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What Is A Mediterranean Diet And Why You Should Consider It?

Some people may argue that a Mediterranean diet is one of the best things humans have been blessed with. But then here is something that many people only got to know about within the past two decades or so despite having been around for hundreds or even thousands of years.

A rise in the incidence of a variety of health issues related to weight gain has led many to go in search of healthful food choices. Many people now agree to the saying: “you are what you eat.” It is this increased awareness about health choices that has brought the Mediterranean diet into the center of attention. But what does it entail and how can it promote your health? Read on.

What is a Mediterranean Diet?

This is a diet based on the traditional eating habits of people in places such as Italy, Greece and some others in the Mediterranean region. It can be argued that the people in these areas merely ate what they enjoyed. Luckily for them, these choices turned out to be one which others elsewhere envy and are just starting to adopt for good health.

The Mediterranean diet revolves largely around plant-based foods and healthy fats. It features foods that fight inflammation and promote overall good health. Olive oil plays a crucial role in this diet. Some researchers say this is, in fact, responsible for a significant number of benefits this style of eating has to offer.

You should note, however, that the definition of Mediterranean diet differs between countries. The people in these different areas have specific types of foods that they prefer more.

Common features of the diverse types of Mediterranean cuisines include:

  • Generous use of olive oil as principal source of fat
  • High consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals and legumes
  • Moderate consumption of fish and other seafood
  • Moderate consumption of poultry and dairy products
  • Moderate intake of red wine
  • Low consumption of red meat, processed meat and eggs

A Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is often used to give a pictorial explanation of how much of each type of foods to include in this diet.

You should be aware that regular exercise is also part of the Mediterranean diet. Little wonder then that researchers have widely found it to improve health.

Rise in Diet Popularity

As noted in the introductory paragraph, some people have maintained what we now know as the “Mediterranean diet” for thousands of years. It began in Italy and spread from there to other areas around the Mediterranean. The now-popular concept only came into use around the early 1960s.

Mediterranean diet wasn't really embraced by many for decades until early to mid 1990s. It was popularized, in the form closer to what we know today, by Walter Willet of the School of Public Health at Harvard University. He emphasized how it could be useful in promoting good health. That apparently made the difference.

Researchers had observed something of a paradox, somewhat comparable to that of the "French paradox" among the people of the Mediterranean. The foods these people consumed contained high amounts of fat that were comparable to what was obtainable in the United States.

Yet, in spite of the high fat consumption, it was noted that people maintaining this diet had less health issues to contend with than was the case elsewhere. Research then showed there was something special about the Mediterranean diet.

How Can It Protect or Enhance Your Health?

Several studies show that a Mediterranean diet can help protect you against a plethora of health issues. And these benefits do not come only by limiting you to foods you don't love. There is enough diversity to ensure everyone can love the diet.

The main focus at this point is what you can expect a Mediterranean diet to do. Let's consider some benefits.

Protects your heart

Perhaps, the most prominent benefit you will find people associating with this diet is heart health protection. It features food that ensures your cardiovascular system is in as good a state as possible. A 2013 article in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews noted that a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease and premature death.

Olive oil is a major component that helps to ensure protection for your heart. This is rich in monounsaturated fat, especially oleic acid, which is under clinical investigation for its health benefits. It replaces saturated fats with oleic acid, thus helping to regulate LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels. It also lowers triglyceride levels and improves HDL or "good" cholesterol levels.

In addition to generous provision of monounsaturated fats, a Mediterranean diet also offers foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. This ensures lower risk of all-cause mortality. The alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) present in olive oil has been shown to reduce risk of cardiac death by up to 45 percent.

The diet can be useful in controlling your blood pressure and preventing hypertension. It improves the bioavailability of nitric oxide. This improves dilation of arteries and facilitates efficient flow of blood.

A Mediterranean diet also offers protection against oxidation of blood lipids. It impedes the oxidation effects that can give rise to heart disease. It boosts endothelial function.

Aids weight loss

If you desire having a healthy body weight, this diet boasts the kinds of foods that can make that possible. For one, it is low in unhealthy fats that can make you gain weight. It also features foods with all the right nutrients your body needs to be healthy.

You may find this the perfect solution if you have difficulty keeping away from excessive eating. Less nutritious foods are likely to make you want to eat more than necessary. But nutrient-dense foods, such as what you get here, make you feel satisfied or full when you eat. Whether you desire foods of plant or animal origin, you are covered.

There are also healthy snack options in case you somehow cannot control, or don't feel like controlling, the odd urge to eat. These ensure you do not gain weight when you do that. Obesity is a problem factor in several medical conditions.

Controls blood sugar

Diabetics and people with prediabetes can benefit from being on a Mediterranean diet. It is practically free of major culprits that can worsen your sugar levels. The sugar content is on the low side and there are no artificial sweeteners or flavor enhancers. As a result, it doesn't cause glucose levels to spike.

In addition, it is useful because of how it helps your body to deal with inflammation. This is a potent, anti-inflammatory diet backed by research. Type 2 diabetes is one of the medical conditions that results from excessive inflammation.

Cases of insulin resistance are not as common as they are in America in countries where people maintain this type of diet. It keeps blood sugar from rising too high or dipping too low. It helps to regulate the amount of the hormone insulin, which your body uses to control blood glucose levels.

Meta-analyses published in the journals Public Health Nutrition and Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental in 2014 linked a Mediterranean diet to lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Fights cancer

A Mediterranean diet consists of foods that are rich in antioxidants. This makes it beneficial for guarding against the development of cancer. Foods in the diet protect against cell damage and mutation. They also help fight inflammation which could contribute to this deadly medical condition.

Experts say the Mediterranean diet is not only useful for fighting cancer because of the presence of antioxidants. Its fiber content and nice balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids also make it helpful. It is not surprising then that researchers found that the diet can reduce risk of death from cancer.

A 2017 review of meta-analyses published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted a decline in cancer rate as a result of this diet. It also reported a reduction in the risk of early death.

Earlier, in 2008, researchers had reported in the British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Edition) that a strict Mediterranean diet cut the risk of cancer death by about 6 percent.

Helps your brain function better

The ability of a Mediterranean diet to enhance cognitive capacity is one of its more popular benefits. Studies have also been done showing that this offers you a great means of putting your brain in a good state that enables it function efficiently.

A study published in the journal Neurology suggested that the diet can help reverse or reduce the effect of aging on the brain. Researchers carried out MRI scans of the brains of about 700 subjects in the study. They found that those who maintained diets close to a strict Mediterranean diet showed greater brain volume than those who didn't do as much.

Why does this matter? Brain volume usually reduces as people get older. The organ shrinks in size as the years pass. A small increase in brain volume can potentially lead to noticeable improvement in cognitive ability.

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties the diet boasts are crucial for maintaining great brain health. These assist in dealing with inflammation, free radicals and toxins that can contribute to age-related cognitive decline. A Mediterranean diet can enhance your memory and boost your mood.

There is evidence that this kind of diet can offer protection against Alzheimer's disease. For one, this medical condition is less common in the Mediterranean region than it is in the United States. Two systematic research reviews published in 2013 suggested that the diet lowers the risk of suffering Alzheimer's disease.

Enhances longevity

Do you look forward to living to a ripe old age? If yes, you have another reason to adopt Mediterranean diet. Some argue that it has the potential to promote longevity.

This line of thought is mainly influenced by the components of the diet. There is hardly anything better than what it offers when it comes to good health. It boasts numerous natural foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition, it is rich in healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fat, which have been shown to be useful in keeping a variety of health issues at bay.

When you have less health challenges, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, to contend with, you will agree that you have better chance of living longer. For instance, people on a Mediterranean have a significantly lower risk of heart disease. They also have considerably lower risk of all-cause mortality than those on a regular low-fat diet.

Foods to Consume to Enjoy Mediterranean Diet Benefits

Think of foods that are healthy and unprocessed and you have an idea of what you should eat on a Mediterranean diet. Some of the main types of foods you should expect to consume a lot when observing this diet include:

  • Olives and olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Tomatoes
  • Oranges
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Almonds
  • Strawberries
  • Beans
  • Whole oats
  • Potatoes
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Melons
  • Strawberries
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Garlic

The Mediterranean diet essentially focuses more on fruits, veggies, nuts, healthy fats, spices, seeds, legumes and unrefined cereals.

Foods such as poultry, eggs and dairy products are to be consumed in moderation. You should aim to eat red meat and high-fat foods only on rare occasions.

It is important to keep away from unhealthy foods when on a Mediterranean diet to get the most benefits. What are those? You may ask. These include highly processed foods and trans-fat containing foods. Refined sugar, refined grains, processed meat and refined oils, including soybean oil, are all deemed unhealthy.

Mediterranean Diet and Alcohol

Alcohol, more especially wine, is a common part of the Mediterranean diet. People who traditionally maintained this style of eating typically tops their meals with locally made wine. Perhaps, this contributes to making them feel jolly and sociable.

However, a study indicated alcohol increases the risk of type 2 diabetes by double when subjects consumed 1 to 4 and half glasses per day.

If you are not already an alcoholic drinker, you do not need to become one to enjoy the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. Alcohol – be it wine, beer or liquor – do have their downsides.

A new study published in the British Medical Journal showed that even moderate alcohol intake may have adverse effect on your brain. The researchers found that people who drink alcohol moderately had three times greater likelihood of suffering hippocampal atrophy.

This type of brain damage is associated with conditions that cause memory loss, such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Hippocampal atrophy produces adverse effect on spatial navigation.

While it may help you live longer, research has also revealed that alcohol in a Mediterranean diet slightly increases the risk of certain types of cancer. Therefore, you may be better off with a Mediterranean diet minus the alcohol.

The Mediterranean diet is one that will certainly appeal to anyone that places premium on their health. Compare the foods in the diet to what your doctor recommends for good health and you will discover you are not likely to go wrong with this one. While it does confer some benefits, alcohol may be done without, especially by those with alcoholism issues.

If you desire to live healthily and long, you need to be on a Mediterranean diet. That's a decision you are not likely to regret.

 

REFERENCES

Mediterranean diet - Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_diet)

8 Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet - Dr. Axe (https://draxe.com/mediterranean-diet/)

Mediterranean Diet 101: A Meal Plan and Beginner's Guide (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mediterranean-diet-meal-plan)

Moderate drinking may alter brain, study says - CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/06/health/drinking-brain-changes-study/index.html)

Mediterranean Diet Tied To Healthier Brain (https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/10/21/mediterranean-diet-for-a-healthy-aging-brain/)

Alcohol and the Mediterranean Diet: Evidence-based health information from Dr. Gourmet (http://www.drgourmet.com/eatinghealthy/meddietalcohol.shtml)


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