Tired of trying out trend diets that seem to be doing nothing but taking all the joy out of life, while seemingly doing very little to make you healthier?
Heed these words: moving from diet to diet can be worse than maintaining almost any regular diet because of the chaotic ups and downs you’ll wreak on your metabolism.
It’s best to find one manageable diet and stick with it, long term. The problem with this is that so many diets out there seem to be restricting you to a miniscule selection of foods you can actually enjoy. This drives lots of people to throw in the towel on dieting altogether.
But don’t give up on your health. There’s a diet out there that will both allow you to experiment with exciting foods and flavors, and promise some fantastic health benefits that are backed by loads of scientific research – the Mediterranean diet!
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
When you picture a Mediterranean meal, you imagine a lengthy dinner table topped with a feast fit for a king, where dozens of people wearing togas happily eat their way through multiple courses, followed by startling amounts of wine.
While that may sound like your idea of heaven, that’s not exactly what the Mediterranean diet looks like in practice.
The diet works by supplying your body with a meal plan rich in healthy fats, and was originally introduced by American scientist Ancel Keys. It was largely based on the dietary patterns of people living near the Mediterranean Ocean, namely Greece, Italy, and Spain, consisting of homegrown foods instead of processed foods.
While on the diet, your plate will be filled with salads, vegetables, small portions of meat, and maybe a slice of bread. Any of the pasta, cheeses, and desserts you might have expected to find on the diet can be included in tiny portions as side dishes – none of these heaping piles of chicken Alfredo you’re visualizing.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
1. Protects Against Diabetes
Diabetes affects a shockingly large amount of people in the US, and it is impacting the lives of more Americans at a greater rate than ever before. If the Mediterranean diet is worth its salt, it should be able to do something to help your body fight against looming threat – fortunately, it does so in spades.
A study observing around 3,000 people in Athens, Greece, found a 49-62% decrease in the risk of diabetes in participants who adhered to the Mediterranean diet. Researchers suggest the reason for this very significant decrease is the anti-inflammatory effects and an increase in total antioxidant capacity.
The Mediterranean diet may also be beneficial because of how it helps control excess insulin, the hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. The whole foods consumed in the diet are full of healthy fatty acids, plenty of protein, and low sugar carbohydrates that help the body burn fat more efficiently.
If you are already suffering from diabetes, your diet most likely already consists of fresh produce, healthy fats, and low sugar – so if you’d like to follow a structured diet with lots of great foods to choose from, try out the Mediterranean diet.
2. Prevents Heart Disease and Stroke
A 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that about 30% of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease could be prevented in high risk individuals if they were to switch to a Mediterranean diet.
The New York Times reported, “The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.”
The evidence that has supported the efficacy of the Mediterranean diet in lowering these risks has been weak, discussed only in studies showing lower rates of heart disease in Mediterranean countries. But now, we have definitive proof that the diet is responsible for these health benefits.
This is largely thought to be due to the cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, and possibly the resveratrol found in wine.
3. Fights Cancer
Researchers in a study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention said:
“The biological mechanisms for cancer prevention associated with the Mediterranean diet have been related to the favorable effect of a balanced ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids and high amounts of fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols found in fruit, vegetables, olive oil and wine.”
The combined benefits of all the plant foods in the diet, including DNA protection, antioxidant boosts, anti-inflammatory effects, stopping cell mutation, delaying tumor growth, all play a part in preventing and fighting against the horrible health effects of cancers.
A study detailed in the British Journal of Cancer via Nature.com found that by simply adopting only two aspects of the Mediterranean diet, you could cut your risk of developing cancer by 12%. Those two aspects? Consuming more good fats, and eating more peas, beans, and lentils.
Sara Hiom, the director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said:
“This research highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy balanced diet to reduce your risk of cancer. It shows that there are a number of things you can do, and that there is no one ‘superfood’ that can stop you developing the disease.”
4. Reduces Risk of Neurological Disease
The Mediterranean diet could be great for your memory, and a natural treatment for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia.
When the brain isn’t getting a sufficient amount of dopamine, the body and brain suffer together – body movements are altered, thought processing and mood regulation are thrown off.
That’s why researchers now speculate that the Mediterranean diet’s effects of improving cholesterol and blood sugar levels for stronger, healthier blood vessels are major factors in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. High antioxidant diets prevent cells from undergoing damage by oxidative stress, which cuts the risk of Parkinson’s in half.
Because the diet encourages the consumption of probiotic foods like yogurt and kefir, you’re likely to cultivate a healthier gut environment. A UCLA study actually found that women given probiotic rich yogurt demonstrated improved brain function after only four weeks.
5. Reduced Asthma Symptoms
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, have reported that there is now a higher percentage of both children and adults with asthma than ever before, worldwide.
If you suffer from asthma, you’re probably an old pro when it comes to changes in diets and a regular regimen of prescription medications, inhalers, and breathing machines. Or, maybe you’ve simply noticed you’re more likely than your friends to ask for a breather during a game of pick-up basketball.
The Mediterranean diet may be just the solution you need to fight against it – and, if you are raised on it or a similar diet, studies show you are at a significantly lower chance of having asthma.
Researchers in Helsinki, Finland and Porto, Portugal found that 25% of the participants they observed had well-controlled asthma. And, you guessed correct, those were the same participants who closely followed a Mediterranean diet. That means the risk of having uncontrolled asthma was greatly reduced.
The researchers refused to be fooled, and took into account everything ranging from age to calorie intake and found that the diet still emerged as a key factor in controlling asthma. So, if you’re growing tired of spending your life with an emergency inhaler in your pocket, consider changing to the Mediterranean diet.
6. Increases Your Longevity
All of the healthy foods consumed in the Mediterranean diet may also be the key to a longer lifespan.
A recent study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that women who ate a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres, the thread-like structures that house your DNA.
As you age, your telomeres shorten. The shorter they are, the more associated they are with aging, age-related diseases, lower life expectancy, certain cancers, and liver disease.
The researchers involved with the study wrote:
“This is the largest population-based study addressing the association between Mediterranean diet adherence and telomere length in healthy, middle aged women.”
The women involved had a calculated diet score ranging between 0 and 9 points. The higher the score, the closer their diet resembled the Mediterranean diet. Every point represented an average of 1.5 years of telomere aging.
7. Helps You Lose Weight
A lot of the reason why people have so much trouble losing weight through dieting is because they just can’t stick with it long-term. But, if you’re looking for a diet that will genuinely promise weight loss that you can follow for the rest of your life without too much hassle, you’ve found it.
Because you can change the diet to fit your specific needs, you can choose to up the protein count of your foods while lowering your carb intake by focusing on seafood and quality probiotic and omega-3-filled dairy products. You can also build a calorie deficit into the plan – eating fewer calories than you consume – which when coupled with exercise is an undeniably successful means of fighting obesity and related health issues.
The diet insists on whole, unprocessed foods. That means you’ll be eating a lot of grass-fed and free-range meats and tons of healthy veggies – all of which are essential to quality meals that will help your body burn fat.
A study published in the US National Library of Medicine detailed the work done by researchers in studying the effects of the Mediterranean diet on more than a thousand elderly men and women. Those who followed the diet closest saw an 88% lower likelihood of being obese.
Interested yet? You should be.
The Mediterranean diet is seriously looking like one of the healthiest diets out there. US News and World Report’s Best Diets Overall rankings for 2015 listed the diet as tied for third place with the Mayo Clinic Diet and Weight Watchers.
If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you’ll know by now that I really like to talk about the importance of a well-balanced diet to maintaining proper health. The Mediterranean diet is one of my favorite diets for that reason. It doesn’t rely on some gimmick and doesn’t exaggerate its effects – its positives are supported by evidence.
Not only are its health benefits tremendous, the foods you’ll be eating won’t be stripped down and boring like some of the foods and supplements recommended by other diets.
So, if you’re just getting started with the diet, try out some of these awesome meal plans. You’ll be enjoying some of the best food Mediterranean cuisine has to offer, and doing right by your body and mind.
After learning about all of these benefits, coupled with how delicious the food options can be, it looks like the Mediterranean diet isn’t just some passing fad – it’s here to stay.