Mediterranean Diet for Health
"Mediterranean diet" was triggered by the realization that people who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It had some of the lowest rates of coronary heart disease, and greatest longevity, in the world. This was true even though there was some variation among the cultures and diets within the region. Since then, the term generally refers to a diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and fish.
Whole grains contain all three components of the grain:
- The outer layer or bran
- The starchy endosperm,
- The vitamin and
- mineral-laden inner germ.
Whole grains include wheat, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, oats, bulgur, and quinoa. Refining removes much of the fiber which is linked to longevity. So as well as Vitamin E and B vitamins, so aim for unprocessed grains.
If you're wary of carbs, take heart. It tracks more than 27,000 post-menopausal women over a 17-year period. It found that even those who ate only 4-7 servings of whole grains a week, were 31% less likely to die during those 17 years. Then women who rarely or never ate any. That's with less than one serving a day!
Fruits and Vegetables
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. "Eat your colors" is good advice, since the most vividly colored produce often has the most phytochemicals, or plant nutrients. Aim for half your plate to be made up of fruits and vegetables at any meal. The U.S. government recommends up to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits per day, depending on activity level.
Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Olive oil is a hero of the Mediterranean diet thanks to its heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Other plant-based oils like safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils, with a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are also healthier choices than solid sources like butter and margarine that contain saturated fats.
Fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and mackerel are all staples of the Mediterranean diet and are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These help keep blood vessels healthy and regulate blood pressure. Aim to eat fatty fish twice a week.
Beans, peas, and lentils are a class of fiber-rich vegetables called legumes. They include garbanzos (chickpeas), black, pinto, kidney, and romano beans. They're a great source of protein, filling while still low in fat, and are extremely versatile for cooking in soups and stews. Be sure and give canned legumes a good rinse to reduce the sodium often used in the canning process.
Because nuts are high in calories, many people are worried about weight gain to avoid them. . Aim for no more than a small handful a day, and avoid heavily salted or sweetened (like honey-roasted) ones.
Calcium and Milk Products
The fact that people in Mediterranean countries consume a lot of cheese and full-fat dairy products like cream, while still avoiding coronary heart disease, has confounded many researchers. More study is ongoing to sort out this "French paradox", but it's possible other factors, including smaller portions and greater physical activity, may prove to be part of the explanation. People in Mediterranean countries tend to consume more fermented milk products like yogurt, so that may also be a factor