Everything You Need To Know About the World’s Healthiest Diet
The Mediterranean diet has had a great year. With both nutritionists and researchers branding it as the world’s healthiest diet, more and more people are beginning to take notice of the Mediterranean diet and the health benefits it has to offer.
Abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and olive oil, the Mediterranean diet is actually quite easy to follow.
A growing body of evidence shows that an eating pattern like the Mediterranean diet can significantly lower the risk for heart disease, stroke, and premature death. And while it’s true that adopting such a diet early in life pays off the most, research shows following the diet in midlife is great for health, too.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet essentially means emulating the dietary habits of people living in Southern Europe. The main principle is to eat large amounts of produce, less meat, more fish, and healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil.
There’s no “fixed” Mediterranean diet as it includes foods consumed frequently by people from Spain, Southern Italy, Turkey, and Greece, among others. But a typical Mediterranean diet commonly includes veggies, fruits, fish, olive oil, nuts, and whole grains like quinoa and brown rice. It also contains moderate amounts of white meat and dairy.
A diet that includes all these foods in the recommended quantities offers a host of health benefits. What sets the Mediterranean diet apart from other diets in the inclusion of healthy fats as the cornerstone of the diet. For this reason, the Mediterranean diet advocates eating nuts, seeds, and oily fish.
Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet
Studies show that people who adhere to a typical Mediterranean diet consume much less saturated fats than those who follow the standard North American diet. As a matter of fact, saturated fat content in the Mediterranean diet is well within the American Heart Association’s dietary guidelines.
In the Mediterranean diet, over half the calories from fat are derived from monounsaturated fats like olive oil. Research shows us that monounsaturated fat doesn’t cause a rise in cholesterol levels the way unhealthy saturated fat does.
According to the American Heart Association, the occurrence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries is significantly lower than in North America – in addition to a lower death rate. Lifestyle factors such as higher levels of physical activity and quality of living significantly influences the rate of mortality and heart disease, the Mediterranean diet plays a major role in keeping the numbers low in those countries.
Hearth health is perhaps the greatest health benefit the Mediterranean diet offers. Research shows following a typical Mediterranean diet that is rich in monounsaturated fats and omega-3 foods can significantly lower the risk of death from heart disease.
In fact, researchers found the Mediterranean diet is more effective at reducing the risk of premature death in heart patients than statins. A study aimed at researching the effect of the Mediterranean diet on heart patients found it cut the risk of premature death by 37 per cent, whereas taking statins cuts the risk of early death by 18 per cent.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in olive oil is known to have a protective effect on the heart. The Mediterranean diet, the key ingredient of which is olive oil, can decrease the risk of cardiac death by 30 per cent.
Researchers who studied the eating habits of more than 10,000 middle-aged women over a period of 15 years found that women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and fish during the middle age were roughly 40 per cent more likely to live beyond the age of 70. These women were less likely to suffer any chronic health conditions and mental disorders than those who stuck to moderately healthy diets.
The women who lived the longest in the study also consumed less red and processed meats, and reduced their alcohol consumption. These dietary habits are typical of a Mediterranean diet.
A healthy consumption of olive oil and fish—key constituents of the Mediterranean diet—is known to significantly boost cognitive function. Recent research also shows that the Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of dementia. A review published in the journal Epidemiology shows that a Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of dementia, enhanced brain functioning, and a lower rate of cognitive decline.
The Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, confers a high level of antioxidants that inhibit damage caused to the cells by oxidative stress, thereby preventing Parkinson’s disease.
The Mediterranean diet is also credited with helping prevent and manage diabetes. The Mediterranean diet advocates the consumption of fibre-rich foods such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. Fibre slows down digestion and prevents spikes in blood sugar level–a common risk for diabetics.
Research also shows that people who supplement their diet with olive oil are 40 per cent less likely to suffer from diabetes compared to people who adhere to a low-fat diet that is high in carbohydrates.
Fruits and vegetables—the foundation of the Mediterranean diet—contain antioxidants and polyphenols, which protect the DNA from damage caused by free radical, lower inflammation, inhibit cell mutation, and slow down the growth of tumors.
Research shows the Mediterranean diet’s balanced ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, along with high amounts of fibre, has a protective effect on the body and is associated with cancer prevention.
The Mediterranean diet is a healthy and consistent way to lose weight. It is not a quick-fix weight loss solution, but a healthy eating plan. The Mediterranean diet makes you more conscious of your dietary habits like what foods you choose to eat and the portion sizes you consume, your physical activities, and your general lifestyle choices.
Studies suggest a Mediterranean diet that advocates the consumption of healthy fats, compared to a low-fat diet, is far more effective in aiding weight loss. This holds true even if you are middle-aged, or suffer from type 2 diabetes or obesity.
DIY Mediterranean Diet
Mediterranean foods are readily available and can be easily incorporated in your daily diet though healthy Mediterranean recipes. All you need to do is adhere to the following guidelines.
• Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. They should be a part of your meal, or consumed as snacks.
• Avoid processed foods that are rich in salt or sugar as much as you can.
• Every meal should include vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, legumes, herbs, and spices.
• Consume at least three servings of fish/seafood per week
• Eat only moderate portions of dairy.
• Limit red meat to three-ounce portions, and eat it no more than once a week.
• Wine is acceptable in the Mediterranean diet, but in moderation—no more than one glass a day for women, and two glasses a day for men.
• Replace butter and margarine with olive oil—the best source of healthy monounsaturated fats. Olive oil should be your go-to fat for cooking and baking.
• Opt for whole grains like brown rice, bulgur, whole rye, and whole wheat, instead of products made with refined flour.
• Make healthy swaps. Eat fruit and yogurt instead of sugary desserts. Replace starchy potatoes and rice with sautéed vegetables. Snack of seeds and nuts instead of crisps and cookies.
Side effects of the Mediterranean diet are rarely reported, if at all. As long as you adhere to a healthy and sensible plan, you have only good things to gain by following the diet.
Those suffering from severe health conditions should consult their healthcare provider before making any dietary changes, including following the Mediterranean-style diet.
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