by Gift Anaja
WHY IS THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET THE HEALTHIEST DIET EVER?
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering The Mediterranean Sea. Emphasis on “Traditional” because there have been some modifications to the lifestyle of the Mediterranean region. This is significantly due to the changes caused by the modernization and westernization of the region. Ancel Keys first discovered the Mediterranean diet after a scientific study conducted in The 1950s highlighted the higher life expectancy of the populations of Crete and Corfu despite a rudimentary health system. In the 1990s, Dr Serge Renaud’s “French paradox” also highlighted the link between the Mediterranean diet and low rates of cardiovascular disease recurrence. The numerous health benefits of the Mediterranean diet is due to its structure, its constituents and the lifestyle of the people located in the region.
MAIN PILLARS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
We interpret the pyramid to mean that the food placed towards the base of the pyramid is to be frequently consumed at every meal, and the food towards the peak of the pyramid is to be limited and consumed occasionally.
The main pillars of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for the numerous health benefits of the diet.
Olive oil: rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, it contains large amounts of antioxidants, it has strong anti-inflammatory properties. it could help prevent strokes, heart disease fights Alzheimer’s disease, reduces type 2 diabetes risk, it has anti-cancer properties as well as antibacterial properties and it could be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis
Whole cereals and products: high in nutrients and fibre, it lowers the risk of heart disease as well as stroke, it reduces the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, supports healthy digestion and reduces chronic inflammation.
Fruits and vegetables: rich in vitamins, minerals, and plant chemicals. They also contain fibre. It protects against cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Onions, garlic, spices and condiments: in addition to having antibacterial and antiviral properties, garlic can help lower cholesterol and high blood sugar. Spices boost immune system function by fighting infections.
Legumes, nuts and seeds: legumes are rich in proteins and fibre. Nuts and seeds provide healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated plant oils as well as protein. These are all healthy food options with tremendous health benefits.
Yoghurt and sheep’s cheese (but no milk): rich in medium-chain fatty acid, it is a healthier substitute to dairy products sourced from cows which are high in saturated fats and long-chain fatty acids.
The longer the fatty acid chain, the less healthy the food.
Red wine (12 cal/day): rich in antioxidants that help protect against diseases associated with ageing, keeps the heart merry and healthy, reduces high cholesterol, regulates blood sugar, reduces the risk of cancer and reduces the risk of depression.
Fish: filled with omega-three fatty acids and vitamins D and B2(riboflavin). It is also rich in calcium and phosphorus, and minerals such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium and potassium. This nutrient keeps our heart and brain healthy.
FOODS TO LIMIT ON THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Red meat: Due to its high content of saturated fat
Highly Processed Foods: These foods go through processes that strip them of every important nutrient are leaving the food with little or no nutrients.
Refined sugar, grains and oils: During the refining process, a lot of essential natural nutrients are lost, leading to a reduction in the nutrient density of the food.
Soda, candies, hotdogs, sausages and pastries: high in salt and sugar, these foods pose serious issues on health.
Other factors to bear in mind about the Mediterranean diet is the way of cultivating their foods, eating foods in season, the way of cooking their meals, the community around eating times and the active lifestyle of the people who adopt this diet.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
- Protects against cardiovascular diseases and some cancers
- Based on a dominantly plant diet
- Rich in quality monounsaturated fat
- Exceptionally rich in fibres, antioxidants, et vitamins
- Weight loss is not a priority
- Improved health and longevity
It is no secret that there is no perfect diet; perhaps this could be because no food is perfect either. For every food that exists, there are benefits and risks associated depending on the way the food was cultivated, how much quantity of the food is ingested and the method of cooking. My previous assumptions on the Mediterranean diet highlighted all the diet benefits and why it is genuinely beneficial. This time around, I am focusing on the negative points which could potentially pose some risks if not fully taken into consideration.
The cons of the Mediterranean diet:
- It has no specific guidance to follow
- Reduction of food quality (toxic metals in fish, pesticides)
- It demands an effort for cultural adaptation
- Can be challenging to follow by those who love red meat and sugary food
- Requires a little bit of cooking, and this could be time-consuming.
- It brings up some dietary concerns like weight gain and some nutrient deficiency
The answer to these dietary concerns resides in portion control. Portion control for Mediterranean diet if your recommended nutritional needs are around 1800- 2000 calories daily.
Disclaimer: this is for Healthy people who have a moderate physically active lifestyle. This should not replace the dietician’s recommendations.
- A cup or a clenched fist full of whole grains and whole-grain products at every meal.
- Minimum of 5 fruits and vegetables a day: feel free to exaggerate on fruits and vegetables.
- The moderate use of olive oil and heart-healthy vegetable oils: around a cooking spoon and a half.
- Frequent consumption of legumes, nuts and grains, usually a fist full (2-3 times a week)
- Daily consumption of yoghurt or cheese from sheep/goats. Apart at every meal.
- Daily moderate consumption of wine (12 -16cl / day)
- Fish could be eaten frequently in a week, prioritizing fatty fish and (2-3) times a week in order to minimize the risk of poisoning from metals.
- Limited consumption of chicken (Chicken breast) ( 0-2 times per week) and eggs (4 eggs per week)
- Limit the consumption of sugar and sugary products (10g of sugar per day)
- Limit the consumption of red meat to the maximum only on exceptional occasions (500g per week).
- Water, tea, coffee at anytime every day
Mark Davis, 2017. WHITEHALL lane. https://whitehalllane.com/10-health-benefits-ofdrinking-red-wine-that-will-keep-you-healthy/
Joe Leech, MS. 2018. 11 proven benefits of olive oil. Healthline.
Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS,RD. 2019. 9 health benefits of eating whole grains. Healthline.
Camille Lefebvre ( 2012); reviewed by Léa Zubiria (2018).