What's the big deal about the Mediterranean diet?

Posted by Janet McCann, R.D.
February 23, 2016

Mediterranean Diet_Medium

Take naps, take time to be more social, drink wine —all while lowering your risk for numerous chronic diseases and cancer. Sign me up. Yes, there is more work to be included into the Mediterranean diet, but it’s more than just a diet — it’s viewed as a model eating plan for good health.

The Mediterranean diet became popular after the 1970s Seven Countries Study, which compared various diets of people living in southern Italy, Greece, northern Europe and the U.S. Not only is it for weight loss, it’s a heart-healthy eating plan as well. It has been proven to lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke. It also lowers the risk for diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

While much of the plan is healthy eating, a large part includes slowing down and enjoying life — something most of us can benefit from. The basics of Mediterranean-style eating include:

  • Sit down at a table for at least two lunches or dinners per week.
  • Take time to enjoy the meal.
  • Eat with friends and family.
  • Focus on specific food intake (read more below).

Focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains

Instead of jumping to sugary desserts, try eating fruit instead. Purple and orange fruits, such as pomegranates, figs and grapes, are a rich source of flavonols and anthocyanins, which reduce heart disease risk. Peaches, nectarines and cantaloupes are a great source of carotenes and other types of antioxidants. The antioxidants in fruit will counteract inflammatory processes after a meal, which will give you natural sugars and key vitamins and minerals. Just like any typical diet, it is important to include a variety of dark green vegetables for their vital nutrients and antioxidants. Nuts and seeds are good sources of fiber, protein and healthy fats. Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal, rice and pasta products.

Eat more fish

Fish is the main source of animal protein included in the Mediterranean diet. Include a serving of fish at least two times each week. Fish, including salmon, albacore tuna, halibut, herring, sardines, mackerel and trout, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart and brain health. Consumption of red meat is rare in traditional Mediterranean eating. Portions of red meat and poultry are usually kept to 3 ounces or less.

Try different types of dairy, go for the olive oil

Switch things up a bit by trying different types of cheese and milk. In the Mediterranean region, seeing goats and sheep is more common. It’s more likely that these animals are pasture-raised, which enhances the animals’ nourishment and creates healthier fat within products. In order to add flavor to food, use garlic, herbs and virgin olive oil instead of butter and canola oil. These natural products will help protect your heart and provide great flavor to your meals.

A simple way to start is by trying some Mediterranean recipes. For more information, talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian.

Janet McCann is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire.

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