A lot of modern nutrition experts believe that the Mediterranean diet is the best diet ever. But do you really understand what the Mediterranean diet is all about? What do you really know about it? Are you confident that you have your facts straight? To understand how the Mediterranean diet works, let us try to understand the basic principles that govern it, shall we?
What It’s Not
To understand what the Mediterranean diet is all about, you need to know what it’s not. In a nutshell, the Mediterranean diet is not:
- Another weight loss diet. You can lose weight by adhering to the guiding principles of the Mediterranean diet but weight loss is definitely not its primary purpose.
- A low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet doesn’t put a cap on the amount of fat you can consume. Rather, it prescribes where you should and shouldn’t get your dietary fat from.
- A vegetarian or vegan diet. Eating meat is not prohibited. It can still be consumed, although sparingly and within healthy limits.
What the Mediterranean Diet Really Is
The Mediterranean diet works because it is an actual diet. It was patterned after how the Mediterranean people actually ate up until some 50 years ago. By then, the Mediterraneans were found to be among the world’s healthiest people despite the high smoking rates in those countries.
The Seven Countries Study which was published in 1970 marked the beginning of the worldwide interest in the so-called Mediterranean diet. According to the results of this research, people in the island of Crete in Greece suffered the least from cancer and other cardiovascular diseases as compared to people in the US, Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Yugoslavia. It is also interesting to note that the incidence of such diseases was also significantly lower in southern Italy, a country whose diet was very similar to Crete.
Can these observations be attributed to the differences in the diets in these countries? While these early experts firmly believe that there may be a connection between the two, they still cannot prove it at that time due to lack of solid proof. However, after decades of extensive research, scientists are becoming more and more convinced that a lot of health benefits can be gained from following the Mediterranean way of eating.
So, how does the Mediterranean diet help us live healthier lives? The answer lies in the guiding principles that define this way of eating.
- The Mediterranean diet calls for high consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and fish. As Dr. Mitchell Roslin, director of Obesity Surgery at the Lenox Hospital in New York, puts it – “the healthiest foods grow on the ground”. These foods are definitely some of the richest sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you can ever think of. They help promote better health by warding off infections and inflammations caused by free radicals in the environment. Additionally, the rich dietary fiber content of plant-based foods can help prevent constipation, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Preferential use of monounsaturated fats over saturated fats. Mediterraneans just love using olive oil. In fact, it has almost become synonymous with Mediterranean cuisine! If you still don’t know, olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fat and these kinds of fat can significantly lower bad cholesterol levels in your blood.
- Limited consumption of meat and dairy. These food products contain significant amounts of saturated fat which can increase the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood.
- Moderate consumption of alcohol (optional). While some nutrition experts agree that moderate consumption of alcohol can have positive effects on your cardiovascular health, others express their reservations regarding the matter. According to studies, even moderate consumption of alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer and birth defects.
So, is the Mediterranean all about food? Well, no. While a lot of emphasis is being given to what you should and should not eat, the Mediterranean diet is more than just a diet. It is a way of life. In fact, it recognizes the role of exercise and mealtime sociability in the overall picture and highly recommends it.