In today’s melting pot of fad diets and wellness culture, the Mediterranean Diet has continuously reigned supreme. (And for good reason!) Considered as one of the healthiest diets on the planet, the Mediterranean diet gained much of its popularity due to its cardiovascular benefits. Additionally, well researched and conducted studies have shown that this style of eating can positively impact various markers of inflammation, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and imbalanced blood sugar.
Unlike its name states, the Mediterranean Diet is far more than a diet – it is a way of eating that emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods. At the forefront of this diet are foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, olive oil and some whole grains. Those following the Mediterranean diet tend to consume proteins that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. Full-fat dairy products, such cheese and milk are rotated only a few times per week. Other meat proteins such as chicken, turkey and beef are eaten less frequently. Moderate alcohol consumption, such as a glass of wine at dinnertime is also accepted on this diet.
What are the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?
Countless meticulous studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet contributes to better overall health, especially heart health. In one recent study, scientists found that women who followed the Mediterranean diet for up to 12 years had a nearly 25% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. These changes were attributed to improvements in blood sugar, overall inflammation and BMI. Similar results have been concluded in a myriad of other studies with both women and men.
Moreover, the diet has also been shown to protect against oxidative stress. This type of stress is a contributor to DNA damage that often results in chronic conditions such as and not limited to cancer and neurological conditions.
The Mediterranean diet has also been noted for its significant health benefits during pregnancy. Another recent study found that women who followed the diet closely around conception had an over 20% reduced risk of developing pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or preterm birth.
Protein: Fatty fish, (salmon, sardines, mackerel etc.) some chicken and turkey and occasionally sources of red meat such as grass-fed beef and lamb.
Carbohydrates: Whole and unprocessed fruits and starchy vegetables (sweet potato, potatoes, winter squash, cassava plantains, berries, figs, pomegranates etc.
Vegetables: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, zucchini, tomato, onion, garlic, leafy greens, artichoke, asparagus etc.
Fats: Olive oil, avocado oil, olives, avocado, fatty fish, and some full fat dairy (milk, cream, butter, cheese)
What About Iron?
Since the Mediterranean diet contains limited red meat, it is important to be aware of other types of iron sources: (Note: Pairing plant-based iron sources with a vitamin C rich food helps to increase absorption.)
Examples of Plant-Based Iron:
- Non-GMO, Organic Tofu
- Legumes (Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas)
- Swiss Chard
Examples Vitamin C Rich Foods:
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruits
Let’s Sum it up:
While nutritionally speaking, the Mediterranean diet is a solid foundation, it is not the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to achieving good health. Wellness is multifaceted, and we must consider all pillars of health if we want to feel our best. This includes and is not limited to consistent movement, getting adequate sleep, maintaining healthy relationships and community, and supporting one’s mental health.
Whichever diet you choose, do your best to pursue one that is composed of whole, unprocessed and high quality (whenever possible) food. Look for labels such as pasture- raised, wild-caught, grass fed etc. No one diet or way of eating is right for everyone. If you are unsure of what plan is best for you, make sure to consult a trusted practitioner such as a dietitian or doctor.