May is Mediterranean Diet Month
There isn’t a single diet that encompasses the unique cuisines of all the countries that border the Mediterranean like Italy, Spain, Greece, and Lebanon, however the foundations of the traditional food from the Mediterranean are similar. A traditional Mediterranean diet includes common elements such as plenty of fresh and locally sourced vegetables and fruits, legumes like beans and lentils, whole grains, more seafood than meat and poultry, and heart-healthy olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet has captured the health community’s attention since the mid-20th century, when the long-running Seven Countries Study examined the health of people in United States, Japan, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland, and then-Yugoslavia. The study found that Mediterranean-eating patterns were remarkably connected with good health. Since then, countless studies have contributed to the growing body of evidence that supports the healthfulness of a traditional Mediterranean Diet.
The Mediterranean diet isn’t the traditional “going on a diet” type of diet; it’s a long-term, sustainable approach to a healthy life, free of quick fixes, deprivation, and hunger. It is more lifestyle than diet and incorporates foods, regular physical activity, meals with friends and family, and wine in moderation.
Infographic via America’s Test Kitchen (https://www.americastestkitchen.com/articles/509-the-mediterranean-diet-food-pyramid-infographic)
The typical American diet is high in animal fats, sugar, preservatives and processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables. Artificial ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and flavor enhancers are common. Curious about how to alter your American diet and make it more Mediterranean? Here’s how:
- Go heavy on the veggies and fruits. Fruits and vegetables should be the star of every meal. Meat and cheeses are used as seasonings as opposed to the main ingredients. As a rule of thumb with produce, the more color, the more antioxidants. Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, and darker berries like blueberries and cherries are chalk full with antioxidants.
- Limit intake of meat. Fish and poultry are the healthier option and should be eaten at least twice a week. White fish like cod, haddock, and halibut are low in fat and high in protein. Some fish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation. Salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, and anchovies are particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Swap out refined carbohydrates like white flours products, white rice, white potatoes, and many cereals for whole grains such as wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, and corn.
- Use less salt. The typical American diet is heavy in salt. Mediterranean dishes have plenty of flavor but instead of salt, use healthier alternatives for flavoring such as fresh herbs and garlic. Salt can be replaced by herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, etc.
- Opt for olive oil in place of butter or margarine. Olive oil is a major component of the Mediterranean diet and is loaded with heart healthy fats.
- Try healthier cooking methods like roasting, braising, and grilling as opposed to frying.
- Drink plenty of water instead of sugary juices and sodas. Tea and coffee are allowed in moderation, as well as wine in moderation with meals.
- Snack on nuts and seeds. The protein, fiber, and monounsaturated fats in nuts are satiating and can keep your hunger at bay between meals.
Adopting the Mediterranean diet can help significantly improve your health. These are just some of the proven ways the Mediterranean diet can help your body.
- Healthily lose or maintain weight. The Mediterranean diet is high in healthy fats and relatively low in carbs, which is a good combination for weight loss. Adopting the Mediterranean diet is effective for weight management because it’s not based on deprivation. You can eat delicious meals replete with nutrient dense foods and won’t go hungry.
- Reduce inflammation. Research has shown that many of the foods common in the Mediterranean diet, including leafy greens, nuts, and olive oil, lower inflammation. Inflammation is the culprit for chronic pain conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and muscular low back pain, so for some, controlling inflammation results in a reduction in pain. Processed sugars are known to trigger inflammation. Saturated fats found in full fat dairy products, meat products, pizza, cheese, trigger adipose inflammation, which is both an indicator for heart disease and can worsen inflammation related to pain.
- Improves heart health. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet lowers both blood pressure and cholesterol. The abundance of omega-3 foods that are a part of the Mediterranean are associated with a big decrease in risk for heart disease. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from olive oil also has protective heart health benefits. One study actually found that a Mediterranean-style diet can decrease the risk of cardiac death by 30 percent and sudden cardiac death by 45 percent.