For the fourth year in a row, the Mediterranean diet continues to be named the best overall diet, according to U.S. News, World Report’s annual ranking and CNN news revealed last week.
The Mediterranean Diet may offer a host of health benefits, including weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention and control. By following the Mediterranean Diet, you could also keep that weight off while avoiding chronic disease.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
A Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy and Spain.
The Mediterranean diet varies by country and region, so it has a range of definitions.
A traditional diet from the Mediterranean region includes a generous portion of fresh produce, whole grains, and legumes, as well as some healthful fats and fish.
The general guidelines of the diet recommend that people eat:
• a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
• healthful fats, such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil
• moderate amounts of dairy and fish
• very little white meat and red meat
• few eggs
• red wine in moderation
How does the Mediterranean Diet work?
Because this is an eating pattern – not a structured diet – you’re on your own to figure out how many calories you should eat to lose or maintain your weight, what you’ll do to stay active and how you’ll shape your Mediterranean menu.
The Mediterranean diet puts a higher focus on plant foods than many other diets. It is not uncommon for vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to make up all or most of a meal.
What can I eat and avoid on the Mediterranean diet?
• Eat: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, slices of bread, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.
• Eat-in moderation: Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.
• Eat only rarely: Red meat and Sweets
You should avoid these:
• Added sugar: Soda, candies, ice cream, pastries, table sugar and many others.
• Refined grains: White bread, white pasta, and pizza dough containing white flour.
• Trans fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods.
• Refined oils: Soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and others.
• Processed meat: Processed sausages, hot dogs, deli meats, etc.
• Highly processed or packaged foods: Anything labelled “low-fat” or “diet” or which looks like it was made in a factory.
Health benefits of a Mediterranean diet
A traditional Mediterranean diet consisting of large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil—coupled with physical activity—can reduce your risk of serious mental and physical health problems by:
1. Preventing heart disease and strokes.
Following a Mediterranean diet limits your intake of refined slices of bread, processed foods, and red meat, and encourages drinking red wine instead of hard liquor—all factors that can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
2. Keeping you agile.
If you’re an older adult, the nutrients gained with a Mediterranean diet may reduce your risk of developing muscle weakness and other signs of frailty by about 70 per cent.
3. Reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and overall blood vessel health, which in turn may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
4. Halving the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
The high levels of antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet can prevent cells from undergoing a damaging process called oxidative stress, thereby cutting the risk of Parkinson’s disease in half.
5. Increasing longevity.
By reducing your risk of developing heart disease or cancer with the Mediterranean diet, you’re reducing your risk of death at any age by 20%.
6. Protecting against type 2 diabetes.
A Mediterranean diet is rich in fibre which digests slowly, prevents huge swings in blood sugar, and can help you maintain a healthy weight.
7. Promotes healthy weight management.
Because of all the fiber, the Mediterranean diet helps manage fullness. You feel more satiated with foods higher in fibre, which helps with healthy weight loss and metabolism.
8. Special benefits for post-menopausal women.
The Mediterranean diet has even been linked to positively impacting bone and muscle mass in post-menopausal women.
9. It’s good for your gut.
One study found that people who follow the Mediterranean diet had a higher population of good bacteria in their microbiome, compared to those who ate a traditional Western diet. Researchers noted an increase in eating plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and legumes upped the good bacteria by 7 per cent—not too shabby.
If you’re planning to follow the Mediterranean diet, here is an example of a 2-day Mediterranean diet meal plan to get you started:
• one pan-fried egg
• grilled tomatoes
For additional calories, add another egg or some sliced avocado to the toast.
• 2 cups of mixed salad greens with cherry tomatoes and olives on top and a dressing of olive oil and vinegar
• whole-grain pita bread
• 2 ounces (oz) of hummus
• whole-grain pizza with tomato sauce, grilled vegetables, and low-fat cheese as toppings
• 1 cup of whole-grain oats with cinnamon, dates, and honey
• top with low-sugar fruits, such as raspberries
• 1 oz of shredded almonds (optional)
• boiled white beans with spices, such as laurel, garlic, and cumin
• 1 cup of arugula with an olive oil dressing and toppings of tomato, cucumber, and feta cheese
• oven-roasted vegetables, such as:
• sweet potato
• toss in olive oil and heavy herbs before roasting
• 1 cup of whole-grain couscous
Though there is not one defined Mediterranean diet, this way of eating is generally rich in healthy plant foods and relatively lower in animal foods, with a focus on fish and seafood.
At the end of the day, the Mediterranean diet is incredibly healthy and satisfying. You won’t be disappointed.
By Priyanshi Bhatagar