Traditional Mediterranean Diet has long been considered as a healthy diet that includes all necessary nutrients for living a healthy life. Dr. Ancel Keys was the first scientist to point out the health values of a Mediterranean styled diet.
This was the diet of the people of Greece and Southern Italy. Nowadays, these countries no longer follow the traditional Mediterranean Diet in its original form. Like rest of the world, processed foods and junk food have found its way into their diet.
Why is Mediterranean Diet considered as a healthy diet?
The secret of a Mediterranean diet is the emphasis on the “back to the basics” kind of diet. It is a diet rich in non-processed lean meats, with a focus primarily on eating plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and oils low in saturated fat.
What are the advantages of Mediterranean diet?
Numerous research has demonstrated that Mediterranean diet can improve overall health and has numerous long term benefits.
Some notable advantages are:
- Helps in maintaining a healthy body weight and prevent excessive weight gain.
- Helps in controlling blood sugar (glucose) levels.
- Helps in reducing the risk of dementia and depression.
- Reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancers, Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Who was Dr. Ancel Benjamin Keys?
American scientist Dr. Ancel Benjamin Keys was a devoted promoter of the Mediterranean diet. His research concluded in the 1950s that Mediterranean styled diet was the key for healthy and longer life.
It is interesting to note that Dr. Ancel Keys passed away just two months before his 101st birthday. His wife Margaret Keys lived up to 97 years. They were devoted researchers into the effects of diet on health and have coauthored numerous books.
It is also important to note that some research findings by Dr. Ancel Keys have been heavily debated in recent years.
11 Secrets of the Mediterranean Diet for a healthy and longer life
Here is a list of 11 essential components that forms the basis of the Mediterranean diet:
The focus of Mediterranean diet is not a diet based on low fat food, but a diet based on healthier types of fats. It is always recommended to use olive oils instead of butter and margarine for baking and cooking. Butter and margarines are rich sources of saturated fats which increases the risk of heart diseases.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats that are good for the cardiovascular system. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids which improves overall health of the heart. Canola oil is also a good alternative to butter for cooking and roasting.
Whole fresh fruit are important components of the Mediterranean diet and are good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Fruits are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth without sugar.
Commonly found fruits in Mediterranean diet are apples, oranges, clementine, grapes, cherries, strawberries, avocados, apricots, pears, peaches, melons, lemons, grapefruits, pomegranates, dates, figs, olives.
A wide variety of vegetable are found in the traditional Mediterranean styled diet. They are eaten both cooked and sometimes uncooked. They help in having a balanced diet, rich in essential nutrients. Vegetable salads are often drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with herbs and spices.
Commonly found vegetables in Mediterranean diet are carrots, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, cucumbers, zucchini, spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, beets, radishes, celery, pumpkin, peas, peppers.
Use grains like wheat, rice, barley, corn and oats in their original or close to their original form by choosing minimally processed or minimally refined grains. Avoid fully processed or fully refined grains whenever possible.
Refined or processed grains are deprived of their all essential nutrients and lack valuable fiber that are essential for proper digestion and bowel moments.
Commonly found grains in Mediterranean diet are wheat, buckwheat, rice, barley, corn, oats, millet.
Nuts are rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy fats. They are also rich in calories and you should be careful not eat more than a handful of them every day.
Eat Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, Peanuts, Pistachios, Pecans, Walnuts in their original form whenever possible. When nuts are mixed with other types of food, they often mixed with excess sugar or salt and other additives which can quickly erode the healthy benefits of the nuts.
You should avoid Macadamia Nuts, Pecans, any healthy nuts coated in sugar or other salty coatings whenever possible because they deliver more calories and fats when compared with proteins and other essentials nutrients they contain.
Legumes, Beans & Seeds
They are a good source of healthy fats, protein, dietary fiber, carbohydrates and minerals.
Commonly found Legumes in Mediterranean diet are beans, peas, lentils, pulses, chickpeas.
Herbs and Spices
It is recommended to use herbs and spices for adding flavor to food instead of using salt or other artificial flavors.
Commonly found herbs and spices in Mediterranean diet are Cinnamon, mint, rosemary, basil, sage, garlic, pepper, cloves, basil, lavender, cumin, chiles, parsley, oregano.
Spices like Cinnamon helps in lowering blood sugar, lowering unhealthy cholesterol and reducing inflammation.
Poultry and Fish
Poultry and fish are good sources of proteins. Skinless chicken, turkey and fish can be baked or cooked instead of frying. By reducing red meat from your diet, you will be able to limit your saturated-fat intake.
Fatty fish like tuna or salmons are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are good for improving heart health. It is recommended to eat fish at least twice a week.
Lean red meat can be consumed in moderation, few times a month if desired. Processed meats like sausages should be avoided because they are rich in unhealthy fats and contain high amounts of salt. Dairy products like yogurt or cheese can be consumed in moderation.
If you have a habit of moderate social drinking, then there is a good news for you. Research has shown that alcohol in moderation (1 or 2 glasses max) may have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system.
This is still a heavily debated topic and many doctors are reluctant to encourage this habit. It is very easy to over indulge in this habit and the results can be serious adverse health consequences.
From all the alcoholic drinks examined, red wine seems to have the maximum benefit when consumed with meals.
Eat with Family and Friends
Busy schedules and modern lifestyle leaves little room and time to enjoy meals with family and friends on a regular basis. Often food is consumed in the presence of distractions like TV, Internet, gadgets etc. This practice often leads to eating fast and not being able to control the portion sizes.
In a relaxed environment, when eating with family and friend, you not only get to enjoy your meals, you will also be able to eat slowly which helps your body give you proper feedback when enough food is consumed, thus avoid over eating.
Secret of good health benefits from Mediterranean diet is more than just the diet itself. It’s a lifestyle choice too! Often ignored aspect when trying to implement a Mediterranean styled diet is the physical activity surrounding the Mediterranean lifestyle. Proper exercise and being active are important components that go along with the diet.
Dietary guidelines while following Mediterranean diet
- Red meats and sweets should be eaten less often in moderation.
- Eggs, cheese and yogurt should be consumed in moderate quantities if desired daily, while Poultry should be limited to once or twice weekly.
- Seafood and fish items should be consumed more often. It is recommended to eat them at least twice a week.
- Olive oil, Fruits, Vegetables, Whole grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices should be included in your daily meals.