The term “Mediterranean Diet” came about in 2013 when medical researchers were studying diets from around the world and tracked the health statuses of women from when they were in their 50s to 60s till they were in the 70s. They found that the people from this small village in Italy had the lowest cases of age-related diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases, and thus started looking into their diets to find out whether it is the cause of their better health status.
First, let’s talk about what Mediterranean food is not about. When one mentions Italian or Greek food, one would often think about pasta, pizza, lamb and loaves of bread accompanied by bottles of wine. However, Mediterranean food is more than that and when referring to the Mediterranean diet specifically, it’s about eating a diet that is rich in fruit, vegetables, beans, shellfish, chicken, fish, tomatoes, nuts, olive oil and…even, red wine. For example, the paella or pilaf has a lot of the above ingredients inside. Nonetheless, the key to everything is moderation.
This “Mediterranean diet” has been around for thousands of years but contrary to what most would believe, it’s not just a diet but a way of life. People who live with the diet don’t just eat; they also lead active lives, get a lot of exercise and are very social. It’s a lifestyle that is meant to keep you healthy in all fronts – physical, emotional and mental.
Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet
We’ve talked a lot about the Mediterranean diet and what it is, but you might be wondering what the benefits of it actually are, people wouldn’t talk about it if it didn’t live up to the hype after all. The main benefit that everyone mentions when they talk about this particular diet is how it can help prevent heart disease, type-2 diabetes, obesity and even depression.
It’s Low in Processed Foods and Sugar
Ingredients found in Mediterranean food tend to be natural with little processing and no artificial flavouring, favouring on fresh produce. The only ‘processed’ foods would be items such as cheese, sausages and preserved olives or capers. It doesn’t shy away from carbs nor is it exceptionally high in protein (e.g. Atkins or Paleo diets).
The Mediterranean diet is also low in sugar, with the only sugar present being in fruits and wines. It also involves drinking a lot of fresh water or natural juices, which also lowers the consumption of sugar that could lead towards diabetes.
Helps You Lose Weight
This is one of the main reasons why the Mediterranean diet is so popular. Not only is it sustainable, the ingredients are all healthy and offer a variety of nutrients (protein and omega 3s etc) that allow you to lead a healthy life without making you go hungry, so you won’t have to skimp on food. Not just that, there’s also a large variety of foods and dishes, so you won’t have to worry about sticking to only one type of food, you can try out different recipes that suit your palate or needs.
Improves Heart Health and Prevents Cancer
The benefit of a lot of these dishes, and their reliance on olive oil in particular, is that they offer a great amount of Omega 3 fatty acids that can help heart disease, as some famous stars would tell you. Coupled with a diet high on fish and the chances of cardiac arrest can be lowered by 30%, with sudden cardiac death going down by 45% or more.
Olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, is also great at lowering hypertension because it makes nitric oxide more bioavailable, which makes it better able to keep arteries dilated and clear. It also helps fight against oxidation and improves endothelial functions, which is further enhanced by the antioxidant resveratrol found in red wine.
The antioxidants found in red wine and the various fruit and vegetables also help to prevent cancer by protecting DNA cells and slows down the degenerating rate as well as lowering cell mutation and delaying tumor growth.
Its ability to lower inflammation also makes Mediterranean diets able to lower the risks of diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type-2 Diabetes. The reason for this might be in the fact that foods found in this group control excess insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels, and makes us gain and retain weight.
People living with a Mediterranean diet eat a balanced breakfast shortly after waking up and eat all three meals a day, with their biggest one usually being lunch.
Can Prevent Cognitive Disease and Help You Live Longer
The effects of anti-inflammatory vegetables and fruits also help fight age-related cognitive decline. Thus, the Mediterranean diet can work as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, which are often thought to be related to the lack of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is necessary for body movements, body regulations and thought processing.
This diet also encourages people to spend more time with nature as well as getting a good sleep and spending time with loved ones. Constantly spending time with those you care about helps release dopamine too, and can help with fighting stress and depression.
Plant-based foods and healthy fats also act as a good combination for longevity. Olive oil for its part offers a lot of monounsaturated fat, which is associated with lower levels of all the diseases we’ve mentioned before and also acts as the main offering of this diet.
These are some of the main benefits tied to Mediterranean diets that have helped push it into popularity as of recent years. It stands out even more in an age where people are looking to live healthier and change the direction of their lives.
However, like many things in life, a Mediterranean diet will only help you if you eat the correct amount of calories for your body type and weight, and stick to it. If you’re able to find a balance and follow the diet as best you can we’re sure to get results.
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