Ahh… the Mediterranean diet, what's not to love about a beautifully colored diet? After all, this is the most universally recognized diet on the planet! With an array of vegetables, high in fiber grains, healthy proteins, and luscious fruits, this is definitely one of our top choices for a long-term eating regimen and diet plan!
In this four-part series, 'Choosing the Perfect Diet,' we will look at the four leading diets and the elements in each that make them as unique as we are! Let's begin with the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet dates back to the 1960s, with well-rounded meals that kept people young and vibrant. This naturally designed diet is primarily inspired by the eating habits of people who live near the Mediterranean Sea. When initially formulated in the 1960s, it mimicked the cuisines of Greece, Italy, and Spain. Modern scientists such as the European Office of the World Health Organization introduced the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid as a guide to help promote a healthy eating pattern rather than a strict diet plan. The actual pyramid represents the traditional foods of Crete, Greece, and Southern Italy during the mid-20th century. Since these regions showed obvious benefits such as lower risks of chronic disease and above-average adult life spans, the Mediterranean diet eventually gained popularity around the globe. Very Impressive! The fascinating part about this diet is that doctors are still promoting the Mediterranean diet to combat cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, depression, and dementia.
The Mediterranean diet gained its notoriety from being primarily plant-based, with moderate grains and proteins, with small portions of fruit sprinkled in. Additional foods like animal proteins are eaten in smaller quantities, with the preferred protein being fish and seafood. Although the pyramid shape suggests the proportion of foods, it does not specify portion sizes or specific amounts. This decision is up to each individual as this will vary by physical activity and body size.
Interesting facts that make this eating plan unique:
- Olive oil is highly recommended as the primary added fat and replacing butter and margarine. Other healthful fats such as avocados, nuts, and oily fish like salmon and sardines; high in omega-3 fatty acids are walnuts and fish.
- Fish and seafood are the preferred protein at least twice weekly and other animal proteins of poultry, eggs, and dairy (cheese or yogurt) in smaller portions daily or a few times a week. Red Meat is limited to a few times per month.
- Water is the main daily beverage, moderate amounts of wine with meals, about one to two glasses a day for men and one for women. Depending on your individual goals, it's always recommended to drink water to lose weight.
- Daily physical activity such as walking, hiking, running, or yoga.
As mentioned earlier, there are many reasons to love the Mediterranean diet! One reason that stands out the most is that it dispels the myth that people at risk with heart disease must eat a low-fat diet; hence, the Mediterranean is the most recommended by physicians around the world! All this being said, there are a few downsides to this diet. If appropriately managed, though, there shouldn't be an issue. It is always recommended to speak with a physician before starting any diet regimen, especially those at high risk.
A few potential risks
- Excess calorie intake due to the portion sizes is not emphasized, leading to weight gain.
- The benefit is not as strong when looking at single foods or nutrients as a combination of food. It is important to eat foods high in fatty acids along with
Healthy fats instead of unhealthy ones
- Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (or "bad") cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat.
- Types of fats, such as Fatty fish, mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats help fight inflammation in the body.
- Omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure.
Of course, food choices are an important factor of this diet/lifestyle too. Nutrient-dense and well-balanced is the name of the game when building your Mediterranean Diet plate. You won't find pre-packaged, fried, sugary, or highly processed foods on Mediterranean plates. Instead, you will find some nutrient-dense dietary all-stars like:
Foods you can eat
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
- Beans & other Legumes
- Herbs & Spices
- Fish & Seafood
- Meat (smaller portions)
Regardless of whether you are a newcomer to the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, start small and set goals. Try eating more fruits and vegetables and reduce processed meat consumption. Also, include more omega 3-rich seafood, which cannot be stressed enough. Swap your grains to 100% whole grains and incorporate more beans. By setting small goals, one or two at a time can certainly help you maintain a healthier diet regimen over time.