The Mediterranean diet is an eating style originally identified with cultures bordering the, you guessed it, Mediterranean Sea. Time and time again, the Mediterranean diet has proven to be a healthy, effective diet for many reasons but, first and foremost, because it is based on fresh, whole ingredients. Even more astounding is that this diet has outlived numerous diet trends. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?!
February is Heart Health Month and a perfect time to discuss the Mediterranean diet! The truth is that the Mediterranean diet isn’t really a diet at all—it’s a lifestyle. The people of the Mediterranean historically and to this day have diets rich in fresh, whole foods, lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and, of course, olive oil.
Eating Mediterraneanisn’t just delicious; it’s also extremely healthy for you—and there are incredible amounts of scientific evidence to prove it! For example, a study of over seven thousand people who switched to the Mediterranean diet, with a specific focus on increasing their intake of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) or mixed nuts, saw as much as 30% reduced incidence of major cardiovascular events among high-risk individuals. This same study revealed that peripheral artery disease risk improved significantly. A subgroup of the trial also uncovered that the diet helped reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes up to 40%, which is an influential risk factor for heart disease. In addition, a small study exhibited a 9% decrease in “lousy” LDL cholesterol, another risk factor for heart disease.
The Mediterranean diet followed by these participants included fatty fish 2-3 times per week, legumes 3 times per week, 4 tbsp olive oil per day, 1 ounce of nuts each day, at least 3 servings of fruit and 2 of vegetables each day. And for those accustomed to drinking, ~7 glasses of red wine per week.
In addition to the great heart health benefits, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to decrease cancer mortality and prolong life, as well as decrease incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s neurodegenerative diseases. Those who follow a Mediterranean diet were 19% less likely to develop cognitive and memory problems and experienced greater mental skill retention. It is considered the best anti-aging diet since some of the world’s oldest and healthiest people, most living in Greece, follow it. To top it off, it’s promoted as an anti-inflammatory diet due to its high amount of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and omega-3 fatty acids.
Why Does It Work?
- The diet focuses on natural, unprocessed, #cleanfoods such as vegetables, ripe fruit, whole grains and legumes that maximize health-promoting micronutrients and antioxidant content as well as fiber content.
- It is high in mono and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, avocados, pine nuts, fish and nuts, respectively.
- It contains olives that are particularly rich in polyphenols, which are very strong antioxidants.
- It naturally limits saturated fat, dietary cholesterol and sodium, which have been shown to have an increased association with heart disease, cancer and stroke, among other chronic conditions.
- Usually, sweets are limited to fruits and/or honey, while processed snacks and empty calories are scarce—a great way to decrease heart disease risk, diabetes and metabolic syndrome!
- The lifestyle component or “non-food component” of the diet, as shown in the Mediterranean Food Pyramid, encourages pairing the diet with daily exercise, mindful eating and stress management. Enjoying meals with family is also considered an important aspect.
How To Follow A Mediterranean Diet?
Here are some of the great ways that FreshDirect can help you eat in accordance with a Mediterranean diet.
- Include a vegetable and/or fruit at every meal. Aim for 5 to 9 cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Think about including deep, colorful choices. At FreshDirect, you can choose from an array of fruits and vegetables. They even rate their top produce, include organic choices and have awesome sales!
- Always choose whole grain! Some tasty options are buckwheat, bulgur, brown rice, oats and millet. A few brands I love available at FreshDirect are Bob’s Red Mill, Nature’s Path and Food for Life.
- Non-meat proteins are encouraged from a variety of legumes (beans, dried peas and lentils) and eggs (anywhere from 4 to 7 per week). Even though I highly recommend cooking legumes from scratch, let’s be realistic; canned beans are a good option, but just note the amount of sodium and rinse thoroughly. FreshDirect has both dried and canned options to satisfy any taste buds.
- Olive oil is the principal source of fat with approximately 1-2 tbsp daily, in addition to nuts and seeds (about ¼ cup). FreshDirect has 16 different types of EVOO and even their own brand of individually-packed nuts!
- Fatty fish or poultry (free-range) should be consumed 2 times per week, 3-4 ounces per portion. Check out FreshDirect’s sustainability ratings—a great resource!
- Limit red meat (ideally lean and grass-fed) to a few times per month.
- Limit sweets to fresh fruit and a touch of honey.
- Consume moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt, preferably low-fat/nonfat.
- If you drink, drink wine in moderation (optional): about 1 glass for women and 1-2 glasses for men (5 oz. per glass) per day.
- Flavor with herbs and spices instead of salt. Check out all the spices FreshDirect carries.
- Slow down. Sit down at a table to eat every meal and snack.
- Be active! Even though going to the gym usually means a stronger, more powerful workout, it’s important to remain active throughout the day by taking the stairs, walking during your lunch break or standing instead of sitting while you work on the computer!
When in doubt, choose the Mediterranean route!
Written by Alanna Cabrero and Debi Zvi, Registered Dietitians at NYHRC. firstname.lastname@example.org
References available at: NYHRC Tumblr
Edited by Tamara Cabrero & NYHRC Team