What is the Mediterranean Diet and is it worthwhile?
Want a diet that protects against heart disease, some types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and a few other serious illnesses? These claims have been made about the Mediterranean diet. It’s one of the best diets you can follow. Some people say it’s more of a lifestyle than a specifically defined diet plan.
According to Wikipedia, the Mediterranean Diet is inspired by traditional dietary patterns of Portugal, Spain, southern Italy, southern France, and Greece. The diet consists of plant foods, fruit, olive oil, dairy products, fish and poultry, and moderate amounts of wine. 25% to 35% of calories can be in the form of fat. Saturated fat is 8% of calories or less.
The Mediterranean diet includes the following…
– Very low consumption of red meat.
– Olive oil is used when cooking instead of butter.
– Legumes including soy, beans, peas are common
– Fish is eaten often
– Fruits and vegetables are eaten often
– Very low consumption of refined sugars and sweets
– Moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt)
– Alcohol in moderation (1 to 2 drinks per day, preferably red wine)
The Mediterranean Diet was first publicized in 1945 but became popular in the 1990’s. It has been the subject of many studies including the Seven Countries Study which has continued for more than 50 years. This study revealed a much higher incidence of cardiovascular disease in the United States and Northern Europe than in the Mediterranean region in Southern Europe. The common diet in that region was the Mediterranean diet.
The Lyon Diet Heart Study, conducted in the 1990’s, reported dramatic results for the group of participants following a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet. Mortality was reduced by 70% according to their findings. Interestingly, the study reports no change in the cholesterol levels of either the control group or the group following the Mediterranean diet. This diet is often cited by those who believe that cholesterol does not cause heart disease.
Why is the Mediterranean diet helpful in preventing heart disease?
One answer may be that these foods contain higher amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids and lower amounts of Omega 6 fatty acids. The recommended ratio of our consumption of Omega 6’s to Omega 3’s is about 4 to 1. Or even closer to 1 to 1 if you can do it. It is estimated that the American diet has an average ratio of about 15 to 1 or more. The typical Mediterranean diet ratio is about 4 to 1 (omega 6 to omega 3 ratio).
Omega 3’s and omega 6’s need to be consumed in our diet because our bodies do not produce it on their own. Most of us already consume too much Omega 6. Because we already get so much of it, we should try to minimize the foods with Omega 6 which include Grapeseed Oil, Corn Oil, Walnuts and Walnut Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Soybean Oil, Vegetable Oil, Sunflower Oil. You may be thinking that you don’t consume any of those oils. Actually you do in the form of processed food and fast food.
Reducing the consumption of fast food and processed food will help lower your intake of Omega 6. Using olive oil instead of vegetable oils like corn oil helps too. Eat more fish or take supplements to increase your consumption of omega 3. Other sources of Omega 3 include flaxseed, walnuts, green leafy vegetables and soybeans.
A simple plan to use Mediterranean diet to lower the risk of heart disease
Eat more fish, fruits and vegetables. That’s pretty simple. Easier said than done I know. Eat less processed food. Whole grain rather than white bread. Red wine is OK, up to a glass or two a day. Eggs and even some red meat is OK sometimes but not often.
I think that much of what makes the Mediterranean diet healthy is consistent with most of the common advice about heart health. Eat more natural whole foods and stay away from processed food and fast food. I hope this short article gives you a better idea of what this diet is about and how it can help you.