The Mediterranean Diet: A Simple and Smart Way to Eat
By Jessica Cho, HealthCorps Summer Intern 2019
No matter who you are or where you’re from, it’s always fun to experience new cultures. One easy way to get a taste (quite literally) of another country is to explore and experiment with the foods in their diet. The Mediterranean diet is known to be delicious and successful in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, several types of cancer, arthritis, and other chronic diseases. Committing to this heart healthy diet has also proven to be effective in obesity prevention and weight management. The fresh flavors combined with the undeniable health benefits of the Mediterranean diet is worth transporting yourself to this region in your very own kitchen. Close your eyes, feel the calming sea breeze, and get cooking! Find out why it’s one of the best diets to follow according to medical experts.
The Mediterranean Region
The Mediterranean region consists of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal sit North of the sea. Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel are located to its East. And the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia are situated to its South. The “Mediterranean cuisine”, however, refers to the blended culinary traditions of the countries north of the sea: France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Each of the regions that refer to the Mediterranean cuisine have their own unique dishes and ways of cooking their food. Common factors of this diet, however, include decadent, yet simple meals abundant in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans, olive oil, and even red wine! Dairy products are consumed in moderation and red meat intake is limited. The diet is primarily plant-based rather than meat-based and uses healthy fats opposed to saturated and trans fats. Traditionally, meals are enjoyed and shared among family and friends. The way food is prepared and cherished contributes to the overall effectiveness of this diet.
Fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, and salmon are staple to the Mediterranean diet. Since the Mediterranean countries have access to the coastline, fishing has become a way of life and subsequently, the cuisine. Fatty fish contain omega-3-fatty acids which are highly helpful in the prevention of heart disease, decreasing triglycerides, reducing blood clotting, and decreasing the risk of stroke and heart failure.
Olive trees are native to this area of the world, explaining why 75% of olive oil worldwide comes from Italy, Spain, or Greece. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. Olive oil also contains phytonutrients called phenols, which help lower blood fats and prevent the interruption of blood flow. Not all fats are necessarily bad!
Fruits and Vegetables
The Mediterranean climate is classified by dry summers and wet winters. The combination of these differing weather patterns is ideal for harvesting a bounty of various fresh fruits and vegetables. These include tomatoes, peppers, figs, and pomegranates.
Italy, Spain, and France are well-known for their red wine production. Although excessive alcohol consumption is detrimental, a glass of red wine in moderation can offer some health benefits. Red wine contains a supply of several phytonutrients which have been found to improve blood flow to the brain, help keep heart muscle flexible, lower total cholesterol, and prevent unwanted clumping of red blood cells. Sipping on a glass of red wine is also a great way to slow down, relax, and cherish a meal by making each flavor come to life even more.
The Mediterranean diet has proven to be an effective approach to leading a happier and healthier lifestyle. But because that information may have been quite a bit to take in at once, follow these 10 simple steps to start living the Mediterranean way!
- Fuel up on more fruits and vegetables
- Reach for whole grains (breads, cereals, pasta)
- Cook with healthy fats (olive oil)
- Eat more seafood
- Reduce red meat consumption
- Have poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation
- Use an abundance of spices (in place of salt)
- Enjoy a glass of red wine (in moderation, of course!)
- Stay physically active
- Enjoy meals with family and friends
Get creative with your next meal and feel inspired by the flavors of the Mediterranean. This diet is one that won’t disappoint flavor-wise or in improving your overall health. While the ingredients in this diet are certainly essential, the way we approach preparing and eating what’s on our plate is just as important. The focus on fresh foods prepared with care, the value of good taste, and the enjoyment of meals with loved ones is a key part of the culture and diet as well. Remember to smile, savor each bite, and raise a glass to eating healthy and feeling truly good about yourself.
For more information on foods like the Mediterranean Diet, please visit Mighty Macronutrients.