By: Annemarie Morrell, Winthrop University Nutrition Student
I am sure many people have heard of the Mediterranean diet or are aware of it. The phrase “diet” can have negative connotations attached to it as well as becoming popular due to certain quick fix claims. But the Mediterranean diet should be thought of as a lifestyle change or addition rather than a so-called “diet”. Especially since there's plenty of scientific research and evidence behind the Mediterranean diet and the health results that it yields.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet began around the 1950’s when researchers found that heart disease was not as common in Mediterranean countries compared to the US. After this was found many research studies came about on how this diet can help prevent heart disease and stroke. The diet is based on traditional meals and foods found in countries that border the Mediterranean sea. The foods consist of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and olive oil as the main source used for fat. Fish, seafood, dairy, and poultry are also included. Aside from the nutrition aspect of the Mediterranean diet in the pyramid at the base there is a section for being physically active and enjoying meals with others. This is to show that it's not just a fad diet, it's a lifestyle change and opportunity to start a healthy journey for the rest of your life.
The main point of this diet is to focus on less processed foods and more fresh foods. As well as foods rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are natural compounds that can be found in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grain products, and legumes. The diet provides less processed foods, fewer red meats, higher amounts of monounsaturated fats, and more plant based food intake.
Another main component of the Mediterranean diet is the emphasis of using healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Both of these fats promote good heart health, help with cholesterol, lower heart disease and strokes, lower bad LDL cholesterol levels, and increase good HDL cholesterol. Using olive oil as the main source of fat provides monounsaturated fat which can also be found in nuts and seeds. Fatty fish like salmon or albacore tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats help inflammation in the body, lower blood pressure, and reduce blood clotting, etc.
Interested in trying?
You can start building this into your everyday diet or you might notice overlap in the foods you eat daily in relation to the Mediterranean diet. Either way there are small changes you can start with, and remember that this isn’t a diet in the traditional sense but more of a lifestyle change. Adding these foods to your diet will only benefit you, keep your heart healthy and keep you full.
Tips for starting:
-Add vegetables to each meal
-Have meat free days (possible eating fish instead of trying a plant based meal)
-Focus on healthier fats such as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated
-Make it your own and incorporate foods or recipes you enjoy
-Try to eat more whole grains
-Use olive oil to replace butter
Hopefully with this better understanding of the Mediterranean diet and how it should be looked at as a lifestyle change for life long health benefits, you will be more interested in trying the diet or trying certain foods from the categories discussed.
Mediterranean diet for heart health. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801. Published July 23, 2021. Accessed September 20, 2022.
Mediterranean diet. Oldways. https://oldwayspt.org/traditional-diets/mediterranean-diet. Accessed September 22, 2022.