If you’re looking for a healthy diet to kick-start the new year, you might want to take a fresh look at the Mediterranean diet. It’s not so much a diet as a healthy way of eating that incorporates all the good foods that people like me have been advocating for a long time. And, it’s about including good taste in your kitchen not about all the things you shouldn’t eat. There are many researchers who have looked at this eating pattern in a favorable way and studies suggest it may protect us from heart disease, some cancers and even some of the not so great effects of aging. I recently came across two newer studies that further underline this diet’s benefits.
Researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago studied a large group of adults over the age of 65, looking at their eating habits and cognitive function. They were given scores reflecting how well they followed a Mediterranean style diet and another reflecting how well they met the U.S. Dietary guidelines. Their cognitive decline was assessed over time. The study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet had significantly slower rates of cognitive decline. This is not the first study to look at the role this diet plays in keeping our brain healthy but it adds to the body of evidence and is another good reason to pay attention to this eating style.
The second study is not so much about the Mediterranean diet but looks at two foods that are important components of it. Also published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute in Italy found that women who eat more olive oil and leafy green vegetables were less likely to develop heart disease. This study followed almost 30,000 women who were part of a large national health study and they found that eating at least one serving of leafy vegetables and/or 3 Tbsp. (45ml) of olive oil daily significantly lowered their heart risk by over 40%.
Again, not the first study but further evidence that components of this diet are linked to heart health.
So, what are the foods that are part of this eating style?
The diet is rich in complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pasta, herbs, spices legumes and beans. These foods should be eaten daily.
Olive oil is the key fat, replacing butter, margarine and other fats. Rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, this oil is also a source of plant chemicals that are believed to reduce inflammation. Nuts and seeds are also included for their healthy fat properties.
Fish is one of the key protein foods eaten and it is well known to provide omega-3 fats which have heart healthy and anti-inflammatory properties. It is suggested to have fish and seafood at least twice a week. Lean meat is consumed less frequently.
The traditional diet is low in saturated fats and trans fats.
Cheese and yogurt are consumed moderately as are poultry and eggs.
People who live around the Mediterranean also drink wine which, in moderation, has also been shown to have some heart healthy benefits.