We are headed to the clear blue waters, rugged cliffs, and lush landscape of the Mediterranean. But instead of continuing to talk about the beautiful terrain, let’s focus on the products of this beautiful region- the food. As if the Mediterranean needed another amazing attribute, the Mediterranean diet is truly awe-inspiring.
What are common features of the Mediterranean diet?
Before we begin, the Mediterranean diet isn’t just another fad diet that warns against eating various food groups or encourages people to eliminate specific foods all together (Gluten-free diet ring a bell?). More importantly, it is not a rules based “diet” that many of us have experienced, leaving us frustrated and fed-up with food.
Rather, the Mediterranean diet is more of a holistic lifestyle that
- Encourages moderate physical activity;
- Promotes eating meals in social settings and gatherings;
- Recommends consumption of red wine, in moderation; and
- Includes wide range of foods: Dairy→ mostly yogurt and cheese; Protein→ emphasize fish, eggs, and poultry as well as limit intake of red meat; Plant-based foods→ fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes; and Healthy fats→ olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
A diet that gives me another excuse to share a meal with friends and drink some wine? Sign me up! Joking aside, eating this way has powerful health effects. A variety of highly publicized diet intervention studies have recently published. The most high profile study demonstrated that in people with cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts significantly reduced the risk of combined heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease by about 30%.
Additional studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk for developing metabolic syndrome, a condition is known to increase risk for cardiovascular disease based on factors such as abdominal obesity, blood pressure, and blood lipid and sugar levels, and decreases the incidence of type II diabetes.
With these compelling and significant results, other groups are taking note, including the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). The 2015 Scientific Report recommended “a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains."
This recommendation basically spells out the Mediterranean diet listed above. Turns out, that is what the DGAC was going for since the report later describes the Mediterranean-style diet as one of three diets that Americans should follow. So while some of us might not be able to get to the Mediterranean just yet to swim along the Amalfi coast or hike a volcanic island in Greece, we CAN make some Mediterranean-themed changes to our diet that will make us healthier in the long term.
Sarah Romotsky, RD, is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council. Sarah leads the development and implementation of strategic communication initiatives on science-based health and wellness topics. A native of Southern California, Sarah received a BA in Mass Communications from UC Berkeley and later completed the Dietetic Program at SF State University.
Main Photo Credit: diplomedia/Shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: gresei/Shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Mariontxa/Shutterstock.com