Health Benefits of Following a Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet, if followed consistently, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The traditional healthy Mediterranean diet and lifestyle was studied in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s looking at the dietary habits, physical activity, cholesterol and blood pressure of almost 13,000 middle aged men living in seven countries (United States, Japan, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland and Yugoslavia).
The conclusion of this study found that the best results were with the men living in southern Italy, the Greek Island of Crete, and other areas of Greece. At that time, the life expectancy of adults in those areas was among the longest in the world. Greece also had the lowest mortality of certain cancers and only 2% of the adults in this region had heart disease. Researchers believe that the Mediterranean-eating patterns contributed to the improved health outcomes.
The Mediterranean Diet is a blend of a plant-based diet along with small amounts of yogurt, honey, and red meat. The typical fat intake ranges from 25-35% of total calories, with the main source of fat coming from heart-healthy olive oil. The diet contains less than 8% of total calories from saturated fat sources.
Intensive use of olive oil
Olive oil is the main source of fat in the Mediterranean countries. It almost completely replaces saturated fats such as butter, margarine, and vegetable shortening. Olive oil is used both in cooking and at the table to top vegetables and bread.
High consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts/seeds
Every meal is based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and bulgur), beans, nuts and seeds
Increase intake of fish and white meat, limited amounts of red meat
Fish or white meat 2-4 times per week, eggs 2 times/week, red meat monthly if desired but limited to 3 ounces
Moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt
Cheese is eaten in small amounts and often with a piece of fruit. Yogurt is eaten daily as a source of calcium
Honey instead of sugar, small amounts of red wine, andvdaily physical activity
Source: Old ways Preservation and Exchange Trust (a nonprofit organization promoting healthy eating using traditional food from many cultures), the World Health Organization, and Harvard School of Public Health
In addition to the high amounts of plant based food, and lean protein sources, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid intentionally does not include serving sizes for each food group. Rather, the pyramid is designed to be more of a visual snapshot of the relative importance of each of these items in the diet and not a rigid eating plan. The pyramid is geared toward healthy adults. As always, you should speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any dietary changes to make sure that they are appropriate for you.