The Mediterranean Diet
Eat right, live well By Rachel Kelly
Some of the oldest people in the world, with the highest quality of life, live in the Mediterranean. This could be in large part to their active lifestyle; the people of Greece and Italy walk and bike everywhere as well as spend a lot of time outdoors. This could be because of their deep connection to family; the people of the Mediterranean are interconnected to their family and friends and often live with several generations under one roof. It is also true that culturally, the people within the Mediterranean stick to rhythms that encourage them to connect to their greater community. However, their rich lifestyle of lifelong health is believed to be mostly attributed to their diet. The Mediterranean is known for its cultural roots that encourage high quality foods, eating within season, eating locally according to what’s available, gardening, and responsibly caring for the animals and animal products that they consume.
The Mediterranean diet is modeled after this way of living and encourages a healthy dietary pattern that is sustainable as a lifestyle. This means that diets such as the Mediterranean diet are more a way of life, versus a strict standard that forces weight loss; weight that once lost returns once you return to daily living. Research shows that the Mediterranean diet can lower chances for cardiovascular diseases, prevent certain types of cancer, and it can have a positive impact on mental health. If we are to assume that the people of the Mediterranean live a long life in part because of their diet, there is also the added benefit of living long. The goal of such a diet is not to look perfect but to live within the weight that is healthy for your body type. To help you to feel good, versus craft a body that is “presentable.” The goal here is long life, lived well, surrounded by those you love. In light of that, what is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is pretty straight forward, crafted around local Mediterranean cuisine. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes; things like peas, lentils, all different types of dried beans, tomatoes, and leafy greens. It includes low or nonfat dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts. So, palm oil and coconut oil are out, while peanut oil, avocado oil and olive oil is acceptable. Olive oil is especially encouraged as a source of healthy fats. Freshly pressed, olive oil is considered to be more of a condiment than an oil and has a variety of uses in all types of cuisine. As expected, this diet limits sugary foods, highly processed foods, and foods high in sodium. Lightly processed foods, such as quality cheeses, are allowed. Foods that have a (relatively) ample amount of salt aren’t prohibited in any way, just foods that contain high levels of sodium. Foods that are high in sodium are generally preserved and highly processed; sodium becomes easier to avoid as long as highly processed foods are limited.
The reason that the Mediterranean diet has been proven to work so well is because it mimics the natural flow of what our bodies derive from nature and suggests ingredients that have been proven to encourage healthy habits for generations. It is for this reason that there are other diets that also work in much the same way that the Mediterranean diet does. Diets such as the DASH diet are also considered to be healthy for lifelong use. DASH, or the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, is a diet that allows for more dairy and meat and doesn’t restrict healthy fats to ingestion of olive oil. True to its name, the DASH diet helps lower blood pressure by focusing on foods that are high in potassium, calcium and magnesium. This means that under the DASH diet one can eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, beans, lentils, dairy and lean meats all in balance and moderation.
Diets such as paleo, keto, or whole 30 are surprisingly not on this list. Not because they don’t yield results! The keto diet can be great for someone who is suffering from diabetes, and the whole 30 diet can be great for helping someone overcome bad habitual eating. However, these diets are not considered heart healthy, nor are they approved for lifetime adherence. In any diet, the focus should always be on quality over quantity. Foods high in nutrition are the primary focus, versus foods that satisfy quickly but ultimately go unused by the body. That being said, our bodies need all kinds of foods, versus strict restrictions, to get the variety of nutrients that it needs for overall health. For instance, breads and pastas are widely eaten in sustainable diets because carbohydrates are good for quick bursts of energy. Carbohydrates are balanced in moderation by fresh and cooked fruits and vegetables, as are part of a meal. Eating well isn’t so much about focusing on eating one thing and not eating another, but eating everything all together. For instance, pasta is usually eaten with pasta sauce, which usually incorporates a variety of vegetables with a moderate amount of meat. Taken all together, a healthy diet focuses on the whole plate. In turn, from head to toe, the whole body is well fed.