The Basics of the Mediterranean Diet

Whether you want to lose weight, live longer or improve your general health — or all three — the Mediterranean Diet is ideal. It’s not a drastic fad diet, it’s a lifestyle choice. This article looks at the fundamentals of this eating plan, which is recognized as one of the healthiest in the world.

The Mediterranean Diet is a traditional eating style common in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Morocco, and Malta. “Diet” is something of a misnomer, because the Mediterranean Diet is actually a permanent eating plan that concentrates on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, whole grains, and healthy oils, while avoiding processed foods, deep fried foods, and pastry. Studies show that it is one of the world’s healthiest diets— and its filling and full of flavor, too!

Health benefits

Research conducted after World War II found that Cretan men on a restricted diet due to wartime shortages had a healthy cardiovascular system. The only foods available were fresh, seasonal produce and limited meat, with almost no processed foods. Modern studies have revealed a number of specific health benefits that make the Mediterranean Diet one of the healthiest there is.

The diet reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease by half, because it is rich in antioxidants that inhibit oxidative stress. It also significantly reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related dementia: the Omega-3 in oily fish such as tuna and sardines— both of which feature extensively in the diet — ensures brain health.

The Mediterranean Diet is also high in fiber, due to the large quantities of fruit and vegetables it includes, which regularizes blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of diabetes. The diet restricts refined carbohydrates and sugary foods and since red meat is an occasional treat, saturated fat content is low. Consequently, the diet helps reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease, as well as diabetes.

Modem studies show that people who follow the Mediterranean Diet live longer, healthier lives, with fewer than average incidences of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Following the Diet

Plant foods form the core of the Mediterranean Diet. Fruits and vegetables are important, as are pulses and legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans. Nuts and seeds are also prominent in the eating plan, along with whole grains, rice, and pasta.

Mediterranean people tend to eat fruit and vegetables in season when the vitamin content is at its highest and they get the full antioxidant hit. And meals are invariably accompanied by a salad, either as a starter or a side dish, which means more vegetables.

With all the emphasis on plant foods, there’s not a lot of room for red meat in the Mediterranean Diet — it’s an occasional treat, typically eaten no more than once or twice a week. The main sources of protein are poultry, fish, and eggs, along with the beans and pulses that figure so prominently in the diet. Fish is usually grilled, poached or baked, although it may be shallow-fried in a light, crispy batter; along the lines of a tempura batter. It’s rare for fish or meat to be covered in breadcrumbs.

Although the diet discourages processed food, some people — particularly the Spanish and Italians— enjoy cured hams and sausages. These products are naturally cured, without chemicals or smoke, and they are not eaten in large quantities, so it’s not as much of a health risk as eating regular bacon and sausages

Mediterranean cooking uses spices and herbs rather than salt to flavor food, and butter features rarely, other than for cooking. Mediterranean people tend to eat their bread drizzled with olive oil, or with garlic mayonnaise or tomato, all of which are healthier alternatives to butter since they contain no saturated fat and are lower in calories.

Wine can also be enjoyed in moderation on the Mediterranean Diet, although people in these countries rarely go in for excessive alcohol consumption. Spirits don’t feature, other than as an occasional treat — the emphasis is on wine and beer.

The Mediterranean lifestyle

It’s not just the food that makes the Mediterranean Diet so healthy—the lifestyle helps, too. Life is lived at a slower pace, in the fresh air, with less stress. That said, people in Mediterranean countries are traditionally more physically active since there is less automated industry in the region. People work mostly in the fields, on farms, or in the hospitality sector.

When they go home, they sit down to fresh food, cooked from scratch, and they don’t rush through a meal. It’s not unusual to spend two hours or more at the table, savoring the food and chatting between courses. As well as aiding the digestion, this leisurely approach to eating means that people eat less.

It takes a while — around 20 minutes — for the brain to receive signals that the stomach is full, so if you rush your food or eat on the go, those signals don’t have time to kick in and curb your appetite. The Mediterranean way of eating allows plenty of time for your brain to register the “full” feeling, which automatically restricts the amount you eat.

Nutritionists deservedly acknowledge the Mediterranean Diet as one of the healthiest eating plans in the world. The diet protects against a number of modem-day killers, thanks to the high volume of fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods, low-fat proteins from fish, eggs and poultry and restricted consumption of red meat. The risks of contracting heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some types of cancer fall significantly when you follow the diet and the diet is low in calories and fat and high in fiber and filling power, for those who need to lose a little weight. Maybe it’s time to make the switch to the Mediterranean way of eating!


Author Bio:

Maggie Martin is completing her PhD in Cell Biology, works as a lab tech for and contributes content on Biotech, Life Sciences, and Viral Outbreaks. Follow on Twitter @MaggieBiosource

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