The Mediterranean Diet
What Is The Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a composite of the traditional cuisines of Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, Crete and parts of the Middle East. It is a style of eating that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, dairy products and fresh fish. While it is not a weight-loss diet, studies suggest that shifting from a standard Western diet to this mode of eating may help you lose weight.
How Healthy Is The Mediterranean Diet?
It is hard to overstate the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Compared to the Western diet, it is linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer, and lower risk of metabolic syndrome. Other documented benefits include improvements in brain function, lower rates of chronic diseases, decreased blood pressure and reduced cholesterol, as well as protection from diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and some dental problems. The diet also has been shown to lead to improvements in rheumatoid arthritis and eye health, healthier babies, improvements in fertility and lower risks of arthritis in men and of stroke in women, and better sleep and academic performance among teenagers. Research published in August 2018 showed that among 5,200 seniors (age 65 and older) those who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet had a four to seven percent lower risk of death over the eight-year study period.
How Popular Is It?
In the United States, people on the west coast and in the Northeast have most quickly adopted the Mediterranean diet, according to a study by Meifang Chen, professor of public health at California State University, Los Angeles. The results were presented in May 2018 at the annual meeting of the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna. The study also showed that the diet was less popular in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, northern Indiana and Michigan. Dr. Chen and his team interviewed nearly 21,000 non-Hispanic adults and reported that about half the respondents said they strictly followed a Mediterranean diet. The study also found that the diet was more popular among older people and non-smokers as well as those who were black, college-educated and had an annual household income of at least $75,000.
General Principles Of The Mediterranean Diet
In Greece, meals include an average of nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and if you want to adopt the Mediterranean diet, you should aim for seven to 10 servings daily. The other big change is a switch from butter or margarine, which contain unhealthy saturated or trans-fat, to olive oil, a heart-healthy, mostly monounsaturated fat. The Mediterranean way of consuming (whole grain) bread is eat it plain or dipped in olive oil. Foods are flavored with a variety of herbs and spices. If you consume alcohol, you can drink moderate amounts of wine. Research has shown that it is the combination of the foods included in the Mediterranean diet that appears to help protect health, rather than any single one (such as olive oil).
What Can You Eat?
The daily staples of the Mediterranean diet are high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, unrefined cereals, olive oil, fermented dairy products such as yogurt and natural cheeses, and fresh fish. While red meat isn’t eliminated, it is limited to about one meal a month. Similarly, poultry, eggs and sweets are permitted but are eaten only occasionally, not daily.
How Many Calories On The Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a healthy style of eating, not a structured weight-loss plan. For this reason, if you want to lose weight, you have to figure out on your own how many calories you’ll need to eliminate and how many more you can burn through daily exercise. Studies have shown that eating the Mediterranean way can lead to greater weight loss than low-fat diets and can help reduce accumulation of belly fat. Because it emphasizes plant-based foods, you may be able to eat more than you could on other types of diets and still lose weight.
A five-year study published in 2016 found that adults with type 2 diabetes or heart disease risks who remained on a Mediterranean diet, actually consumed more fat than those who were assigned to a control diet and advised to reduce dietary fat. Those on the Mediterranean diet gained less weight and ended up with lower waist circumference than those in the other group.
What Do Doctors Say?
Given the many well-known health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, your doctor is likely to urge you to adopt it if you ask about the subject or have a medical problem the diet can help address. Most physicians should be familiar with evidence that it can help prevent cardiovascular diseases, increase lifespan and promote healthy aging.
Dr. Weil’s Take On The Mediterranean Diet:
Dr. Weil regards the Mediterranean diet as one of the world’s healthiest diets. He also favors it because most people like it, because it doesn’t stint on flavor and offers a wide range of health benefits. He notes, however, that this diet is part of a cultural package that includes regular physical activity and strong social and family bonds, which are reinforced around shared meals.
Marialaura Bonaccio et al, “Mediterranean diet and mortality in the elderly: a prospective cohort study and a meta-analysis.” British Journal of Nutrition, August 30, 2018, doi:10.1017/S0007114518002179.
“Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet,” New England Journal of Medicine, July 17, 2008, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0708681
Dariush Mozaffarian et al, “Food and Weight Gain: Time to End Our Fear of Fat.” The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, June 6, 2016, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-8587(16)30106-1
Ramón Estruch et al, “Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts. New England Journal of Medicine, June 21, 2018, DOI:10.1056/NEJMoa1800389