The Mediterranean Diet: What Is It and Why Is It So Good?
There are so many diets out there it’s easy to become confused about how to eat. Now, new annual rankings from U.S. News & World Report reveal that the best diets for 2018 is a tie, with the Mediterranean Diet and DASH Diet in first place. I prefer the Mediterranean Diet as it has more research behind it and is perhaps easier to follow. The diet involves eating mostly vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, beans and peas, unrefined grains, and fish. It keeps meat, dairy, and saturated fats to a minimum. And, bonus, you can have a glass of red wine with dinner without cheating.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet uses the types of ingredients one would find within countries along the Mediterranean coast, and puts an emphasis on eating “real food.” This means incorporating plenty of plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Veggies and fruit should be consumed in abundance (up to 10 servings a day), and grains should be whole and not processed. Fish and poultry are consumed at least a couple of times a week (organic is best), but red meat intake is limited to less than two to three times per month. Salt, saturated fats, and trans fats are consumed minimally. This diet favors olive oil and nuts as primary sources for fat intake because they contain high levels of unsaturated fats. The Mediterranean diet also promotes the health benefits of the polyphenols found in red wine when consumed in moderation, as well as regular exercise and eating socially.
According to a 2015 study led by Immaculata De Vivo, associate professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, the Mediterranean Diet could be a key to living longer. This research looked at data from 4,676 healthy middle-aged women involved in the Nurses' Health Study, an ongoing study tracking the health of more than 120,000 U.S. nurses since 1976. It found women who ate a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres. Telomeres are a part of your chromosomes - the thread-like structures that house your DNA. At the end of these chromosomes are telomeres, a kind of protective "cap" that keeps the structure from unraveling. It thereby protects your genetic information.
Scientists have noticed some lifestyle choices such as smoking, being overweight or obese and consuming too much sugar can prematurely shorten a person's telomeres, thus shortening their lives. Oxidative stress and inflammation can also shorten the telomeres.
Vegetables, fruit, olive oils and nuts, the main components of a Mediterranean diet, have well-known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. De Vivo states that the study's results provide "some insight into the underlying physiological mechanism behind this association, indicating that greater adherence to this diet is significantly associated with longer telomeres," she says. Because of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean diet, following this diet "could balance out the 'bad effects' of smoking and obesity," De Vivo says.
These findings further support "the health benefits of greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet for reduction of overall mortality, increased longevity and reduced incidence of chronic diseases, especially major cardiovascular diseases."
It doesn’t work though to pick and choose a couple of aspects of the diet. None of the individual dietary components was associated with telomere length. Instead, the whole diet is an important element, rather than one item being a kind of superfood.
Another feature of the Mediterranean diet is that it incorporates social activities and exercise as a core component. It is recommended that you eat with friends whenever possible and get as much enjoyment out of your eating experience as you can. As far as exercise goes, aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise 3-5 times per week. By increasing your exercise, you can improve your life expectancy and decrease your risk for cardiovascular-related disease.
Replacements in the Mediterranean Diet
Want some of the health benefits that the Mediterranean diet provides? All it requires is making a few changes in your food choices.
- Instead of using butter, try using olive or coconut oil. Extra virgin olive oil has the most antioxidant compounds in it because it is minimally processed.
- If you eat red meat, limit your intake, and switch to fish or poultry wherever possible. When you do eat red meat, eat only grass-fed beef and limit your portion to the size of a deck of cards.
- If you enjoy alcohol, try having a glass of red wine instead of a beer or a cocktail with dinner.
- Choose whole wheat or unprocessed whole grains instead of white grains wherever possible. Whole grains are more nutritious and will keep you full for longer.
- If you like peanut butter, go for the version without sugar.
Everyone stands to benefit from trying out the Mediterranean diet, whether you are simply making small changes in your ingredient choices or diving deep into it. If you need help making adjustments to your diet or are experiencing inflammation, call our office to schedule a consultation. Our phone number is 510-922-1579, or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things We Love:
Pureed Broccoli Soup
Try my easy recipe for healthy broccoli soup. You’ll never know there’s no cream in it.
Cook time: 20 minutes
Makes 8 servings
2 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons arrowroot flour (or regular flour)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
8 cups chopped broccoli (stems and florets)
48 ounces of beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
Sour cream (optional and definitely not necessary)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until the butter melts. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add arrowroot powder. Cook 2 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and sage; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add broth; bring to a boil over high heat. Add broccoli. Reduce heat to maintain a lively simmer and cook until very tender, about 8 minutes.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Stir in salt and pepper to taste.
Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
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