The Mediterranean diet has many health benefits. Wondering researchers have spent years trying to discover why. Although many regions have adopted a much more westernized diet habit which has replied in a mounting obesity issue, communities that still follow the traditional Mediterranean diet continue to experience health which is the envy of the western world.
The Mediterranean diet consistants of fresh, healthy plant food like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, olives, fish and seafood. They combine this with reduced amounts of red meat and dairy products.
The Mediterranean diet is more nutritious because foods are less processed. Processing food, and even cooking it, deprives it of nutrients. But in a traditional Mediterranean diet, most foods are eaten raw or lightly cooked. When red meat is served it is usually trimmed of excess fat. The overall diet provides plentiful fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, protein and essential fatty acids required by the body to maintain health and prevent chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer.
Another notable aspect of the traditional Mediterranean diet is that not every meal contains animal flesh (ie meat or fish). There are common days with no animal flesh being consumed at all. On these days, the protein portion of the meal is derived from things like beans, nuts, seeds and eggs. Although eggs are still animal products, recent research indicates that eggs do NOT increase blood cholesterol as scientists and doctors used to believe. Another modern day alternative to meat is tofu which comes from soy beans. While this is not a part of the diet, it would certainly be a worthy addition to it.
All of these things result in the Mediterranean diet being high in monounsaturated fatty acids, otherwise known as MUFAs which are healthy fats. Diets containing MUFAs (and polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs) rather than planned and trans fats, tend to provide certain health benefits including reduced risk of:
- Heart disease
- High Cholesterol
- Type II Diabetes
- Parkinson's Disease
- Metabolic syndrome
Lets take a closer look at these.
Reduced risk of heart disease and high Cholesterol
High levels of saturated fats result in increased cholesterol in the bloodstream. Over time, the cholesterol attaches to the walls of arteries causing a narrowing of the arteries that can lead to blockages, heart attacks and heart disease. Quite clearly, the reduced amount of saturated fat in traditional Mediterranean diets results in lower cholesterol levels. In some cases, high cholesterol is hereditary and is caused by the liver producing too much. A healthy diet containing high amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids is proven to actively combat this issue and can have a significant lowering effect on cholesterol levels.
Reduced risk of Stroke
A Columbia University Medical Center study in which researchers followed 712 participants over a six year period that those participants who followed a moderate Mediterranean diet were 21% less likely to experience a stroke. Participants who followed a strict diet were 36% less likely to experience a stroke.
Reduced risk of cancer
According to a study by the Department of Clinical Sciences, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain: “There is a 'probable' protective role of the Mediterranean diet towards cancer in general.” A National Cancer institute study of 500,000 people found that people who consumed more than 4 oz (113g) of red meat daily were 30% more likely to die from ANY cause over 10 years than those who consumed less. Sausages and processed meats increased the risk even more.
Reduced risk of Diabetes
Consumption of complex carbohydrates and high fiber foods reduces the glycemic index of foods and low GI foods prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. So a low GI diet such as the Mediterranean diet tends to prevent diabetes … See the section on Metabolic syndrome below
Reduced risk of Parkinson's & Alzheimer's
Some studies indicate that people who adhere to the Mediterranean diet have lower rates of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Researchers are unsure why this is the case but they believe that healthy food choices improving cholesterol, blood sugar levels and blood vessel health may be the cause.
Reduced risk of depression
British Researchers studied depression and diet in more than 3,000 middle-aged office workers for five years. Their findings indicated that people who ate a diet high in processed meat, chocolate, sugar, fried food, refined cereals and high-fat dairy products were more likely to suffer depression. But people who ate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish similar to a Mediterranean diet were less likely to suffer depression. Their findings support other research that has found that healthy diets can protect against disease.
Reduced risk of Metabolic syndrome
Many overweight and obese people suffer from a condition called Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions – high blood pressure, a abnormal blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol levels – that occurs together. These increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. People on the Mediterranean diet have been found to be less likely to be overweight, thus reducing incidence of this condition.
So, as you can see, adopting a traditional Mediterranean diet has many worthy health benefits. It has even been found to reverse many chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure, angina and even improving mobility in people who suffer from arthritis. So maybe it's time you tried this delicious, healthy diet!