People from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have less heart disease than Americans. Why would that be? Do they just have better jeans than we do? Apparently not, since they become prone to heart disease as well if they move to the US and start eating the typical American diet?
Studies that use the dietary patterns of traditional Mediterranean style diets, have shown benefits above and beyond cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet protects against cancer, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s as well as heart disease. It also helps reverse metabolic syndrome when accompanied by weight loss.
Scientists have tried for years to determine the secret of Mediterranean wellness. Is it the red wine they drink, the olive oil they use in most of their dishes or some other magical ingredients? It turns out that no one food can account for all of the benefits but the dietary pattern as a whole does reduce the risk of chronic disease.
The Mediterranean diet along with calorie restriction also results in more weight loss and better lipid profiles than low fat diets and it is a healthier choice than low carbohydrate diets.
Here are the main features of a Mediterranean style dietary pattern:
* high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds
* olive oil is an important monounsaturated fat source
* dairy products, fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts, and little red meat is eaten
* eggs are consumed zero to four times a week
* wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts
We know there are benefits from individual components of the Mediterranean diet as well. Resveritrol, found in the skins of red grapes, has life extending benefits based on animal studies. Resveritrol is also in blueberries and in the skins of eggplant, both in season.
Monounsaturated fats in olive oil and omega-3 fats in fatty fish also help protect against cardiovascular disease and inflammation. Eat fish that are low in mercury such as Alaskan salmon, sardines, and trout. Fish oil supplements also should be certified to be free of mercury and other pollutants. Flax seed and walnuts are good plant sources of omega-3 fats and avocados and almonds are good sources of monounsaturated fats.
Phytochemicals, including antioxidants, have health benefits ranging from prevention of heart disease and some cancers to healthy skin. Colorful fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and some herbs and spices are good sources of beneficial phytochemicals.
The Mediterranean studies have lead to changes is recommendations for a healthy diet as seen in the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For optimum health, eat a largely plant based diet with an emphasis on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and uncontaminated seafood.