Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is not just a trendy eating plan; it is a way of life that has been followed by people living in the Mediterranean region for centuries. This region, known for its rich cultural heritage and diverse cuisine, has given birth to a diet that is not only delicious but also incredibly beneficial for our health. To truly understand the Mediterranean diet, it is crucial to delve into its fascinating history. 

Origin

The roots of the Mediterranean diet can be traced back thousands of years to the ancient civilizations that flourished around the Mediterranean Sea. The diet was heavily influenced by the Greeks, Romans, and Phoenicians who inhabited the region. These ancient societies relied heavily on locally available foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and olive oil. Fish and seafood were also a significant part of their diet, thanks to the abundant coastal resources.

Over centuries, Mediterranean peoples’ food traditions have developed alongside three primary monotheistic religions that thrived here: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All three adopted and held onto some essential components of this dietary pattern as sacred practices within their faith traditions.

As the Mediterranean region became a hub for trade and cultural exchange, the diet began to evolve. The introduction of new ingredients and culinary techniques from various civilizations further enriched the traditional Mediterranean cuisine. Spices, herbs, and flavors from the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia became integral parts of Mediterranean dishes. This cultural exchange not only added diversity but also contributed to the health benefits associated with the diet.

The term “Mediterranean diet” was coined in the 1950s by the American physiologist Ancel Keys, who observed the remarkably low rates of heart disease among people living in Southern Italy and Greece. His Seven Countries Study, conducted over several decades, provided scientific evidence of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. This study, along with subsequent research, highlighted the diet’s association with a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. 

Since Keys’ initial findings, numerous studies and clinical trials have demonstrated the health advantages associated with following a Mediterranean style dietary pattern. These benefits include reduced risks of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.  Another common trait is improved weight management with reduced risks of obesity. 

Most research to date has been conducted among people living in Mediterranean or European countries, as well as caucasian populations living in the US.  More research needs to be done on other racial or ethnic groups to ascertain if its beneficial effects apply equally among them too.  However, any human should benefit from the lifestyle, barring any unknown food allergies or gene mutations.

While often considered a diet, the Mediterranean lifestyle should be seen as more than simply an eating regimen. It should incorporate regular physical activity, social gatherings and relaxation activities along with nutritious eating.  The basic food tenets of this lifestyle can be tailored to fit into eating patterns of different cultures around the globe.  Its key feature should be enjoying all its varied flavors and textures that comprise this delicious yet heart healthy diet!

Fruits And Vegetables

The Mediterranean diet consists of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. It includes beneficial monounsaturated fat from nuts and olive oil, as well as beneficial omega-3 fatty acids from fish. 

As part of this eating pattern, fresh, locally-sourced veggies such as sweet potatoes, carrots, eggplant, zucchini, okra and kale are staples. Chard, kale, mustard greens and collard greens can also be added into salads, frittatas or soups for an exciting twist!

Fruits such as apricots, avocados, bananas and berries are integral components of the Mediterranean diet, providing energy as well as helping prevent heart disease and weight loss. Fresh, dried or frozen fruits are all acceptable in this plan, and lemon is often added for extra flavor when served over fish, vegetables or soup dishes.

The Mediterranean diet incorporates legumes and nuts into meals as part of its meal planning approach. Chickpeas and kidney beans provide protein, healthy fats, fiber and antioxidants into every bite.  Walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts offer additional sources of protein, healthy fats, as well as various vitamins and minerals that contribute to our wellbeing.

Lean Meats

Fish and seafood are staples of this lifestyle, with the Mediterranean Sea providing the most resources to the region.  There are a variety of ways to cook and prepare seafood besides the main course. This certainly involves incorporation into regional soups and salads.

Red meat isn’t completely avoided in the Mediterranean diet, but its consumption should be restricted compared to other proteins like chicken and fish. When choosing red meat options it’s also essential that lean cuts are chosen.

Whole Grains

Grains are essential components of a Mediterranean diet, yet not in the form of the overstuffed loaves of white bread covered with butter and cheese that we typically think of when we hear “Mediterranean.” Instead, focus on whole grain cereals at breakfast.  Branch away from traditional grains for your lunch and dinner, by trying new grains like bulgur, barley, farro, couscous.

Nuts and Seeds

The Mediterranean diet includes an abundance of nuts, seeds, providing protein, heart-healthy fats, fiber and antioxidants.  Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios contain plant sterols and omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and heart disease risk.

Seeds and nuts provide protein, vitamin E, iron and minerals such as zinc, folate and magnesium, essential elements to our health! You can incorporate seeds and nuts into your diet as snacks, dips or salads or sprinkled over stewed fruits for dessert.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet. Recent research indicates that its healthy fats may help lower risk for cardiovascular disease while adding delicious flavor. Be sure to use extra virgin olive oil for added anti-inflammatory benefits!

Incorporating olive oil in your cooking and salad dressings not only adds a delightful flavor but also provides you with numerous health benefits.

Wine

Wine is an integral component of Mediterranean culture, often featuring in meals and religious rituals as part of meal preparation and religious ceremony. This drinking habit may contribute to why Mediterranean diets have such positive health outcomes.

Moderate wine intake appears to provide health benefits beyond its social aspects, including potential heart disease prevention. These advantages of red wine appear mainly attributable to its polyphenols such as resveratrol.

Red wines with light bodies and low tannins offer maximum health benefits. Opt for varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and “old vine” zinfandel which contain high amounts of procyanidin antioxidant. 

Roots and Herbs

Mediterranean dishes often use herbs such as basil, parsley and rosemary to add flavor. These ingredients contain powerful antioxidants which can prevent premature aging and disease. Furthermore, these herbs possess anti-inflammatory properties which may help lower high blood pressure. They contain vitamins A, C and K.

Garlic, another staple food in Mediterranean diets, not only adds delicious flavor to meals but has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular disease-reducing properties as well. Other spices like black pepper and ginger have anti-cancer effects through inducing apoptosis in cancerous cells.

Keto Diet Vs Mediterranean Diet

The keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that aims to put the body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis occurs when the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. The diet typically consists of high-fat foods such as avocados, butter, fatty fish, and oils, while severely restricting carbohydrate intake. This forces the body to rely on fat as its primary energy source, leading to weight loss and potential health benefits.

Contrary to the keto diet, the Mediterranean diet focuses on consuming whole, minimally processed foods that are commonly found in the Mediterranean region. This diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts. It also allows for moderate consumption of dairy products, fish, and poultry, while limiting red meat and processed foods. 

One of the key differences between the keto and Mediterranean diets lies in their macronutrient composition. While the keto diet is very low in carbohydrates (usually less than 20-50 grams per day), the Mediterranean diet emphasizes a balanced intake of all macronutrients, including carbohydrates. The Mediterranean diet typically provides around 45-60% of calories from carbohydrates, 15-30% from protein, and 25-40% from healthy fats. 

Both diets have been associated with various health benefits, but they differ in their approach. The keto diet is often chosen for its rapid weight loss results and its potential to improve insulin sensitivity and manage conditions like epilepsy and type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet is known for its positive impact on heart health, cognitive function, and overall longevity. It promotes a more sustainable and balanced approach to weight management, being more of a lifestyle that a rigid diet.