The Mediterranean diet is part of the cultural histories of Greece, Spain, France, Italy and the Middle East. Many of the foods traditionally consumed by these countries make up a large part of the Mediterranean diet and are the basis of what you should consume. Nothing is specifically restricted, but these foods are focused upon and should make up the vast majority of your diet if you’re considering following a similar diet.
The Rise In Popularity Of The Mediterranean Diet
Much of the increase in the popularity of the Mediterranean diet came in the 1980s due to the linked health benefits associated with studies associating the diet with a lowered risk of heart attacks and strokes, particularly in men. There have also been associations with those following a Mediterranean type diet having a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, the diet has been linked to a lower risk of metabolic syndrome which is associated with insulin resistance, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The diet is mostly followed to help improve these various risk factors.
What Is The Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is centralised around five dietary characteristics:
- Encourages the consumption of lots of whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans legumes, seeds and whole grains.
- A moderate amount of dairy, cheese, eggs and poultry.
- Seafood consumed typically at least twice a week.
- Olive oil is the main fat in the diet, used in cooking and as a salad dressing.
- Wine consumed in moderation.
Herbs and spices are added to dishes to add flavour and taste. Sweets and red meat are allowed to be consumed on the diet, but in small amounts and are more of an occasional indulgence.
Whilst not an actual part of the diet itself, physical activity is considered an external part of the Mediterranean diet in order to keep fit and healthy.
Sample Menu Of The Mediterranean Diet
If you’re unsure what a typical day of eating on a Mediterranean diet looks like here’s an idea:
- Breakfast – Greek yoghurt topped with chopped pecans and blueberries.
- Lunch – grilled salmon with sauteed asparagus.
- Snack – whole-grain crackers dipped in hummus.
- Dinner – Mediterranean salad featuring grilled chicken, chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and romaine lettuce topped with feta cheese and an olive oil dressing. And it’s even paired with a glass of red wine.
- Desert – chopped apples drizzled with honey.
Food Limitations On The Mediterranean Diet
For those following a Mediterranean diet, there may be a few limitations.
- Few animal products – for meat lovers out there, the Mediterranean diet tends to limit meat which means it may be harder to obtain animal proteins which is more bioavailable than plant proteins. However, if you’re happy to consume and experiment with fish and seafood, this is a great alternative to meat providing you with plenty of omega 3 fatty acids.
- No ultra-processed foods – the Mediterranean diet focuses on the consumption of whole foods. That means no crackers, energy bars or potato crisps. That’s not to say you can’t have any, but you should certainly limit your consumption of those foods.
- No transfats – these have been shown to be harmful to the human body and are not consumed on a Mediterranean diet so avoid using margarine as a cooking fat.
- No added sugar – you’ll want to try and avoid sodas, sweets, chocolate, ice cream and many other sugar-rich foods.
- No refined grains – as mentioned above the Mediterranean diet focuses on whole foods. Opt for whole grains rather than refined grains. Refined grains have a much more severe effect on blood glucose and insulin as they are absorbed rapidly by the body.
- Avoid processed meat – whilst meat is allowed on the diet, it is important once again to ensure that the meat is ‘whole’ in the sense that it has not been processed. That means buying a steak or chicken and cooking it from scratch rather than buying hot dogs, chorizo slices and ham to eat or snack on.
Reasons Why The Mediterranean Diet Improves Health
I’m a strong believer that no matter what diet you adhere to, you can greatly improve your health by:
- Eliminating industrial seed oils.
- Reducing and limiting sugar intake.
- Removing ultra-processed foods from the diet.
The Mediterranean diet does all three of these things and I believe that is one of the reasons it is an effective diet to follow to improve your health. Furthermore, the Mediterranean diet does not exclude any specific food groups per se which enable a range of nutrients to be obtained from a variety of foods. Whilst there is a fairly high amount of carbohydrates, by emphasising whole foods the blood glucose and insulin response is reduced compared to if refined processed foods had been consumed.
Following a Mediterranean diet has been linked to:
- Reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
- Reversal of metabolic syndrome.
- Decreased oxidised LDL levels.
- Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Improved endothelial function.
- Weight loss.
- Improved blood glucose and insulin levels.
- Increased total antioxidant capacity (in conjunction with physical activity).
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis in older Europeans (along with vitamin D supplements).
By further extension, these physiological and metabolic changes have been linked to:
- Increased longevity.
- Increased quality of life.
- Reduced risk of obesity.
- Reduced blood pressure (to healthy levels).
- Improved immune function.
- Higher levels of energy.
Based on the evidence, the Mediterranean diet remains a perfectly viable way of eating healthily, especially compared to a typical western diet and does so by eliminating many foods which have been introduced into the modern diet such as sugary foods, transfats and industrial seed oils. If you’re not keen on other diets such as paleo, keto, vegetarian or even carnivore and feel they are ineffective for you then I think the Mediterranean diet is worth a try.
The Mediterranean diet can also be used in conjunction with other diet protocols if you wish such as gluten-free, vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo or keto. In fact, a keto-Mediterranean diet was shown in a study to improve many health biomarkers and help reverse metabolic syndrome, so that may also be worth looking into.
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