The Mediterranean diet, recently called the healthiest diet in the world, is a way of both enjoying the lifestyle of and eating based on the traditional foods (and drinks) of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This includes Italy, Greece, Spain, and Morocco.
The health benefits of a Mediterranean diet have been studied extensively in the last 10 years, resulting in better science and more clinical evidence.
What Foods are Included in the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet includes extra virgin olive oil, chickpeas, nuts (i.e. hazlenuts and walnuts), vegetables, fruits, fish, and whole grains are all included. There is a moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt). Additionally, there is an emphasis on a variety of minimally processed and, wherever possible, seasonally fresh and locally grown foods (which often maximizes the health-promoting micronutrient and antioxidant content of these foods).
Opposed to many diets which exclude alcohol, the Mediterranean diet allows for moderate consumption of wine, normally with meals; about one to two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women. From a contemporary public health perspective, wine should be considered optional and avoided when consumption would put the individual or others at risk.
Does the Diet Include Exercise?
Regular physical activity at a level which promotes a healthy weight, fitness and well-being is generally included in the diet as well. The Mediterranean diet, according to many nutritionists and health specialists, is more of a lifestyle than a traditional diet.
What Diseases Does the Diet Prevent and/or Reduce?
The February 25 New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a large Spanish study that found persuasive evidence that the Mediterranean lowers the risk of strokes and heart disease. In the featured study, participants who enjoyed plentiful amounts of these foods had less cardiovascular disease than subjects who followed a more conventional low-fat diet that included red meat. The results were so overwhelmingly clear that researchers study ended the study early. The researches concluded that among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events.
A separate but also recent analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality, a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, diabetes, and a reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Is This Diet New?
Although filed in with the myriad of fad diets, the Mediterranean diet is far from new. In 2010, UNESCO recognized this diet pattern as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Italy, Greece, Spain and Morocco.
For thousands of years, residents along the Mediterranean coast have enjoyed the delicious diet and engaging in regular physical activity. They don’t think of their eating habits as a diet plan; it’s simply a way of life that can lead to long, healthy lives with less chance of chronic disease.