Why Eating a Mediterranean Diet is a Time-Tested Strategy for Better Health

It’s one of the most diverse diets in the world with an abundance of whole foods. The Mediterranean diet offers an array of tantalizing and flavorful foods and compelling health benefits too. In fact, many populations of the world who live to a ripe old age eat a traditional Mediterranean diet. A number of studies link eating a Mediterranean-style diet with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. That, in and of itself, is a compelling reason to eat a traditional Mediterranean diet.


What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fish. Olive oil is not just used for frying and for dipping bread. It is used to cook and flavor a variety of Mediterranean offerings. This style of eating may, based on correlational studies, lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and obesity.


There are many ways to eat a Mediterranean-style diet. Some recipes are more elaborate, though they don’t require a lot of expensive ingredients. For example, a day might start with scrambled eggs and tomato sauce, or with yogurt with berries and honey. A simple recipe for lunch or dinner is vegetables grilled in olive oil. The dishes typically look as appetizing as they taste as well. The emphasis is on unprocessed foods that are low in sugar. Fish is the preferred protein source, with lesser amounts of poultry and little red meat.


The Mediterranean Diet is Nutrient Dense and Fights Inflammation

Obesity is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Being extremely overweight is unhealthy to the heart in many ways. Plus, carrying too much body fat increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and lipid abnormalities. Why is excess fat problematic? It produces chemicals that boost blood vessel-damaging inflammation. Some studies show that the Mediterranean diet reduces inflammation, and it’s a delicious way to do it.


For example, a study of 600 adults over the age of 65 found those who ate a Mediterranean diet experienced a drop in markers of inflammation as well as beneficial changes to the composition of their gut microbiome. Researchers say these changes may lower the risk of insulin resistance, fatty liver, and certain types of cancer. Once the participants stopped eating the Mediterranean diet, their gut microbiome returned to its former state.


Also, the Mediterranean diet is a rich source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, all of which are associated with helping to protect against obesity as well as the conditions that contribute to it. The Mediterranean diet is different from the more common Western diet in that it tends to be plant-based. Plant foods are high in dietary fiber, help to maintain a healthy gut, help to produce hormones that control hunger, and keep blood sugar levels down. Whole grains and legumes are very high in fiber. This can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.


Specific to the Mediterranean diet is the health-promoting vitamins and minerals found in the abundant variety of fruits and vegetables. These include potassium, vitamin C, folate, beta carotene, and vitamin E. These are all essentials for protecting the body’s cells against oxidative stress and disease.


How to Eat Mediterranean Style

Start with the basics. When you shop, choose whole, fiber-rich foods and make fish and legumes your main sources of protein. Other tips:

Skip packaged foods and foods high in sugar.

Choose healthy sources of fat, like the monounsaturated fats in olive oil and avocados.

Add roasted vegetables to all your lunches and dinners. You’ll love all the flavor!

Add olives and sunflower seeds to your salads.

Upgrade your snacking to nuts and seeds.

Enjoy fruit, like a bowl of berries, rather than a decadent dessert.


What you eat matters, but how you eat does too. Along with eating the right foods, follow the traditional Mediterranean eating habits, which include eating smaller meals and snacking less. Eat slowly and mindfully and focus on the taste and texture of each bite. Also, buy your food locally whenever possible from smaller farms where you know the growers and can establish a relationship with them.


The Bottom Line

Eating a Mediterranean diet is easy and delicious. It’s also healthy for you! So, you have lots of reasons to adopt this style of diet. Have fun exploring the wonderful world of Mediterranean foods.


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