Mediterranean Diet 101
Everything you need to know about this experts-recommended healthy diet
The word ‘diet’, in this day and age, has become synonymous with weight loss. Is this the only purpose that a diet should fulfil?
Well, any special modification in your nutrition should be able to provide you with holistic health. A healthy diet should ideally give you better energy, active metabolism, strong immunity, mental alertness; and also prevent chronic ‘lifestyle diseases’.
The crash diets, that promise you quick results like rapid weight loss, can mess up with your metabolism and actually end up backfiring. Such diets are not only unsustainable for the long-term but also deprive your body of essential nutrients. The result is a weak immune system, loss of muscle mass, and unwanted weight gain.
Fret not! Dr. YOU always recommends you to follow a balanced approach towards nutrition and fitness. So, here’s a review of the Mediterranean Diet. It is touted as the healthiest diet by health experts. It not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but also provides you with multiple health benefits. It’s a win-win!
What is it?
The Mediterranean diet, as the name suggests, has its origins from lands surrounding the Mediterranean sea. So, this diet is inspired from traditional eating habits of people who lived in countries like France, Spain, Greece, Morocco, and Italy, during the mid- 20th century. It is believed that natives of these countries displayed higher than average life expectancy and perfect health.
But here’s the thing- don’t get intimidated by its exotic name and history. There are no strict rules to be followed and you need not starve yourself to adopt this healthy diet. It typically encourages you to eat foods mostly in natural, whole, fresh, and unprocessed form.
The Mediterranean dietary pattern primarily focuses on plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, and heart healthy oils especially olive oil. It also recommends lean protein from sources like fish, eggs, and poultry and restricts consumption of red meat and processed meat.
How does it affect us?
- Lowers inflammation- Inflammation is our body’s natural defense against infections, injury, and toxins. It is an immune system response that is vital to initiate healing. But chronic low-grade inflammation is an abnormal condition resulting due to toxins, poor diet, stress, sedentary behaviors etc. It is a root cause of many diseases like autoimmune disorders, and certain cancers. Now, scientific studies have proven that the Mediterranean diet remarkably lowers inflammation in the body. Eliminating processed foods and limiting meat consumption and dairy are known to lower inflammation. Polyphenols from plant based foods are also effective in controlling inflammation.
- Boosts immunity- Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and herbs are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which boost immunity, detoxify body tissues, and cleanse the liver. This improves the overall ability of our body to fight against infectious diseases.
- Helps maintain body weight- This diet requires you to replace calorie-rich foods like refined breads, sugar- loaded beverages, processed meats, and unhealthy fats with fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, herbs, and nuts etc. These foods keep you full for longer and prevent overeating.
- Improves digestion- Fruits and vegetables contain natural digestive enzymes which promote a smooth digestion of food. This diet also provides an abundance of fiber which boosts growth of good bacteria and improves gut health. This also ensures regularity of bowel movements and prevents constipation. So, this diet is very effective in avoiding gastric problems like acidity, bloating and flatulence.
Protects against chronic diseases- Scientific studies validate!
- Promotes heart health: Several research studies have shown the positive impact of the Mediterranean diet to promote heart health. There is consistent scientific evidence to prove that this diet prevents cardiovascular disease. It is effective at slowing the plaque buildup in the arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease. A study showed lower levels of systolic and diastolic blood pressure in individuals with normal BP or mild hypertension, after following MD for an year.
- Lowers risk of diabetes: Mediterranean diet can reduce risk of type-2 diabetes. Multiple studies found that this diet can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and improve levels of hemoglobin A1C, a marker used to measure long-term blood sugar control. It has also been shown to decrease insulin resistance, a condition that impairs the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Protects brain health: Mediterranean diet may also help reduce a decline in cognitive functions like memory, understanding, and thinking skills, that happens as a result of ageing. A study found out that the Mediterranean diet offers a protective effect on brain health. Following this diet has been associated with reduced risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease.
How to incorporate this diet in your lifestyle?
- Fruits and Vegetables- Consume 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits daily. Eat a variety of seasonal and local fruits and vegetables. Make salads and curries, and stir fry with pasta and rice. Eat your fruits whole and fresh for maximum benefit.
- Bread and Grains- Swap out refined grains with whole grains. These grains are a good source of complex carbohydrates, and are also packed with fiber, protein, and essential minerals. Give up on the refined flour, processed breads and choose whole wheat flour. Include millets like pearl, foxtail, finger millet etc. and also brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, buckwheat.
- Healthy fats- Replace dairy based butters with almond and peanut butter. Use heart healthy oils like olive oil, or sunflower oil for cooking. Have a handful of nuts everyday. Add sesame, pumpkin, and flax seeds in your foods.
- Protein sources- Mediterranean diet recommends intake of fish and seafood once/twice a week for protein and healthy fats. Whole eggs and poultry are considered healthy to be consumed a few times a week, in moderate amounts. Red meat and processed foods are restricted in this diet.
- Desserts- Sweets and beverages containing added sugar should only be taken occasionally in small amounts. Prefer fruit based desserts which provide natural sugars, fiber, and micronutrients.
Don’t go overboard- Strike a balance!
The Mediterranean diet focuses on nutrient-dense foods which gradually benefit our health. So, to meet your health goals, introduce this dietary pattern by making small choices. Start by replacing your sugar-loaded desserts with wholesome fruit based desserts. Munch on green salads and vegetable sticks instead of fried and salted chips. Do not completely deprive yourself of the foods you love. To sustain this as a healthy lifestyle for the long-term, occasionally allow yourself to savor your favorite foods. But remember, moderation is the key!
This is not a magic potion!
Nutrition is just one aspect of a healthy lifestyle. You should not overlook the importance of regular exercise, adequate sleep, and mental well-being. There are no quick fixes for weight loss or immediate disappearance of any health condition. Fitness requires consistent efforts over a period of time to yield results.
Remember, the only person who can keep YOU the healthiest is YOU!
DISCLAIMER: Dr. YOU aims to bring you the latest evidence-based science, and our content is for informational purposes only. The content is not medical advice or guarantee of an outcome. You should always consult a doctor or qualified healthcare professional if you need further clarification and before making any changes to your treatment plans and lifestyle, or that of others.
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