiber and feeds the good bacteria living in your gut. Gut health is an important contributor to your overall health and immune systems.
- Improved quality and length of life – the overall reduction of disease risk factors leads to living longer without chronic illness or cognitive problems.
The main components of the Mediterranean diet are as follows:
- Eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats every day, including olive oil, beans, nuts and seeds
- Fish, poultry and eggs are consumed moderately, on a weekly basis
- Dairy is used in small to moderate amounts
- Red meat is limited to, at most, a few times a month
- Enjoy a glass of red wine with meals, 1 per day for women and 2 per day for men. Other beverages include water, sparkling water, tea and coffee.
- Use plenty of herbs and spices for flavor
- Avoid processed foods and those with excess added sugars, as well as refined grains, trans fats and refined vegetable oils like soybean and corn oil.
Incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle means that you’ll be focused on eating natural, whole foods and home-cooked, vegetable-forward meals that are shared with friends and family and an occasional glass of wine. All this comes with the added bonus of improved health!