Ease of Following
The Mediterranean Diet Promise
Eat like the Greeks eat to get fit, stay away from diseases and live a longer life!
About the Mediterranean Diet
Since time immemorial, man has been in the quest of the fountain of youth and in search for the secret of longevity. The search ends here! The Mediterranean diet has been touted as a sure-shot method to reduce diseases and increase life span.
As the name suggests, the Mediterranean diet is inspired by the food habits typical of the people from countries around the Mediterranean Sea such as Greece, Spain, Crete and Southern Italy. This diet has become very popular in the recent years and has been linked with a healthier way of living1 and a healthier heart.
The Mediterranean diet is believed to have evolved around 5,000 years ago. This diet was shaped by the local season, environment, culture and religious practices and the people used locally grown produce to create this diet. Dr Ancel Keys, from the University of Minnesota conducted a research and discovered that the men from Crete2 who followed a diet regime of just fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and fish, had reduced rate of cardiovascular disease, cancer and lived longer than men from other countries. Since then, many studies have ascertained the varied health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
Studies have shown3 that following a Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of diseases related to the heart and reduce stroke by around 30%. This diet is based on the Eatwell Guide4 that provides guidelines of the foods that constitute a healthy and balanced diet.
How Does the Mediterranean Diet Work?
By now you would have guessed that following a Mediterranean diet is good for your health and general well-being. Emphasis on eating fresh produce, whole grains, nuts, seafood, healthy fats, small amounts of dairy products and meat and red wine not only helps in weight loss but also reduces the risk of diseases5 related to the heart, diabetes, cancer, dementia and depression.
The Mediterranean diet is not a “quick fix” diet but a recommendation for healthy day-to-day choices of what you should eat in the long run for a healthy life.
The Mediterranean diet includes:
- Consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Eating nuts, whole grains, and pulses.
- Eating poultry and fish (as often as twice a week).
- Limiting red meat consumption.
- Using healthy substitutes such as canola and olive oil.
- Substituting the use of salt with herbs and spices to flavor the food.
- Drinking red wine in small amounts.
- Exercising regularly and getting enough physical activity.
- Reducing smoking.
What’s on the Menu?
- Vegetables: tomatoes, onions, carrots, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, spinach, cucumbers, etc.
- Tubers: potatoes, turnips, yams, sweet potatoes, etc.
- Fruits: bananas, apples, melons, peaches, pears, dates, figs, strawberries, oranges, grapes, etc.
- Whole Grains: brown rice, rye, whole oats, buckwheat, whole wheat, barley, corn, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta
- Seafood: sardines, trout, tuna, crab, mussels, cod, halibut, mackerel, shrimp, salmon, oysters, prawn, clams, etc.
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, etc.
- Eggs: chicken, duck, and quail eggs
- Legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas, pulses, peas, peanuts, etc.
- Nuts and Seeds: walnuts, Macadamia nuts, poppy seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Dairy: low fat cheese (feta, cottage cheese, mozzarella), skimmed milk, yogurt, Greek yogurt, etc.
- Herbs and Spices: garlic, basil, nutmeg, sage, cinnamon, mint, rosemary, pepper, etc.
- Healthy Fats: extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil
- Beverages: water, red wine (in moderation), coffee, tea
What’s off the Menu?
- Red Meat: beef, pork, lamb
- Refined Grains: white bread, pasta made with refined flour, etc.
- Sugary Foods: candies, soda, ice cream, table sugar, etc.
- Fats: margarine, butter
- Refined Oils: cottonseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil, etc.
- Processed Meat: sausages, hot dogs
- Highly Processed Foods
- Beverages: sweetened beverages, fruit juices with added sugar
What Are Healthy Fats?
The Mediterranean diet does not limit the fat that you consume. Instead it helps you make wise choices about the types of fat that you use. The diet encourages the use of olive oil as the main source of fat. Olive oil helps to reduce LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol6 or the “bad fat” levels in the body.
Olive oil can be used instead of trans-fats or saturated fats that are the main cause of heart diseases. Extra virgin or virgin olive oils are also very good for health as they have antioxidant properties7.
Canola oil and some nuts contain linolenic acid, a kind of omega-3 fatty acid which is beneficial for health. Omega-3 fatty acids decreases blood clotting, lowers triglyceride levels, helps to moderate blood pressure and improves the overall health of the blood vessels.
Fish is eaten regularly in the Mediterranean diet. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, and sardines are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids or “healthy fats”.
Wine in the Mediterranean Diet
According to research, alcohol in moderation has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease8.
Drinking red wine in moderation is included in the Mediterranean diet. This means that one glass of wine for women and no more than 1-2 glasses for men is allowed as part of the meal.
Why Do We Need Starchy Foods in Our Diet?
Foods rich in starch are the main source of energy in our diet. The popular misnomer is that starchy foods are fattening. However, this is not true. They contain lesser calories than fat. Wholegrain bread, brown rice, cereals, whole-wheat pasta and potatoes with the skins are good sources of fibre that aid digestion. Fibre keeps the stomach feeling full and this makes you eat less and thus helps in weight loss.
Advantages of the Mediterranean Diet
- Keeps You Fit and Agile: The Mediterranean diet has so many healthy nutrients that it helps to keep you fit and agile. In fact, by following this diet you can reduce the risk of developing muscle weakness by around 70 percent9 in your old age.
- Reduces the Risk of Diseases: Since the Mediterranean diet includes foods that are very close to nature, following this diet can help to protect against type-2 diabetes and obesity, improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels, improve heart health and reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke, etc.10 11
- Enhanced Life Expectancy: By following the healthy Mediterranean diet, you can reduce the risk of developing cancer or heart disease and 20 percent reduced risk of death, thereby increasing longevity12.
- Low in Processed Foods and Sugar: The Mediterranean diet mainly recommends the consumption of organic and locally produced foods such as olive oil, legumes, fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains and breads, etc. and discourages the consumption of processed and sugary foods.
- Helps to Lose Weight in a Healthy Way: The Mediterranean diet is a sustainable diet and helps you lose and maintain that weight in a realistic manner so that you are able to sustain this in the long run. Eating nutrient-dense foods help you reduce your fat intake and thereby help in reducing weight too.
- Improves Heart Health: The traditional Mediterranean diet encourages eating foods that are rich in monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids that help to reduce heart disease. The alpha-linolenic acid or ALA contained in olive oil that is largely used in the Mediterranean diet, helps to reduce blood pressure and hypertension. It also helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. In short, you can say the Mediterranean diet is a “heart healthy” diet13.
- Reduces the Ageing of the Brain: While a lot of studies have been conducted on the link between the Mediterranean diet and health diseases related to the heart, cholesterol, blood sugar and even cancer, there hasn’t been much written about its effects on the brain. Recent studies14 have shown that the Mediterranean diet not only reduces the risk of the aforementioned diseases, but also reduces the ageing of the brain.
Disadvantages of the Mediterranean Diet
- Heavy Reliance on Carbohydrates: There is a heavy reliance on carbohydrates in the Mediterranean diet, which may cause weight gain in people not used to consuming so many carbs.
- Requires Lot of Time and Planning: This diet requires lots of planning to prepare and create meals.
- Gluten-Related Disorders: This diet includes consumption of pasta and bread that contains gluten. An increased dependence on this diet may lead to growing rate of gluten-related disorders.
- Diet Expensive to Follow: This diet may be more expensive to follow as fish is more expensive than cheaper cuts of meat.
- Weight Gain: Eating bowls of nuts, breads and salads drizzled in olive oil can make you gain weight and become fat even if they are “good” fats.
- Calcium Intake: The Mediterranean diet does not recommend consuming a lot of dairy products or milk. This could cause calcium deficiency and you would have to replenish calcium by eating enough cheese and yogurt or look for some non-dairy sources of calcium.
- Too Much Drinking: This diet encourages consumption of red wine, which may not be a good option for everyone and having more than the recommended quantity can have more detrimental effects in the long run.
Who is it For?
The Mediterranean diet is for people who are looking to lose weight in a healthy way. The diet not only prescribes healthy eating but also recommends a regular exercise regime for optimum results.
The Mediterranean diet has proved to be the secret for a healthy heart, increased life expectancy, agility and reduction of cognitive decline in old age. If you want a healthy retirement, free from medication, then this diet is probably the right one for you. The Mediterranean diet truly can improve the overall quality of life.
Who is it Not For?
The Mediterranean diet is not for suitable for you if you are a child, pregnant, or a nursing mother. In case you have a history of alcoholic abuse, then this diet is not for you, as it recommends drinking wine along with the meals although in moderation. If you suffer from gout, abnormal kidney or liver function, or high uric acid levels, then the Mediterranean diet is not recommended for you.
Common Myths and Misconceptions of the Mediterranean Diet
It Is Very Expensive to Follow the Mediterranean Diet.
When on a Mediterranean diet, if your protein source is mainly lentils and beans and you are consuming mainly whole grains and plant-based foods, then following the Mediterranean diet can be less expensive than processed or packaged foods.
You Can Drink as Much Wine as You Want as It Is Healthy for the Heart.
Drinking wine has its benefits and the Mediterranean diet recommends accompanying the meals with a glass of red wine. However, the key to this is moderation. Drinking more than one or two glasses of wine may actually be bad for your heart. It is a good practice to enjoy a glass of wine with your meals a few times a week and stay healthy.
Eating Plenty of Pasta with Bread Is Completely Fine.
Typically, eating half to one cup serving size of pasta is fine. You can add salads, fish, meat, or vegetable sides along with the pasta and a slice of whole grain bread for a complete meal, instead of consuming the pasta by itself.
You Don’t Have to Exercise When on the Mediterranean Diet.
This is not true. To maintain a healthy and fit lifestyle, it is always good to exercise and be physically active. Following a sensible exercise regimen along with the Mediterranean diet can be the key to not only losing weight the healthy way, but also keeping it off in the long run.
You Can Eat as Much as Cheese as You Want in a Mediterranean Diet.
This is a major misconception that you can eat plenty of cheese when following the Mediterranean diet. Eating too much of cheese piles on unwanted calories as well as saturated fats which is neither good for health not for weight loss.
You Can Eat Desserts on a Regular Basis and Still Manage to Keep Your Weight Down.
Eating too many desserts is not a great option for your overall weight or your belly fat. The Mediterranean diet consists of a hearty meal of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, which does not include a decadent dessert in every meal. The delicious, traditional and rich Mediterranean desserts are restricted to special occasions only. Eating a fruit or low calorie biscotti for dessert on a regular basis is a good option.
The Mediterranean Diet Contains So Much of Fat, It Cannot Be a Healthy Diet.
The Mediterranean diet has a higher content of fat when compared to other diets. However, the key to this is the kind of fat that is consumed. The oils and fats used in the Mediterranean diet is predominantly “good” monounsaturated fats that are “heart friendly”, such as olive oil, avocados, etc. rather than the “unhealthy” saturated fats contained in dairy, meat and butter.
All the Health Benefits Are Only from Following the Mediterranean Diet.
While the diet is a key contributor to health, it is not the sole factor. Stress management, physical activity, rest, recreation and vitamin D are important components. So by getting all these in proper quantities along with a healthy diet, you can be fit and healthy in the long run.
People in the Mediterranean Region Eat Huge Meals but Never Gain Weight.
Despite eating large meals the Mediterranean people do not put on weight, as they eat many small servings of low-calorie foods such as raw and cooked veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains and very small portion of meats rather than large, high calorie meals.
The important thing is not the meal size, but the right constituents of the meal. You can’t eat just anything when on the Mediterranean diet. You need to keep in mind the number of calories you are consuming and you must also maintain the right balance of foods.
One research study showed that after 3 years on a Mediterranean diet, the subjects had a 56 percent risk of dying and 50-60 percent risk of heart related ailments. Since then, the Mediterranean diet is the medical standard for weight loss in diabetes.
Following the Mediterranean Diet
You can follow the Mediterranean diet easily at home. You can maintain a handy chart of foods that can be consumed through the week. This will help you to decide what foods to eat and what to avoid. In the long run, the Mediterranean diet can become your way of life!
Moving to a Mediterranean diet is all about making a healthy lifestyle choice. It is an enjoyable diet plan that is extremely flexible and very easy to follow.
It is a great idea to eat a balanced meal every day, but there is no need to go overboard and do it at each and every meal. Even if you don’t follow the diet plan strictly, eating more foods that are part of the diet and being more active will get you closer to achieving your health goals. Getting the right balance can be achieved over a period of time and we all know that “slow and steady wins the race.”