The Mediterranean Diet is a way of life more than a diet, with a focus on eating more plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, along with olive oil, herbs, and spices. Fish and seafood are the main sources of animal protein, moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy products are used, and red meat is limited. Research has shown that this lifestyle can increase lifespan and help reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Recently, a reduced risk of dementia has been added to the list of health benefits.
My previous blog about brain health promoted eating more berries and cherries, walnuts, cruciferous veggies, and fish to help keep your brain sharp. These foods fit perfectly into the Mediterranean lifestyle, which encourages a healthy eating pattern with little to no processed foods, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, trans fats, or sugar-sweetened drinks. Eating more whole foods and limiting processed foods and added sugars is the ticket.
The major factor behind this lifestyle’s health benefits may be the influence on inflammation and oxidative damage. The diet is relatively high in fat, but more than half of the fat comes from heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and it is low in saturated fat. The focus on a high intake of plant foods boosts fiber, vitamin, and mineral intake and phytochemicals in the diet. In addition, the antioxidants in the diet help protect the cells from damage and fight inflammation.
The Mediterranean diet is delicious and easy to follow, unlike many of the popular “diets” that are out there. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are eaten at most meals and provide vitamins, minerals, energy, antioxidants, and fiber. Olive oil is the main source of dietary fat used in cooking, flavoring dishes, and dressing salads. Nuts, beans, legumes, and seeds are plant-based proteins that provide healthy fat, protein, and fiber to the diet. Herbs and spices are used generously in place of salt to add flavor to foods and to boost the antioxidants in the diet. Omega-3-rich fish such as tuna, herring, sardines, salmon, mussels, clams, and shrimp are eaten often.
To get started with the Mediterranean lifestyle, make small changes over time. Try one of the following each week until it becomes a habit for you: make half your plate fruits and veggies, switch to olive oil, choose seafood at least twice a week, use whole grains most of the time, try a handful of nuts and seeds as a snack, try meatless meals with beans and legumes several times a week, and try new herbs and spices to boost flavor. Another important aspect of this lifestyle is to slow down and savor your food; turn off the TV and relax and really taste your food. Lastly, remember that daily physical activity is important. Try these tips, and soon the Mediterranean lifestyle will be yours to last a lifetime.