The Mediterranean diet was once a fad, but is now one of the most popular ways of eating to promote optimal health.
Once thought of as close cousins with the Atkins craze and the South Beach diet, the Mediterranean diet has proven more useful, and is packed full of health benefits without depriving your body of anything.
Studies show that a diet consistent with the Mediterranean style of eating supports cardiovascular health, improves cognitive function, reduces your risk of developing heart disease and cancer, and helps prevent obesity and supports weight loss.
This way of eating is based on the following philosophy:
- Base every meal—including breakfast—on the following ingredients: fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, and whole grains. Use liberal amounts of olive oil, herbs, and spices in place of butter, sugar, and salt.
- Drink lots of water and be physically active on a daily basis, spending time with family and friends.
- Add a serving of fish, shellfish, or other seafood as a side dish at least three times per week.
- Eat poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt as small side dishes (moderate portions) on a nearly daily basis, and accent it all with a glass of wine.
- Red meat and sweets should be consumed in moderation, once or less per week.
According to the American Heart Association, this diet works to support your overall health because it minimizes saturated fat and capitalizes on the healthy monousaturated fat from olive oil. When used in moderation, monounsaturated fats help to reduce bad cholesterol and are usually high in vitamin E.
The diet is also beneficial because it uses vegetables and fruits as base components of every meal. The more raw and more color varieties you eat—especially if the foods are organic—the higher the antioxidant and nutrition levels will be, making it easier for your body to utilize the food for energy and daily functioning instead of storing it as fat.
The primary protein sources come from beans, legumes, and naturally lean meat, such as poultry and fish. When red meat is included in a meal, usually only a couple of times per month, a lean or extra-lean cut is chosen over a traditional one. This minimizes the amount of saturated fats, the kind that clogs arteries.
But why is this diet more special than the others? Experts agree that the higher consumption of fruits and vegetables (and movement away from processed foods) in addition to the presence of monounsaturated fats (olive oil) in place of saturated fats make a huge difference.
According to Johns Hopkins Health Information Network, “Fruits and vegetables are rich in free radical-fighting antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, which can help prevent oxidative damage in the brain.
Olive oil and fish are rich in monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fat, respectively, which can quench inflammation in the brain.” One reason why this diet may be so easy to stick with (compared to others that restrict a certain food group or type) is its view on moderation. Being able to indulge in sweets and wine without feeling restricted can promote confidence and makes sticking to this lifestyle change easier.