The results of a research study on the health benefits of a Mediterranean Style Diet were released today. This study was a meta-analysis (these seem to be getting pretty popular) of other studies done over the course of 18 years. Individuals who adhered to the Mediterranean diet saw an overall reduction in mortality rates. They were particularly less likely to die as a result of cardiovascular disease or cancer. Authors also cited a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease as well.
As I’ve said before, I don’t generally like the idea of “diets,” for the simple fact that they tend to be transient. We follow them for a short period of time, then we get bored with them, our interest lapses, and we move on to something else. It’s important to state that the above study was looking at long-term changes to consumption patterns.
This got me thinking about the “Mediterranean Diet” itself, though. The study didn’t actually state what a follower of the diet would be expected to consume, beyond saying a diet high in fruits and vegetables. That’s not too dissimilar to many diet recommendations, so I decided to go find out what exactly constitutes a “Mediterranean Diet.” A Mediterranean diet guide, if you will, to separate the wheat from the chafe. Like so many “diets”, there are variants on the traditional Mediterranean diet, including the Miami Mediterranean diet. I’m interested in the real deal. So, here goes.
According to the American Heart Association’s website, the Mediterranean diet is characterized by:
- Eating generous amounts of fruits and vegetables
- Consuming healthy fats (olive and canola oil)
- Eating small amounts of nuts
- Consuming moderate amounts of red wine
- Eating fish, and only small amounts of red meats
The AHA goes on to say that, relative to their Step 1 diet, the Mediterranean diet suggests less cholesterol, but more fats. Of course, the fats are mono- and polyunsaturated fats, like those found in olive and canola oils. Also, the AHA diet recommendations do not suggest red wine. They do acknowledge that components in red wine have an aspirin-like effect on the blood, thereby reducing clotting. However, the AHA suggests that the potential for abuse may outweigh the possible benefits. They do suggest grape juice as a possible alternative.
Wikipedia further elaborates on the diet, by specifying that 25-35% of calories should come from fats, with no more than 8% coming from saturated fat. They cite a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, moderate consumption of dairy products. When consuming high amounts of leafy vegetables, its important to be cognizant of the impact of calcium oxalate, which can impede calcium uptake and cause kidney stones in those who are susceptible. Similar to the AHA recommendations, meats should be more heavily weighted toward fish and poultry, and egg consumption should be no more than four per week.
There are a myriad of other studies that have been conducted on the benefits of this approach to eating. It’s worth noting that all sources state that the Mediterranean diet mandates regular physical activity, which I’m certain contributes to the health benefits. But I think all things considered, I’m going to try a little harder to keep moving my diet in this direction. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I eat well, I simply feel better. That’s not to say that food high in sugar and saturated fat doesn’t taste good. It does. I love the taste of a Thickburger, curly fries, and milkshake from Hardee’s. But I always end up feeling just terrible afterward. I just need some way to bottle that feeling so I can sample it before I go…