The Mediterranean diet is a concept you have most likely encountered, perhaps on the cover of a magazine at the doctor’s office or by scrolling through the internet and finding various articles on the benefits of the diet. When the word “diet” is mentioned, most of us tend to associate the term with restrictive eating, calorie counting, hunger, and fatigue. However, the Mediterranean diet is different and should be viewed more as a healthy and sustainable way of eating akin to a lifestyle change rather than a passing fad diet. This approach focuses on consuming nutrient-dense foods without the need for calorie counting or extreme restrictions. In this month’s post, we’ll explore the Mediterranean diet and its numerous benefits for your overall health and well-being.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The origins of the Mediterranean diet can be traced back to the 1950s when researchers discovered that the populations of the Mediterranean Sea basin were in better overall health than those of the Western regions of the world. It was found that the populations of these regions had lower rates of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and greater longevity. When looking further into their discovery, they found that the staple foods consumed in Mediterranean regions such as Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Egypt, and Lebanon played a significant role in promoting good health among these populations.
The diet primarily revolves around a rich assortment of micronutrients made up of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, nuts, legumes, and healthy oils. It also allows for moderate consumption of lean protein sources like eggs, poultry, cheese, and dairy products. Conversely, the Mediterranean diet tends to avoid the consumption of red and fatty meats, including beef and pork, as well as processed foods, refined grains, and hydrogenated oils.
While food is a driving factor of the Mediterranean diet, it also extends beyond consumption and encompasses a comprehensive approach to promoting overall well-being. It emphasizes not only the selection of nutritious foods but values various lifestyle habits such as physical fitness, fostering strong social connections, and prioritizing relaxation. When conducting their studies, researchers found that mental health is a priority for the populations of the Mediterranean regions, significantly contributing to optimal health and an overall sense of well-being.
What are The Benefits?
The Mediterranean is widely regarded as one of the healthiest eating patterns in the world. Here are the top three benefits of the diet:
- Heart health: It’s been well established through several studies that sticking to the Mediterranean diet can do wonders for your heart. One specific study, the PREDIMED study, investigated the effects of this dietary pattern on 7,000 men and women in Spain with type-2 diabetes or who were at risk for cardiovascular disease. Over a span of five years, participants who followed the Mediterranean diet with unrestricted calorie intake experienced a remarkable outcome: a significant reduction in the risk of heart events, with approximately 30 percent lower risk observed by the study’s end.
- Cancer prevention: Researchers have been intrigued by the impact of the Mediterranean diet in regard to cancer risk and have conducted multiple studies to uncover a correlation between the diet and a reduction in cancer occurrences. Many of their studies have shown a clear correlation in the reduction of the following cancer types:
- Breast Cancer
- Stomach Cancer
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Lung Cancer
While there are multiple factors that contribute to a person’s risk of cancer, the findings of each study highlight the importance of consuming rich nutrients and healthy fats.
- Cognitive function: Over the years, there has been growing evidence that the foods we consume can play a vital role in our overall cognitive health. Diets that are low in saturated fats and high in nutrients will have a vascular and anti-inflammatory effect on the body’s organs, the brain being one of the many beneficiaries. It’s been found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with improved cognition, slower cognitive decline, and a reduction of Alzheimer’s disease. While diet is important, it’s also important to remember that overall lifestyle habits are critical – exercise and maintaining social connections are key elements of Dementia prevention.
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