The Mediterranean diet has been around for a while now, but still remains one of the best. In fact, US News and World Report recently picked the Mediterranean diet as the most ideal for 2020. The third-time winner has met all the criteria for best diet: balance, maintainability, palatability, family-friendliness, sustainability, and healthfulness.
Originated from the Mediterranean region in Europe, the diet is primarily plant-based with a moderate intake of fish and milk and a few portions of red meat. It entails eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. It also includes drinking red wine occasionally, most of the time during social events. On top of all that, it has a simple preparation making it easy to follow.
Several studies have proven the efficacy of the Mediterranean diet. A 2018 study published in Nutrition & Diabetesanalyzed dietary patterns of 32,119 Italian participants over a mean of 12 years. Researchers concluded that following a Mediterranean diet is associated with lower levels of weight gain and less increase in waist circumference. But they also report the research has limitations and that more intervention studies are needed to confirm their findings.
A study released in October 2013 followed 10,000 Spaniards for more than four years and found that those who reported eating a Mediterranean Diet had a 30 percent lower risk of developing depression than those who didn’t. Study authors said the diet is beneficial because it contains few of the fats that drive inflammation, like saturated fat in red meat and trans fats in margarine and processed foods. At the same time, it’s rich in nuts, berries and dark vegetables that have anti-inflammatory effects.
In another study, Francesco Sofi, a clinical nutrition researcher, and colleagues at the University of Florence, reviewed 12 international studies that included 1.5 million people, whose eating habits and health were followed for three to 18 years. In this analysis, the study participants were rated according to how well they adhered to the Mediterranean Diet. The report was published in the Sept. 11, 2008 online edition of the British Medical Journal.
According to the study results, people who followed the Mediterranean Diet strictly, as opposed to those who were less diligent, experienced the following disease-risk reductions associated with inflammation:
- 9% reduction in Heart disease
- 13% reduction of Parkinson’s disease
- 13% reduction of Alzheimer’s disease
- 6% reduction in Cancer
How Does it Work?
Strengthens the Immune System – The Mediterranean Diet contains anti-inflammatory foods to develop a stronger immune system. Inflammation in the body weakens the immune system and its ability to fight off illness and disease. Toxins and free radicals often accumulate in the body from poor nutritional choices. Foods that are low in anti-inflammatory ingredients and high in nutrients and antioxidants fight free radicals in the body that damage tissues and cells.
Monosaturated Fats – The Mediterranean Diet is low in saturated fats and high in healthy fats, primarily monounsaturated fats. More than half of its fat calories come from monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds. This attributes to a decreased risk of heart disease and other fatal diseases. Unhealthy fats, including saturated and trans-fats, in contrast, increase the build-up of plaque in the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis. This is a contributing risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Lower Protein Content – The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes nutrient-rich foods that are high in fiber and healthy fats. In particular, the diet consists of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, such as bread and pastas, olive oils, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, fish and minimal poultry. This creates a balance between energizing complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats. It is believed that too much protein in the body may increase inflammation, as the organs, including the liver, have to work harder to break down these foods. Hence, eggs and meat are typically only eaten once or twice weekly.
Promotes Healthy Digestion – The Mediterranean Diet includes high-fiber foods such as beans, legumes, whole grains and vegetables. Fiber is essential to decreasing inflammation in the body since it aids in healthy digestion. Fiber is the undigested part of plant food that moves through the body for elimination. Along the way, it accumulates excess toxins and waste products that are harmful to the body and produce gastrointestinal distress and inflammation. These foods also help to stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent hunger cravings, encouraging weight loss and management.