With so many diets on the market it is often difficult to know which are beneficial and which are not. It is very important not to fall into the trap of listening to the hype; instead picking a nutrition plan (diet) should be based on the science put into it. For the third consecutive year, according to U.S. News & World Report who is the authority on rankings and consumer advise, the Mediterranean diet is the number one choice for “best overall”. It remains number one because it is easy to follow, foods are readily available, it has decades of science tracked success, and, it primarily focuses on plant-based foods. The Mediterranean diet also takes top spots in four other categories; “best diets for healthy eating”, “easiest diets to follow”, “best diets for diabetes”, and “best plant-based diets”.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet originated in Southern Italy, Crete and Greece and is based on the region’s traditional fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seafood, olive oil and dairy (with a glass or two of occasional red wine). After many studies looked at the health of the regions people, there was a dramatic reduction of chronic diseases, in fact they are the lowest anywhere in the world and their life expectancy is among the highest. This is even more astounding when you consider they have limited access to medical services. The science behind the nutrition is hard to ignore.
In addition to eating well part of this lifestyle is daily physical activity and sharing meals with others (family time / friends time). These two factors have a profound effect on mood and mental health; fostering an appreciation for eating healthy by associating eating with community, friends, and family.
Health benefits of a Mediterranean diet?
Following the traditional plan of eating mostly fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and olive oil; combined with daily physical activity reduces your risk of mental and physical health as evidenced by:
Protecting and preventing type 2 diabetes. Because this diet is high in fiber, which our bodies process slowly, it prevents blood sugar swings (insulin spikes) which goes a long way to help you maintain or lose weight.
Preventing heart disease and strokes. By limiting your intake of processed foods, breads, and red meat you can significantly reduce your risk of coronary disease and strokes.
Reducing risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Since the Mediterranean diet reduces blood sugar levels and cholesterol while improving overall blood vessel health; some studies have shown it could reduce your risk of dementia or even Alzheimer’s disease.
Cutting your risk of Parkinson’s disease in half! Due to the high levels of antioxidants, it protects our cells from the “oxidative process” which is very damaging to cell reproduction. In turn this cuts the risk of Parkinson’s by 50%.
Increases longevity. Because of so many health benefits, reducing heart disease, cancer, diabetes and others, the Mediterranean diet reduces your risk of early death by 20%. And, it is important to note, that starting the Mediterranean diet at any age will still reduce your risk by 20%, so, it isn’t too late to make a positive change.
Keeps you active. Since a large part of the Mediterranean plan is being active, it keeps your muscles strong and reduces risks of frailty by 70%.
How to make a change?
Anytime we make significant changes to our nutrition plan, which often involves making changes to the way our whole family eats, it can be confusing and maybe even a little difficult in the beginning. Here are a few tips to help you get started. Remember, you can make changes slowly over time so you and your family get used it gradually.
Always eat breakfast. Begin your new nutrition plan by eating breakfast each day. Adding in whole grains and a little fruit (blueberries in your whole grain oats). Adding in fiber-rich foods keeps you feeling full all morning and less tempted to reach for a snack.
Eat lots of vegetables. Another easy way to make changes to your meals is to add more vegetables to your plate or start dinner with a healthy salad drizzled in olive oil. Vegetables are nutrient dense, meaning you’ll get lots of vitamins (for more in why that is important, please check out my blog post here: https://mynutritionfitness.com/2020/01/02/foods-you-already-enjoy-and-what-makes-them-healthy/
Have a vegetarian meal at least one night per week. Pick one or two nights per week to have a plant-based meal that includes beans, grains and vegetables. These meals are easy to prepare and you can use lots of spices for flavor. For ideas on plant-based meals check out this link to Forks Over Knives, they have plenty of plant-based recipes: https://www.forksoverknives.com/recipes/#gs.pzerwn
Have seafood twice per week. Seafood is readily available and easy to prepare, so it should be easy to plan for two meals per week with tuna, salmon, cod, mahi-mahi or sabelfish. Seafood is loaded with very important, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Keep your intake of dairy to no more than 200 calories. The USDA recommends keeping your intake of saturated fat under 10% of your daily calories (that’s 200 if you are on a 2,000 calorie per day plan). The best choices are unprocessed cheese and greek yogurt.
Enjoy dessert by eating fresh fruit. Keeping desserts (most of the time) to fresh fruit allows you to share the dessert and reap the benefits of all the vitamins and minerals found in fruits. Try having apple slices, grapes, strawberries, cantaloupe, oranges, pineapple or other berries.
Suggestions to get you started:
Again, making changes to your normal foods and/or routine can be challenging so start small.
- Use olive oil instead of butter
- Have a salad as a first course or side dish
- Make snacks fresh fruits or vegetables
- Use whole grains and avoid processed breads
- Have fish two times per week and remove red meat from your diet
- When you have dairy keep it to plant-based milk (almond, soy, etc)
As you can see there are compelling reasons to follow a Mediterranean diet for overall health. There are good reasons why it has been selected for the third year as the best diet overall.