Many seem to constantly be searching for a diet to help us maintain a balanced, healthy lifestyle without sacrificing flavor. Unlike fad diets which often are not sustainable in the long-term, the Mediterranean diet offers a variety of health benefits that make it worth considering. Here’s what you need to know:
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is based on combining a variety of necessary dietary components while substituting unhealthy fats for better, more natural options. The structure itself is primarily centered on plant foods, olive oil, poultry, fish, grains, and beans.
In addition to the combination of many different food groups, many people enjoy the fact that this diet option incorporates much more wine than most other diets. A key to the wine component, as with all other aspects of dietary consumption, is that the Mediterranean diet focuses on moderation across the board.
How Did it Originate?
While the diet is commonly considered to have a specific origin, the Mediterranean diet is based off the habits of a number of countries in Southern Europe, such as Italy, France, Morocco, Spain, and Greece. The diet itself is reflective of the natural options in southern Europe and has traditionally been referred to as a “poor man’s diet.” As fish and grains are in abundance in the region, learning how to take advantage of the resources available was necessary for early survival.
As southern Europe provides a somewhat harsh condition for crops, the few that flourished, such as olives and grapes, were incorporated into dishes in a variety of ways. As bread, olive oil, and wine had served as a staple in the region from Roman times, the incorporation of meats came with the clash of Roman and Germanic cultures, providing more complex sauces blending the two cultures.
What Foods Can I Eat?
As the Mediterranean diet is based off multiple cultures, it can see a fair amount of variety from one person to the next while maintaining the same core components. Many of the following food are typically included:
- Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
- Fish and poultry
- Red wine
- Olive oil as a main source of fat (opposed to butter)
- Herbs and spices
- Nuts (tree nuts)
Some components may have a greater emphasis than others due to the variety among the different countries in southern Europe. For example, pasta from grains in Italy is consumed far more regularly than in Greece, where fruits and vegetables make up a significant portion of the diet.
What Foods Should I Avoid?
Generally speaking, the foods that are most important to avoid are those that are high in trans fats or are processed. Trans fats have been shown to increase cholesterol and, in turn, increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. Some of the key components to limit are as follows:
- Red meat (no more than a couple times a month)
- Processed foods
In order to ensure all health benefits possible from following the Mediterranean diet, buying fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and poultry on a weekly basis is highly recommended. Additionally, it is important to stay away from bread and pasta that contain excess preservatives.
What Are the Health Benefits?
While there is still some degree of speculation as to how the Mediterranean diet improves health, it has been shown that those who follow it are at a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease than the general public.
The focus on healthy sources of fats, opposed to trans fats, lowers cholesterol and prevents clogging of the arteries. This promotes adequate blood flow, especially when paired with exercise, and provides benefits from heart health to circulatory benefits.
Antioxidants from grapes, whether consumed through wine or juice, can help fight any number of diseases, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
Bone health is also believed to be improved through the incorporation of this diet. While the mechanism itself is not well understood, olive oil has shown an ability to increase bone strength, helping fight against conditions like osteoporosis.
Finally, and certainly not least important, is the Mediterranean diet’s focus on sharing food with others. Sharing meals in a social setting regularly can provide for amazing mental health benefits, combating depression and other mental health conditions.
Consult a Physician
Before beginning any new diet or exercise regimen, it is recommended to consult a licensed healthcare professional. At Regional Neurological Associates in New York, our physicians believe in treating the causes of neurological conditions, not just the symptoms. In many cases, this includes a combination of lifestyle changes such as diet, along with the latest technology and procedures to provide the best possible patient outcomes. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (718) 515-4347.