Healthy food from the Mediterranean
The Mediterranean diet is followed by the natives of the countries near the Mediterranean Sea, which include Greece, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, etc. The Mediterranean diet has been gaining popularity in recent years, both in the food and health industry. What traditionally was just consumed by the natives, is now being researched by many scientists as one of the main secrets behind the longevity and fitness of the Mediterranean people.
The Mediterraneans clearly understand that food plays a significant role in maintaining our physical and mental health. So, their diet consists of consuming a wide range of nutrient-rich foods in adequate amounts.
Here is a list of some of the important food items consumed in the Mediterranean Diet:1
- Fresh fruits (seasonal berries, olives, apples, and citrus fruits).
- Vegetables, including artichokes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, celery, beans, and eggplant.
- Whole grains.
- Olive oil.
- Low-fat dairy products (cheese, yogurt, and halloumi).
- Nuts and seeds.
- Fish and seafood.
The diet limits the consumption of saturated and trans fats, sodium, red meat, sweets, and sweetened beverages. However, it is not only about the consumption of various food items, but also the frequency of their consumption that matters. Here is a pyramid chart that clearly specifies the frequency and pattern certain food items are consumed in the Mediterranean Diet:
According to this pyramid, whole grains, beans, fruits, nuts, and vegetables are expected to be consumed daily in the Mediterranean diet, followed by olive oil, in variable amounts, which is a rich source of a fatty acid called oleic acid. The Mediterranean diet also emphasizes regular weekly consumption of fish and seafood—rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to play an important role in maintaining cardiovascular health. It is observed that as we go higher in the table the frequency of weekly consumption of certain food items decreases. Poultry, eggs, and cheese are recommended to be consumed once/twice a week, whereas red meats and sweets are to be consumed less often, mostly only on a monthly basis.2,3
It is also observed that not just a balanced Mediterranean diet, but a diet coupled with some daily physical activity is an important part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. The Mediterraneans believe that the secret to their health and longevity are the following three aspects:
- A well-balanced diet with fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, limiting the use of meats and sweets and not consuming processed food.
- Some daily physical activity to keep you physically and mentally active.
- Eating your meals together and spending time with your friends and family. According to the Mediterraneans, socializing (not virtual) helps us relax and learn new things, which can help to avoid depression and isolation.4
Five important benefits of the Mediterranean diet observed in the native population:
Cardiovascular health: According to recent studies, the Mediterranean diet has played a significant role in maintaining cardiovascular health of the natives.5,6 In some clinical studies, when subjects were provided with key components of Mediterranean style diet such as high intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts, and lower meat and dairy consumption, it was observed that there was a significant 25-30% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular events.7,8
Prevents Type-2 diabetes: With the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, and fiber, the Mediterranean diet is key to the prevention of diabetes. The Mediterranean diet focuses more on the consumption of dietary fiber, which digests slowly, and limits the consumption of sugary and high-fat foods—which helps to maintain blood sugar levels. This approach not only controls blood sugar levels but also aids in maintaining weight and prevents weight gain.9,10
Strengthens immunity: Frequent and regular consumption of fresh pigmented fruits, vegetables, and herbs is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet. Regular consumption of these items provides the body with antioxidants and helps reduce damaging inflammation, which can help boost immunity and helps the body fight invading pathogens.11
Improves cognition: Along with a balanced diet, the Mediterranean lifestyle also emphasizes participating in daily physical activity and enjoying a social life with family and friends. Adequate consumption of fruits, herbs, nuts, olive oil, and fish helps boost memory and improves emotional health.12,13 At the same time, a minimum of 30 minutes of daily physical activity can help us feel energized by increasing blood flow throughout our body, including our brain. Proper blood flow to our brain can help prevent cognitive decline and improve brain activity.14
Longevity: According to studies, the diet has played a significant role in increasing the life expectancy of the natives of Mediterranean countries.15 The average life expectancy of the countries around the Mediterranean Sea is more than 80 years old.16 In fact, one of the Greek islands—Ikaria—is called the Island of Longevity and is categorized as a Blue Zone place (five places across the world where people live the longest).17
In short, the Mediterraneans strongly believe that a diet which is comprised of an adequate supply of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals and limits the consumption of high-fat and high-carbohydrate food, coupled with daily physical activity and group support is the ultimate key to happiness, good health, and longevity.
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- US National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
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- Life expectancy at birth, 2017: The World Bank Data.
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