Mediterranean diet is an eating plan based on the habits of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea (mainly southern Italy, Greece and southern Spain). Despite their different cultures, they share a common diet, mainly due to the region’s soil and climate, which result in typical fauna and flora. In the 1950s to 1960s, an American researcher named Ancel Keys studied the […]
Mediterranean diet is an eating plan based on the habits of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea (mainly southern Italy, Greece and southern Spain). Despite their different cultures, they share a common diet, mainly due to the region’s soil and climate, which result in typical fauna and flora.
In the 1950s to 1960s, an American researcher named Ancel Keys studied the eating habits of several countries and noticed how people in the Mediterranean region had a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, despite consuming a high-fat diet. So he conceptualized the Mediterranean diet that we know today.
Main foods of the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet does not have an exact proportion between the consumption of macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and proteins), but it brings in its daily life some typical foods and food groups, which are the pillars of this method. We explain your benefits better below:
The oil from the olives is a source of fat and abundant in most preparations of the Mediterranean diet. However, its health benefits come exactly from the quality of the fats it contains: olive oil is rich in omega-9, a monounsaturated fatty acid known to improve the cholesterol profile, reducing LDL cholesterol (considered bad) and increasing cholesterol HDL (considered good), among other benefits.
Due to the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, people who follow this diet plan usually eat large quantities of fish, at a frequency of up to four times a week. While fish that live in warmer, shallower waters are low-fat protein sources, fish in deeper waters are rich in omega-3, a polyunsaturated fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties, capable of reducing triglycerides. and total cholesterol and also reduce the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases.
Oilseeds, such as almonds, walnuts and nuts also contain good amounts of omega-3, among other mono and polyunsaturated fats. In addition, due to their amount of fat, they are good sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant nutrient and in selenium, an important mineral and more difficult to find in food.
Fruits and vegetables
People who follow the Mediterranean diet usually consume up to nine servings of vegetables and fruits a day. This high intake of this type of food enriches the diet with a series of essential vitamins and minerals for the proper functioning of the body. Even, the more colorful these vegetables and fruits, the greater the different amount of nutrients you are ingesting. This is because the colors of these foods are derived from different phytochemicals, substances that are normally antioxidants but have different and equally important actions in our body.
In addition, fruits and vegetables are rich in dietary fibers, which improve intestinal flow, balance the intestinal microbiota, favor the immune system, reduce blood sugar spikes and help maintain satiety.
Grains are primarily responsible for providing energy within the Mediterranean diet, but the fact that they are whole gives them a number of benefits. As they do not go through a refining process, they preserve some important nutrients such as zinc, phosphorus, magnesium and especially their fibers. Therefore, they help to give more satiety, favor chewing and avoid energy spikes that increase hunger and can lead to insulin resistance and subsequently to type 2 diabetes.
Wine is one of the most iconic foods in the Mediterranean diet and a key factor in reducing the risk of mortality that this diet provides. But for this, the experts’ warning is to consume a maximum of two glasses a day, more than that the risks of stroke, cancer and other diseases increase.
Red wine is especially rich in anthocyanins and resveratrol. The latter is a polyphenol that prevents the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries, in addition to reducing the risk of some types of cancer. Anthocyanins are natural antioxidants that fight aging.
Cheese and yogurt
The most consumed dairy products in the Mediterranean diet are natural cheeses and yoghurts, which are the major sources of calcium in this diet, an important nutrient for bone health. In addition, they are an extra source of protein for food.
Less consumed food
In addition to these mainstay foods in the Mediterranean diet, it also naturally reduces and avoids some types of food:
Red meat: due to a higher intake of fish and also a higher consumption of chicken meat, the Mediterranean diet has less consumption of red meat. People who follow this diet consume only 500 g per week (which is equivalent to between 4 and 5 steaks), which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 11%.
Processed foods: the Mediterranean diet has a much higher consumption of natural foods, which reduces the consumption of processed products. This is advantageous since this type of food usually has a high amount of refined sugars, saturated and trans fats and chemical additives that can reduce the quality of life.
How the Mediterranean Diet Works
The Mediterranean diet is based mainly on the consumption of the foods mentioned above and on a healthier lifestyle, with less stress and more movement on a daily basis, which favors more health and disposition.
Benefits of the Mediterranean diet
Combining such healthy foods with more peaceful living habits makes the Mediterranean diet bring a series of benefits to the body. See the main ones below:
Cardiovascular protection: people who follow the Mediterranean diet are much less at risk of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, heart attacks, arteriosclerosis and stroke. This is due to the fat profile of this diet, which prioritizes mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega 9 and 3 respectively). While omega 9 reduces LDL cholesterol (considered bad) and improves HDL cholesterol (considered good) and has an activity that prevents thrombus in blood vessels, omega-3 protects the heart due to its anti-inflammatory action in the body.
In addition, this diet has little salt and a large amount of flavonoids (mainly from vegetables and fruits) and antioxidant vitamins, which also helps in the prevention of diseases in the heart and vascular system.
Finally, the components present in red wine, such as resveratrol and anthocyanins are also protective of heart health.
Helps to prevent diabetes: the Mediterranean diet is rich in fiber and low glycemic index foods, which helps to avoid spikes in blood glucose and insulin. When these insulin spikes occur, the body’s tissues begin to get used to the high amount of this hormone, responsible for putting sugar into cells. A picture of insulin resistance is created, when the pancreas needs to produce more and more hormones to synthesize the same amount of glucose. Over time, this condition may progress to type 2 diabetes.
Armored brain: omega-3 – and especially one of its fractions, DHA – helps to protect and stimulate cognitive activity, being very effective for brain health. In addition, the combination of vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fats help to improve brain health. Another important point is the control of insulin that this diet brings: some studies show that insulin resistance in the brain can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s.
Protects against cancer: high fiber consumption, typical of the Mediterranean diet, is related to reducing the risk of some types of cancer, such as lung cancer, laryngeal cancer, oral cavity cancer, pharynx cancer, esophageal cancer and stomach cancer.
The large amount of antioxidant elements also helps to prevent the formation of tumors, since they are favored by the presence of free radicals in the body, substances combated by antioxidants.
Improved constipation: if the Mediterranean diet is combined with a high intake of water, it can favor intestinal transit. The soluble fibers of fruits and vegetables when in contact with water form a gel that helps in the passage of the bolus through the digestive tract. In addition, insoluble fibers serve as food for the bacteria in the gut, helping with digestion and other body functions.
Why does the Mediterranean diet help you lose weight?
The Mediterranean diet does not have the main objective of losing weight, but this can occur as an indirect consequence of the lifestyle change that this food consumption usually brings. Because it has many foods that help with satiety and also bring a positive nutritional balance, this diet can help with weight loss.
However, it is important to remember that Mediterranean diet foods, although healthy, can be very caloric. Therefore, if the idea of adopting this diet plan is to lose weight, it is worth looking for a nutritionist or nutrologist to adjust the amounts and portions according to the caloric amount you need to consume in order to lose weight in good health.
Disadvantages of the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet has few disadvantages. One is the consumption of red wine, which needs to be moderated to be effective. Therefore, people who drink more than two glasses a day will not be beneficial to their health and will even increase their risk of having diseases such as cancer and stroke.
The consumption of wine even has several contraindications: people with a history of alcohol dependence, pregnant women, children and adolescents can follow the diet, but not including alcoholic beverages.
Another disadvantage of the Mediterranean diet is that it is not so accessible. The foods she preaches, such as olive oil and saltwater fish, are more expensive, which can make the diet more difficult.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the three diets considered most advantageous for health from the metabolic point of view, due to the longevity it offers.