If you're looking for a simple, smart eating plan – an eating lifestyle – it's hard to go wrong with the Mediterranean diet. It's big on flavor, and plenty of research has associated it with heart health and cancer prevention, among other health perks.
Don't be fooled by its name. The Mediterranean diet isn't a diet. In fact, the eating regimen doesn't prescribe portions. And it isn't all about food itself. To wit: It offers lifestyle prescriptions like being active and socializing while you eat.
As far as grub, the Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It encourages using healthy oils, like canola and olive, instead of butter, and promotes eating fish and poultry instead of red meat (though it doesn't totally nix it). It also encourages using spices and herbs to bring out flavor, which keeps salt intake within reason. And it gives a thumbs up to moderate consumption of red wine. That's it! No complex list of dos and don'ts to follow.
The Mediterranean diet has gotten lots of attention in recent years, but it's not new (obviously not to the folks who live near the Mediterranean Sea and have long been living by it). Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, has promoted it since at least the early aughts, to name one medical and nutrition expert.
Here are few ways the Mediterranean diet can keep you healthy:
- It is associated with a reduced risk of stroke. The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association both recommend the Mediterranean diet. In particular, the diet is considered a way to help keep blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes and obesity in check.
- It is good for your heart. The eating lifestyle stays away from saturated fat, which isn't healthy because it can raise the negative component of cholesterol (LDL), the stuff that clogs your arteries. Instead, the Mediterranean diet favors plant-leaning unsaturated fat, the good-for-you fat that often shows up with other healthful stuff – in avocados, for example, which also have vitamin E.
- It is associated with a reduced risk of cancer. In particular, research suggests it can keep breast cancer at bay.
- It is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. The Alzheimer's Association points out that research on the relationship between diet and cognitive function isn't vast – but what has been done points to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet in potentially reducing the risk of dementia.
- It is a lifestyle, not just a food-eating plan. The Mediterranean diet focuses on sharing meals with family and friends, relationships shown to benefit health when they are strong. And it emphasizes being physical activity, which we all know is good for you.
Learn more about journalist and wellness writer Mitra Malek at mitramalek.com.