General Health

The Mediterranean Diet for Better Health

If you search for healthy diets on Google, chances are you will come across several articles about the Mediterranean diet.

This type of diet is very popular in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. It is useful for doctors and patients due to the multiple health benefits we will cover in this article.

We will also show you how to adapt the Mediterranean diet in your case, a few important tips, and sample meal plans.

After reading this piece, you will know why following a Mediterranean diet is good for you. Moreover, you will know how to adapt it to your lifestyle.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

Countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea offer traditional cuisine. It is known as the Mediterranean diet. This diet has been regarded as one of the healthiest.

It makes up a very interesting approach to improve health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The Mediterranean diet is easy to follow and associated with many health benefits (1).

Which foods should you avoid in the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is based on foods that are widely available in this part of the world. Unhealthy foods like pasta were not in the base menu until the 16th century.

Even though grains are common in various dishes, refined grains, and white flour is a relatively new invention. They are not a part of the Mediterranean diet.

Thus, people on the Mediterranean diet avoid refined grains. That includes white bread and other sources of refined bread, such as refined pizza dough and white pasta. It is also important to avoid refined oils. That includes soybean and canola oil.

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet avoids added sugars. That includes soda, pastries, and candies. That’s why it is recommended for diabetes management, too.

Other processed foods, packaged foods, and processed meats are forbidden, also. That includes hot dogs, deli meats, and similar foods.

In short, the Mediterranean-style diet prefers fresh food and avoids processed foods. If you want to follow this diet, it is essential to take out anything that goes through industrial processes (2).

What kind of foods are included in the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is very high in fruits and vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts and seeds, fish, and unsaturated fats in healthy sources, such as olive oil.

It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods. This type of diet is rich, mostly plant-based, not having much meat in it.

All types of vegetables are fine for the Mediterranean diet, especially leafy greens. We can eat fruits in salads, as a dessert, or drink blended fruits in different types of juice.

Nuts and seeds are a very important part of the diet as well, and they are a great source of healthy fats.

Examples of nuts and seeds include walnuts and almonds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

Legumes are fantastic plant sources of protein, and some of them are very rich in iron. For example, we have beans, peas, lentils, and much more.

Another source of protein is fish and seafood, which is also very important to provide omega 3 fatty acids.

In the Mediterranean diet, it is also possible to include bread and cereals. They can be added as long as they are whole wheat and not processed. Additionally, it is important to use aromatic herbs instead of salt.

Another interesting feature of the Mediterranean-style diet is how it uses red wine. Drinking red wine without excess has many health benefits.

Along with a low-fat diet and plenty of fruits and vegetables, red wine reduces de incidence of chronic diseases. It also reduces our cardiovascular risk (2).

What are the key components of the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet has a few key components we can further characterize (3):

  • Includes fresh food instead of processed foods: It is important to replace industrialized foods with fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Makes use of olive oil and other sources of healthy fat: The most important sources of healthy fats are olive oil and fish. They have monounsaturated fat, also known as essential fatty acids.

  • Moderate consumption of milk and dairy: They are not excluded, but are not central to the diet, either.

  • Using spices instead of salt: This feature reduces the incidence of cardiovascular disease, as we will cover in later sections.

  • Promotes a moderate consumption of wine: Especially red wine, which has been found to have more health benefits.

  • Promotes sharing meals with family members: As a cultural approach, the Mediterranean diet is usually consumed sitting together as a family

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

There are various health benefits associated with this type of diet. It reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.

The Mediterranean diet improves cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It is rich in antioxidants, which prevents cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Altogether, the Mediterranean diet results in the reduction of chronic disease risk and increased longevity. However, let us see each one of these benefits in detail.

What are the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet?

This type of diet is associated with plenty of health benefits. The most important are the following (4):

  • Improvements in cardiovascular disease: The Mediterranean diet is recommended to patients with cardiovascular disease. There’s a significant risk reduction in these patients if they follow this type of diet. The management of their symptoms is improved, and they have less incidence of complications.

  • Blood pressure management: In the Mediterranean diet, table salt should be replaced with spices as much as possible. It makes use of the benefits of garlic and many other natural spices. It is also a low-fat diet that favors monounsaturated fat. Therefore, patients with hypertension reduce their blood pressure and may even reduce their drug use.

  • Diabetes management: Blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes are significantly improved. Even though it is not a low-carbohydrate diet, the Mediterranean diet favors fiber intake. Increased fiber reduces carbohydrate absorption and contributes to the management of diabetes.

  • Weight loss: The Mediterranean diet improves your eating habits and favors weight loss. It can be adopted as a weight-loss diet by reducing carbohydrate intake. In these cases, weight reduction can be sustained and maintained over time.

  • Reduced incidence of neurodegenerative disease: The Mediterranean diet reduces the rate of systemic inflammation. By improving this health parameter, it reduces the incidence of neurodegenerative disease, too. That includes Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of senile dementia.

  • Improves sleep quality: Adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet improves sleep quality. It is associated with increased sleep duration and reduction of insomnia. This is due to a reduction of inflammation and the reduction of processed foods and drinks.

Why should you consider eating a Mediterranean diet?

These days, people prefer to have a sedentary lifestyle. This leads to an increase in the incidence of chronic diseases. That’s why we have so much diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancers, and mental health issues.

They may even lead to increased mortality at a young age and health problems that reduce our quality of life.

The Mediterranean diet improves all of this by reducing the risk of various diseases. Thus, it increases longevity and enhances the quality of life.

More importantly, it makes one’s life happier and healthier by improving our mental health.

The Mediterranean diet is fitting for many types of patients:

  • For cardiac and cardiovascular patients: It is the most common ailment in the modern world. Thus, the Mediterranean diet is recommended for a wide number of cardiovascular patients (5).

  • For patients with diabetes mellitus: The Mediterranean diet does not cure diabetes. However, it is a good way to control blood glucose levels. Along with diabetes medication, the Mediterranean diet improves glucose control and reduces complications (6).

  • For young and healthy patients: Young patients without any health problems might also consider eating a Mediterranean diet. It is associated with a longer lifespan and reduces the risk of disease (7).

  • For older adults: The Mediterranean diet has many advantages for older adults. It is useful to reduce the incidence of senile dementia (8).

  • For athletic individuals: According to research, the Mediterranean diet improves endurance exercise. It boosts athletic performance in healthy individuals (9).

  • For obese and overweight patients: As mentioned above, it is possible to adapt the Mediterranean diet for weight loss. It is a healthy way to lose weight, and it can be sustained for a long time (10).

  • For patients with sleep problems: The Mediterranean diet improves the quality of sleep. Thus, it is recommended that patients with insomnia (11).

What makes the Mediterranean diet food healthy?

The Mediterranean diet has many healthy features:

  • It has low levels of saturated fats

  • It favors natural products over-processed foods

  • It uses less meat

  • It includes a moderate amount of wine

  • It favors proper water intake

  • It increases fiber intake

How to follow the Mediterranean diet

It is difficult for Europeans to start the Mediterranean diet. It is based on easily available foods in these countries.

It can be a bit difficult for Americans and people outside the Mediterranean area. Still, it is only a matter of adopting new habits and replacing foods. Once the Mediterranean diet is on your daily routine, it will be easier to follow.

Starting a Mediterranean-style diet is similar to doing the same thing with another diet.

1) First, a weekly schedule is made to prepare foods and buy groceries. Based on this weekly schedule, a chart is followed every day, and it has foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The basic Mediterranean diet has only three meals every day. It can be adapted to having more than three meals, but it widely depends on the patient and his nutritional requirements.

2) The Mediterranean diet is based on fresh foods, and preparation methods are not complex. Thus, it doesn’t take much time to prepare your food. The Mediterranean diet is incredibly healthy, satisfying. It is also full of wonderful tastes if you do it properly and learn to cook with new ingredients.

3) This is a plant-based diet. Thus, if you want to start a Mediterranean diet, the first step you should take is buying fruits, vegetables, and whole-wheat products. Don’t forget a bottle of red wine, fish, and legumes, and you will be good to go (2).

How quickly will you see results from the Mediterranean diet?

The benefits of Mediterranean diets are long-lasting, and they are observed gradually.

Your results will depend on your current state of health and your goals. In a few weeks, you will notice an increase in energy and improvements in your sleep in a matter of weeks.

Other health parameters and reducing your cardiovascular risk may take a bit longer.

One month is usually enough to start seeing results. Weight loss reduction is noticeable after a few months. Significant cardiovascular risk reduction is attained after sustained use of the Mediterranean diet (2).

How can the Mediterranean diet become part of your lifestyle and not just what you eat?

As noted, the Mediterranean diet is excellent, but it is not a definite cure.

If you want to maintain the health benefits, you need to keep following a healthy diet pattern. Thus, you should make the Mediterranean diet a part of your lifestyle. You can do this by following a few tips:

  • Be open to change: At first, new ingredients and preparation methods may not feel your thing. But you need to be open to change if you want to replace your eating style.

  • Create a habit: Creating habits requires consistency for a few weeks or months. After a while, you will be preparing new foods differently without much effort.

  • Buy smartly: Buying fruits and vegetables might be a bit more difficult than processed foods. You need to calculate when to use them before they are spoiled.

  • Prepare foods in advance: IF you’re not used to preparing meals, using fresh foods might become challenging. If you make your foods in advance before your day starts, it will become easier to follow your diet.

Sample meal plans for the Mediterranean diet

After reviewing the theory about the Mediterranean diet, what else do you need to start? You can start by looking for meal plans and prepare your foods based on easy recipes.

The Mediterranean diet consists of various meal options. However, variability depends on the availability of ingredients.

Always have available fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fish.

Include low-fat dairy products such as Greek yogurt and skimmed milk, and buy a bottle of red wine.

Discontinue your consumption of canned foods, and reduce your meat intake.

After a while, you will feel this type of eating gives you more energy. You won’t feel tempted to eat junk food, and it will be a part of your lifestyle. When you notice health benefits such as weight loss, you will feel encouraged to continue your diet and do it at all costs.

How does a day of the Mediterranean diet look like?

In the basic Mediterranean-style diet, you only need to include 3 meals every day.

A great breakfast option would be yogurt with strawberries and oats. Then, the next day it is recommended to use different items at breakfast, such as an omelet with tomatoes and onions. The same goes for lunch and dinner. Thus, you need 3 or 4 menus for each meal.

It is recommended to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. A sample diet for the day would be like this:

  • Breakfast: Fried eggs, grilled tomatoes, wheat toast, sliced avocadoes, one glass of skimmed milk, or orange juice. You can even add another egg if you need additional calories.

  • Lunch: 2 cups of mixed salad greens with cherry tomatoes and olives on top. It is recommended to use a dressing of olive oil, vinegar. To increase your daily carbs, you can use whole-grain pita bread, which also has lots of dietary fiber.

  • Dinner: Whole-grain pizza with tomato sauce, grilled vegetables, and low-fat cheese as toppings. Note that even though pizza is not forbidden, it should be prepared with whole-wheat flour and not the usual white flour.

Where can you find sample meal plans and cookbooks for the Mediterranean diet?

Finding recipes and example meal plans for the Mediterranean diet is not difficult. In this digital era, where you have access to so much information, there are many sources you can check. For instance:

Mobile apps: There are plenty of mobile apps you can use to build your own Mediterranean-style diet.

Online webs: There are thousands of blog posts and webs. They offer meal plans and easy Mediterranean recipes you can use without spending extra money.

Cookbooks and magazines: In your local library, you can find cookbooks and magazines. You can always check when you’re offline. The Mediterranean diet is very famous, and you will likely find many options.

Keep in mind that if you need a diet for diabetics, you might not use all of the recommendations you can find online.

Every health problem has a few dietary modifications, and some of them are quite significant. Therefore, talk to your doctor before turning to the Mediterranean diet if you suffer from chronic disease.

Sources

  1. Trichopoulou, A., & Lagiou, P. (1997). Healthy traditional Mediterranean diet: an expression of culture, history, and lifestyle. Nutrition reviews, 55(11), 383-389.
  2. Bach-Faig, A., Berry, E. M., Lairon, D., Reguant, J., Trichopoulou, A., Dernini, S., … & Serra-Majem, L. (2011). Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Science and cultural updates. Public health nutrition, 14(12A), 2274-2284.
  3. Donini, L. M., Serra-Majem, L., Bulló, M., Gil, Á., & Salas-Salvadó, J. (2015). The Mediterranean diet: culture, health and science. British Journal of Nutrition, 113(S2), S1-S3.
  4. Martínez-González, M. A., Salas-Salvadó, J., Estruch, R., Corella, D., Fitó, M., Ros, E., & Predimed Investigators. (2015). Benefits of the Mediterranean diet: insights from the PREDIMED study. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 58(1), 50-60.
  5. Widmer, R. J., Flammer, A. J., Lerman, L. O., & Lerman, A. (2015). The Mediterranean diet, its components, and cardiovascular disease. The American journal of medicine, 128(3), 229-238.
  6. Schröder, H. (2007). Protective mechanisms of the Mediterranean diet in obesity and type 2 diabetes. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 18(3), 149-160.
  7. Giacosa, A., Barale, R., Bavaresco, L., Gatenby, P., Gerbi, V., Janssens, J., … & Morazzoni, P. (2013). Cancer prevention in Europe: the Mediterranean diet as a protective choice. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 22(1), 90-95.
  8. Sofi, F., Macchi, C., & Casini, A. (2013). Mediterranean diet and minimizing neurodegeneration. Current Nutrition Reports, 2(2), 75-80.
  9. Baker, M. E., DeCesare, K. N., Johnson, A., Kress, K. S., Inman, C. L., & Weiss, E. P. (2019). Short-Term Mediterranean Diet Improves Endurance Exercise Performance: A Randomized-Sequence Crossover Trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1-9.
  10. Esposito, K., Kastorini, C. M., Panagiotakos, D. B., & Giugliano, D. (2011). Mediterranean diet and weight loss: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Metabolic syndrome and related disorders, 9(1), 1-12.
  11. Campanini, M. Z., Guallar-Castillón, P., Rodríguez-Artalejo, F., & Lopez-Garcia, E. (2017). Mediterranean diet and changes in sleep duration and indicators of sleep quality in older adults. Sleep, 40(3).

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