The Mediterranean diet is one of the most highly researched eating patterns. For many, it is considered a gold standard in heart disease prevention and treatment as it can lower LDL (bad cholesterol that builds up in arteries). The benefits of the diet extend far beyond the obvious, however. There is considerable evidence to suggest that this dietary pattern has an effect on: weight loss, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer, and other chronic diseases.
So how can you adopt this style of eating?
Focus on healthy fats
The Mediterranean diet does not limit total fat intake. It simply recommends making wise choices about the type of fats consumed. Instead of choosing saturated fats, such as butter or coconut oils, switch to unsaturated fats such as olive or canola oils. ‘Extra virgin’ or ‘virgin’ olive oils are the least processed forms and provide the highest level of protective plant compounds that have antioxidant effects.
Enjoy fatty fish
Mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, tuna, and salmon are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats have the ability to: decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, improve the health of blood vessels, and can help moderate blood pressure.
Increase your vegetable and fruit intake
Strive for 5-10 servings of vegetable and fruits daily. This can include: fresh, frozen, canned, and dried varieties. Enjoy fresh fruit for desserts over processed cookies, cakes, and other commercially baked items.
Minimize red meats
Keep red meat intake to a minimum of less than one pound per month. This includes sausages and bacon.
Enjoy low fat dairy sparingly
Dairy products are permitted but choices should be low fat and in small quantities. Skim milk, fat-free yogurts, and low fat cheeses are all okay.
Eat lots of plant foods
Pulses, nuts, beans, and seeds are all permitted. Enjoy nuts and seeds for snacks and increase your intake of meatless meals as often as you can.
Switch over to whole grains
Replace the white bread with whole wheat or whole grain varieties. The same goes for rice, pasta, cereals, and other grains. Look for varieties that say: ‘whole wheat’ or ‘whole grain’ within the first 3 ingredients on a food label.
Enjoy regular movement and exercise on most days of the week.
Consume alcohol in moderation
Red wine may have a protective effect but only in moderate amounts. Men can enjoy up to 2 glasses/day; women up to 1 glass daily. If you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t need to start. Purple grape juice can also provide protective effects.
The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are based on the synergistic effects of food.
This means that it is the combination of foods and nutrients that work together to provide a protective effect rather than the benefit of a single food when consumed on it’s own. Adopting one or two of the principles suggested above will therefore not be helpful if the overall eating pattern is still primarily a Western based diet.