When you think ‘Mediterranean’ do images of majestic oceans, tranquil breezes, sumptuous flavorful foods, and opulent sunsets come to mind? What about the rich, deep, woody flavors of authentic olive oil and the pure decadence of wine, aged cheeses, and fresh fruits and vegetables off the vine and from the rich soil of the Mediterranean land? The Mediterranean Diet’s aromatic appeal has not only been likened to delicious satisfaction, it is being touted as a beneficial and healthy lifestyle for its abundance of nutrients and preventative qualities across lands far from the Mediterranean Sea.
The Mediterranean Diet (MD) is associated with and originated in the olive-growing areas of the Mediterranean, mostly in Greece, Spain, Italy, and France.1 Many studies have shown that the Mediterranean people have a longer life expectancy and a lower risk of suffering certain chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and some metabolic disorders.2,3,4, 5 A meta-analysis reviewing the Mediterranean diet revealed the association of improvement in health status, as seen by reduced mortality rates (9%), decrease in mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), incidence of or mortality from cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases(13%).6 Here we breakdown the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and why it’s not so different than what registered dietitians have been promoting for a long time. You’ll see there’s a lot to love and you don’t even have to cross the ocean to embrace it.
Mediterranean Diet Ingredients
Olive oil is an amazing, versatile liquid source of monounsaturated fatty acids and may have some great health advantages in the diet. It may help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, prevent several types of cancer, and alter immune and inflammatory responses.
Nuts and Seeds
The vitamins, minerals, and compounds like flavonoids, isoflavonoids, phytosterols, and phytic acid all have many essential health benefits that are protective against cardiovascular disease, may promote cognitive health and reduce plasma lipid levels.
Vegetables and Fruits
Rich in vitamins, minerals, phenols, and flavonoids, fruits and vegetables are also rich in fiber, antioxidants, and have been associated with lower incidence of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neural tube defects among other benefits.
The fatty acids (polyunsaturated) found in fish help regulate homeostatic factors in the body, protect against cardiac arrhythmias, cancer, and hypertension. Fish also contributes to cognitive health, joint health, and inflammation associated with arthritis.
The polyphenols, specifically resveratrol, in red wine have been reported in some studies to protect the heart, protect against oxidation, lipid profile, disruption of blood clots, and promotion of blood flow and vascular health. Keeping the serving sizes in check is still necessary to keep in mind. A 5 oz. glass of wine is a serving. It is recommended one glass for women and two for men is appropriate.
Don’t forget how important the physical activity component of this lifestyle is too. The people that live around the Mediterranean often incorporate daily activity into their lives such as walking, biking, swimming, and going to the market daily for their goods. Making it a daily habit will increase the benefits and longevity of this lifestyle.
The Mediterranean Diet can be a beneficial and positive foundation for your nutrition needs if done appropriately and as part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Ensuring adequate intake of whole grains and lean sources of protein will tie the magnificent picture together.
So raise your glass and say “chin chin salud”!
- Ortega RM. Importance of functional foods in the Mediterranean diet. Public Health Nutrition; 2006; 9(8A), 1136–1140.
- Dedoussis GV, Panagiotakos DV, Chrysohoou C, Pitsavos C, Zampelas A, Choumerianou D, Stefanadis C. Effect of interaction between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase 677C3T mutation on homocysteine concentrations in healthy adults: the ATTICA study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004; 80: 849–54.
- Goulet J, Lamarche B, Nadeau G, Lemieux S. Effect of a nutritional intervention promoting the Mediterranean food pattern on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and body weight in healthy French–Canadian women. Atherosclerosis 2003; 170: 115–24.
- Serra L, Garcı´a A, Ngo de la Cruz I. Dieta Mediterra´nea:caracterı´sticas y beneficios para la salud. Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutricio´n 2004; 54: 44–51.
- Trichopoulos D, Lagiou P. Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular epidemiology. European Journal of Epidemiology 2004; 19: 7–8.
- Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. BMJ 2008; 337:a1344.