In 2006, the Harvard School of Public Health published a review of epidemiologic and metabolic studies about the Mediterranean Diet, and their findings were pretty astounding. They wrote: “Together with regular physical activity and not smoking, our analyses suggest that over 80% of coronary heart disease, 70% of stroke, and 90% of type 2 diabetes can be avoided by healthy food choices that are consistent with the traditional Mediterranean diet”. They found that what was missing from the traditional Mediterranean diet was just as important as what was present. While high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and moderate alcohol consumption, the traditional Mediterranean diet does not include foods with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils – the over-consumed ingredient in the American diet that’s most strongly correlated with an increased risk for heart disease.
Common Foods in the Mediterranean Diet
- Olive Oil
- Nuts & Seeds
- Fish & Seafood [at least twice a week]
- Legumes & Beans [lots of chickpeas consumed in hummus]
- Eggs & Poultry [high-quality & locally sourced]
- Fish & Seafood [at least twice a week]
- Red Meats [once a week or less]
- Fresh, leafy greens [like spinach & kale]
- Non-starchy vegetables [like eggplant, artichokes, tomatoes & cauliflower]
- Whole grains
Dairy, [in moderation], from:
- Yogurts & Kefir [high in probiotics]
- Pasture-raised Goat Milk Product [like goat cheese]
7 Health Benefits of Mediterranean Diet
1. Mediterranean Diet Promotes Heart Health
Consuming olive oil regularly provides the body with a natural boost to dilate blood vessels and reduce blood pressure, whereas partially hydrogenated vegetable oils have been found to actually increase blood pressure. Since the traditional Mediterranean diet cooks with so much olive oil, they hardly struggle to maintain a healthy blood pressure or healthy cholesterol levels. Paired with the fact that they consume a ton of heart-healthy foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, their diet actually supports heart health rather than threatens it.
2. Mediterranean Diet Improves Cognitive Wellbeing
Studies have shown that a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods, like leafy greens and fruits, and healthy fats helps fight memory-loss, dementia and ultimately Alzheimer’s Disease. On the flip side, a diet high in trans fat and foods that cause inflammation is actually linked to developing cognitive issues later in life. In recent years, research has shed some light on the effect that gut health can have on cognitive function as well, so it’s safe to say that consuming probiotic-rich foods like Kefir and yogurt is yet another reason the Mediterranean diet boosts brain function.
3. Mediterranean Diet Supports Longevity & Slowing Down Aging
Since the traditional Mediterranean diet so effectively prevents chronic disease, it may go without saying that adopting it will likely lengthen your lifespan, and there is evidence to back up this claim. One study found that the diet is associated with longer telomeres – the guys that sit at the ends of our chromosomes to protect our DNA from disease-causing mutations. Shorter telomeres are correlated with increased risk of developing chronic disease and a shortened lifespan.
The same study found that those who committed to the traditional Mediterranean diet for over 20 years, on average, lived 1.5 years longer than those who did not commit to it. In case you’re wondering what can shorten telomeres so you can avoid it, causes include: obesity, smoking and consuming large amounts of sugary sodas.
4. Protects Against Cancer, Diabetes & Autoimmune Diseases
Yet again, the anti-inflammatory foods consumed in this diet both prevent and treat chronic disease. Being a diet low in sugar, while rich in healthy fats and fresh produce, it’s an incredibly effective way to prevent and even treat diabetes because it controls blood sugar levels and helps the body burn fat more efficiently. Many studies have shown that the root cause of cancer may be a diet high in inflammatory foods, so this diet can both prevent cancer from ever developing as well as starve the cancer so that it has less fuel to grow and spread. Not to mention, as stated above, it keeps our DNA sharp so that it can fend off diseases that threaten our body.
5. Mediterranean Diet Boosts Your Mood & Fights Depression
An unhealthy gut can lower our serotonin and dopamine levels, so it’s not surprising that a crappy diet can put us in a crappy mood and even increase our risk for developing depression. With all the gut-health boosting probiotics and fiber from fresh produce and whole grains consumed in the Mediterranean diet, one can only assume that adopting similar eating habits is bound to help you feel your best.
6. Mediterranean Diet Reduces Stress
On that same note, the state of our health has an enormous impact on our stress levels. When our body suffers through physical stress, like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, poor digestion and more serious conditions like cancer, it’s going to manifest mentally and emotionally as well. Eliminate the physical stress and you’ll remove the mental stress as well. Then, you’ll have the room in your mind to better handle and cope with the unpredictable stressors life throws your way.
Also, the traditional Mediterranean diet loves it’s red wine. The key is that they consume it in moderation, but a glass each night will certainly help to unwind and has even been shown to prevent obesity as well as chronic diseases.
7. Promotes Weight Loss & Healthy Weight Maintenance
You know the saying about weight loss that “it’s a lifestyle”? Well, the traditional Mediterranean diet may be the ideal lifestyle because it’s a relationship with food that promotes moderation rather than deprivation. Adopting this lifestyle will naturally reduce the amount of trans fats, processed sugars and inflammatory foods you consume.
The fiber-rich vegetables and whole grains along with the amount of healthy fats you’ll eat will leave you feeling satisfied and full for longer, which helps combat the cravings that often sabotage plans to lose weight. Last, but most important, the lifestyle encourages indulgence, but not gluttony, so you don’t have to completely give up any of the foods you love, you’ll just practice moderation and portion control.
If up until now you’ve been struggling to lose weight, keep it off or achieve optimal health, you may find that this lifestyle is a far more reasonable approach to your goals than a lot of the extreme fad diets that are out there now.