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What is the Mediterranean diet?

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet, also known as the diet followed by those residing in countries such as Italy, Spain, southern France, and Greece along the Mediterranean Sea, is a popular term used to describe their eating habits.

This dietary approach focuses on consuming whole, unprocessed foods such as vegetables, fruits, and legumes while limiting the intake of highly processed and convenient foods.

According to research, following the Mediterranean diet can provide numerous advantages for one’s health, such as lowering the chances of developing heart disease and maintaining a healthy weight.

Discover more about the Mediterranean diet, including its possible advantages, recommended and restricted foods, and steps to incorporate this eating style to enhance your overall well-being.

Guide to Adhering to the Mediterranean Diet

The term “Mediterranean diet” encompasses various dietary patterns in the Mediterranean region. Still, a high intake of plant-based foods such as vegetables, legumes, grains, and nuts characterizes most diets.

The current Mediterranean diet, recommended for promoting better health, is founded on the eating habits of individuals living in the Mediterranean area before the widespread availability of food products through trade. These individuals consumed locally accessible food, resulting in a diet more closely aligned with seasonal availability.

The traditional Mediterranean diet primarily consisted of whole, locally sourced foods rich in nutrients while low in ultra-processed foods.

While the Mediterranean diet does not restrict any specific foods, adherents of this eating style should limit their consumption of heavily processed foods and added sugars to align with the traditional approach of this diet.

Edible Options

The diet that is centred around the Mediterranean region emphasizes the consumption of the following foods:

  • Assortment of vegetables such as greens, zucchini, squash, asparagus, and more.
  • Various fruits include apples, berries, citrus fruits, figs, and more.
  • Selection of millet, barley, farro, buckwheat, and more.
  • Range of legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, white beans, and more.
  • Assortment of nuts and seeds like almonds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, walnuts, and more.
  • Assortment of seafood and poultry, including fish, mussels, shrimp, and chicken breast.
  • Variety of herbs and spices like rosemary, basil, black pepper, garlic, cinnamon, and more.

According to research carried out by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average American adult’s mean added sugar intake is approximately 77 grams daily.

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The Mediterranean diet relies heavily on olive oil as its primary source of fat. This is because olive oil is commonly produced and easily accessible in numerous Mediterranean countries.

Dairy, meat, and eggs are typically consumed in moderate quantities. Those who adhere to Mediterranean diets tend to have a low-to-moderate intake of wine, primarily red wine.

Limiting Your Food Choices

The Mediterranean diet does not restrict any specific foods since it is an eating routine rather than a strict diet.

Given that the Mediterranean diet is derived from customary eating habits that prioritize whole and nutrient-rich foods, it is recommended to restrict the consumption of the following foods and beverages:

  • Examples of highly processed foods include candy, fast food, and ultra-processed snacks.
  • Examples of meals that have undergone processing include bacon, lunch, and hot dogs.
  • Foods with added sugar and high sugar content: examples include soda, energy drinks, cakes, and cookies.
  • Grains that have been refined: it is recommended to prioritize whole grains over refined grains and products made from refined grains.

The Advantages of Following a Mediterranean Diet

Numerous studies have established a correlation between the Mediterranean diet and various health advantages, such as reduced risk of chronic illnesses and lower body weight.

The Mediterranean diet is thought to offer significant health advantages, mainly because it is abundant in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant elements and can manage body weight.

The nutrients in the foods that constitute the Mediterranean diet help decrease inflammation, safeguard against cellular damage, and enhance the sensation of satiety, all of which contribute to overall well-being.

Enhances Cardiovascular Wellness

The Mediterranean diet is renowned for safeguarding and enhancing heart health. Studies have shown that following a Mediterranean-style diet can potentially decrease the likelihood of developing heart disease through various mechanisms.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on consuming foods such as olive oil, fruits, and vegetables, which are known to assist in decreasing a condition known as atherosclerosis. This term refers to the accumulation of fatty deposits (plaque) in the arteries.

According to research, the Mediterranean diet, which includes foods such as olive oil, contains protective elements like polyphenol antioxidants that aid in decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation. These two factors have been identified as significant contributors to the development of atherosclerosis.

According to a study conducted in 2021 involving 939 individuals with heart disease, it was observed that those who adhered to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil for seven years experienced a decrease in the progression of atherosclerosis compared to those who followed a low-fat diet. 

The Mediterranean diet has been proven to lower plaque formation and enhance heart disease risk factors such as low HDL cholesterol and elevated blood pressure. This could be the reason behind its effectiveness in preventing heart disease.

A review from 2019 found that following a conventional Mediterranean diet was linked to significant decreases in coronary heart disease and overall cardiovascular disease.

Enhances Cognitive Function

The diet prevalent in the Mediterranean region contains a variety of foods that could potentially safeguard the well-being of the brain and foster its functioning.

Individuals who adhere to the Mediterranean diet experience decreased rates of cognitive decline associated with ageing, improved memory, and a reduced likelihood of developing neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2021, data from 512 individuals, including those with a higher susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease, was examined. The results showed that those who followed a Mediterranean diet had more grey matter in their brain tissue, improved memory, and reduced the buildup of amyloid plaques. Amyloid plaques are protein deposits that play a role in the development and advancement of Alzheimer’s disease.

The decrease in the volume of grey matter, or atrophy, has been linked to a decline in cognitive function.

The Mediterranean diet contains protective substances believed to shield the brain from harm caused by oxidative stress and inflammation. This may help promote healthy ageing and decrease the chances of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.

Potentially Decreases the Likelihood of Suffering a Stroke

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to enhance the well-being of blood vessels and facilitate proper circulation, thereby reducing the risk of experiencing a stroke.

In 2019, a review revealed that following a conventional Mediterranean diet was linked to a significant decrease in the risk of ischemic stroke.

Ischemic strokes happen when there is a blockage in the blood flow to the brain. On the other hand, hemorrhagic strokes take place when a blood vessel bursts and causes bleeding in the brain.

According to a review conducted in 2019, adopting the Mediterranean diet was linked to a reduced likelihood of experiencing ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes in both Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean communities.

Promoting a Healthy Weight Through Assistance

The Mediterranean diet is abundant in nutrients that promote a balanced body weight, such as fibre, beneficial fats, and proteins. Furthermore, it is lacking in foods that cause weight gain, such as highly processed foods, saturated fats typically found in fried foods, and added sugars.

According to a study conducted in 2018, which involved 32,119 Italian men and women, following a traditional Italian Mediterranean diet was linked to a decreased likelihood of becoming overweight or obese, a lower chance of having high levels of abdominal fat, and a minimal change in waist circumference throughout five years.11

According to a 2022 analysis involving information from more than 650,000 individuals, adhering to a Mediterranean diet was notably linked to a 9% reduction in the likelihood of developing overweight or obesity within five years.

The Mediterranean diet is a great option for encouraging weight loss because it is less restrictive than other popular diets and incorporates foods that support overall well-being.

Potential Protection Against Various Diseases

The Mediterranean diet not only helps to prevent heart disease and cognitive decline but also lowers the chances of developing type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. This has been shown through research and studies.

According to research, adhering to the Mediterranean diet may potentially decrease the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes and encourage proper management of blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Individuals who follow a diet similar to that of the Mediterranean have also been demonstrated to experience reduced occurrences of specific types of cancer, such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and stomach cancer.

Recent findings indicate that following the Mediterranean diet could potentially offer protection against inflammatory bowel disease, osteoporosis, preterm birth, kidney stones, dry eye, macular degeneration, and depression.

Also, individuals who adhere to the Mediterranean diet have a higher chance of having a longer and healthier lifespan.

Dangers of Following the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a well-balanced and nutrient-rich eating pattern that does not impose limitations on specific food items; therefore, it is not linked to any potential health risks.

The Mediterranean diet is versatile enough to be adapted to various dietary preferences, such as vegan and vegetarian diets.

A diet mainly consisting of plant-based foods may lack essential nutrients such as iron, B12, zinc, and iodine. As a result, individuals who adhere to a plant-based Mediterranean diet should carefully organize their meals to ensure they receive enough nutrients. Additionally, they may need to take supplements to make up for any deficiencies in their diet.

Finally, it should be noted that wine is often included in traditional Mediterranean diets. However, it is not necessary to increase one’s alcohol consumption while adhering to this eating style. While low to moderate alcohol intake is generally considered safe, excessive drinking, including red wine, can have detrimental effects on one’s overall health.

A Brief Overview

The diet commonly practiced in Mediterranean regions is a nutritious eating pattern that emphasizes consuming plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes.

Numerous potential health benefits are associated with it. It has the potential to lower your chances of developing health issues such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, it may aid in maintaining a suitable body weight.

For those looking to adopt a Mediterranean-style diet, incorporating the foods mentioned in this article into their meals and decreasing their consumption of heavily processed foods may be beneficial.

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