When you imagine food from the Mediterranean, you may imagine pita chips and hummus, but not much else. However, the food from the countries neighboring the Mediterranean Sea are as diverse as the people who live there. You might think of countries like Italy, Greece, and Spain, but these countries also include Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon. While there are inherently a great amount of diversity between these countries, a few key things in their diets tie them together.
The Mediterranean region boasts a variety of dishes that emphasize different spices and flavors. Moreover, the food prepared in the Mediterranean typically features fresh and healthy ingredients that encourage model eating habits. With this combination of flavor and nutrition, Mediterranean food has become popular in the health community over the years.
The lifestyle that accompanies the Mediterranean diet involves regular physical activity. It also recommended eating alongside others, such as family and friends, and sharing meals together. Doing your best to enjoy the life you have is central as well. These are essential principles in a successful Mediterranean life and diet.
The Mediterranean diet is based on traditional Mediterranean cuisine from the 20th century. During this time, researchers discovered that people in this area were healthier than their American counterparts. This included a lowered risk of many diseases that were prominent in America. As the diet was studied, the research began to show trends like a lower body weight, prevention of heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, and strokes, as well as a diminished danger of premature death.
The Mediterranean diet encourages food groups, but does not provide strict instructions on servings, portions, or caloric intake. Plant-based foods make up the bulk of the diet, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Consumption of red meat is reduced to only a few times each month, while poultry and fish can be eaten at least twice a week.
Another main component of the Mediterranean diet is that butter is replaced with other, healthier fats such as canola or olive oil. In conjunction with this, salt is replaced with traditional herbs and spices to flavor food. This reduces saturated fat as well as sodium intake.
By increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables, rice, and pastas, the Mediterranean diet flips North American culture on its head. Whole grains are encouraged, as bread is a staple in countries such as Greece, but they are usually accompanied by olive oil if they are accompanied by anything at all. There is a distinct lack of butter, which in turn leads to a lack of trans and saturated fats.
Rather than ingesting saturated fats, Mediterranean diets emphasize nuts. Nuts are high in fat, though it is a healthier fat. Because these are unsaturated fats, they are more welcome within diets. However, nuts are calorically dense, and should only be eaten in moderate quantities.
Wine is also a principal part of the Mediterranean diet, though it can be removed based on preference and health reasons. Studies show that when alcohol is consumed in moderation, the risk of heart disease can be reduced. The Mediterranean diet encourages between five to ten ounces of wine each day, based on age and gender.
Added sugars are to be avoided while following the Mediterranean diet, so soda, candy, and most sweets are to be cut out. Refined grains, like white bread, are discouraged as well. Meats that go through a processing system are not recommended either, so avoid hot dogs, processed sausages, lunch meat, etc. Anything that looks like it was produced via a factory, especially if it has labels such as “low fat” or “diet,” should be evaded.
The primary benefit seen from consistent practice of the Mediterranean diet is a reduced risk of developing heart disease. The diet is great for lowering unhealthy cholesterol which can help out your heart. By reducing your “bad” cholesterol, you can prevent it from building up in your arteries, leading to a host of health problems.
Aside from heart disease, the Mediterranean diet has also been shown to reduce your risk of cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases. Institutions based in science and research have recommended the Mediterranean diet to adults in order to prevent these major, chronic diseases.
Additionally, because the lifestyle associated with the Mediterranean diet encourages spending time eating with friends and family, it can reduce depressive symptoms. Furthermore, regular physical activity is encouraged, so you are more likely to lose weight than you would be on a crash diet or no diet at all.
The main drawback of the Mediterranean diet is its ambiguity. Because the Mediterranean diet does not include exact serving sizes or amounts, it can be confusing or even a disadvantage for those who are looking to change their eating habit. There are no calorie requirements or guidelines and the parameters for physical activity are roughly defined at best.
If you need a rigorous diet with clearly set rules to adhere to, this diet is probably not the one to go for. That being said, you could talk to a doctor about their recommendations for the Mediterranean diet and see what their insight might tell you. Pairing the diet with the advice of a doctor could be beneficial.
In addition, because the Mediterranean diet encourages the intake of fresh foods as well as fish, it can be more expensive that other diets may be. The spices that are used in Mediterranean cooking can be hard to find in some areas and marked up in price significantly. Moreover, the daily drinking of red wine is not for everyone, especially those with health conditions or on certain medications.
At the end of the day, the Mediterranean diet has more pros than cons. It is a great starting point for healthier eating habits. It does not cut out too much and keeps flavors fun. Overall, it is a very satisfying diet.