What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet, along with its lifestyle, has long been lauded as one of the healthiest diets available. It is rich in fruits and vegetables, fish with a splash of olive oil and a glass of red wine thrown in here and there. The diet is adopted primarily by those who live in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The diet has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality.
The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle emphasises, eating plant-based foods, replacing butter with olive oil, using herbs and spices to season foods, limiting red meat intake, eating fish and poultry at least twice a week, enjoying meals with family and friends, drinking red wine in moderation and ensuring you get exercise.
Is the Mediterranean diet really that healthy?
In short, yes. However, this is only if you follow the ‘true’ Mediterranean diet, and not just Italian pizza and pasta dishes, or lamb dishes from Greece. A truly Mediterranean diet consists of local fruits and vegetables, seafood, whole grains and other foods that help fight against heart disease, diabetes and cognitive decline. In the 1960s, residents of Crete, Greece and southern Italy ate these and their rates of chronic disease were among the lowest in the world, while having the highest life expectancy.
The reason that the traditional Mediterranean diet is so healthy is because its components, which are rich in fibre, protect against type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. These all bring with them, an increase in agility, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, which is influenced by cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It is also high in antioxidants, which reduces the risk of Parkinson’s Disease. This means, ultimately, the traditional mediterranean diet increased longevity by about 20%.
What nutrients is the Mediterranean diet high in?
As mentioned earlier, the mediterranean diet is high in fibre and antioxidants, but it is also high in foods with anti-inflammatory properties. The diet has low levels of red meat, processed meats and foods that are full of sugars and fats. Due to the biodiversity of the mediterranean diet, instances micronutrient deficiencies tend to be quite low. The traditional diet is high in the B Vitamins, particularly B2, niacin, B6, folate and B12, along with high levels of Vitamins E, C and omega 3.
The fats consumed as part of the traditional mediterranean diet are also of a better quality than those in other diets, as the fats consumed are from fish, olive oil and white meat. Olives are native to the Mediterranean region for about 5,000 years. Olive oil also has high amounts of phenols, which are powerful antioxidants that lower inflammation and fight damage caused by free radicals.
Not only that but olive oil is also primarily made of monounsaturated fatty acids, including oleic acid. Oleic acid is heart-healthy in a number of ways, making olive oil the healthier option of cooking oils. Due to the high level of monounsaturated fat in olive oil, it can lower cholesterol and triglycerides. People in the mediterranean region tend to consume about three or four tablespoons of olive oil a day, which some health practitioners believe can help people with heart disease. It is important to check that the olive oil you’re buying is authentic olive oil, however, as the health benefits only apply to real olive oil.
Mediterranean diet in the UK
The mediterranean diet is, as mentioned above, hugely healthy in terms of vitamins, micronutrients and intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, the diet should be healthy for you, if you adhere to its principal components. There is debate around whether or not the diet has the same health benefits for those who do not live in the region, however.
The mediterranean diet is not simply a diet, it is a collection of eating habits that are traditionally followed by those people who live in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. the traditional diet refers to the diet profile available in the 1960s, which was primarily made up of high fruit, vegetable, legume and complex carbohydrate intake. this was coupled with moderate intake of fish, red wine during meals and olive oil as the main source of fat.
Perhaps the most common problem of trying to adapt to the mediterranean diet outside of those countries is the difficulty in obtaining locally produced, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Similarly, it is the eating and lifestyle habits of the Mediterranean culture that contributes to the health benefits of the diet. The Mediterranean lifestyle is one that consists of regular exercise, adequate rest and meals as a social gathering, not simply a way of consuming food. As such, adhering to the Mediterranean diet alone will have a positive impact on health, particularly heart health, but it is most effective when combined with the other aspects of the culture.
The Mediterranean diet has been associated with improved heart-health levels, decreased micronutrient and vitamin deficiencies, while also preventing and protecting against Alzheimer’s Disease, and high cholesterol. The traditional diet also promotes healthy weight, which in turn lowers the chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes and other weight-related health complications.
If you follow the traditional Mediterranean diet of regional fruits and vegetables in large amounts, combined with low consumption of red and processed meats, and fat intake coming primarily from olive oil and fish, then the health benefits are huge. A problem arises when the quality of foods, particularly olive oil, is lesser than what is commonly available locally to people in the Mediterranean region.
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