The Mediterranean diet: What are the health benefits?
Published 18 Dec 2021 • By Candice Salomé
We don't eat only for food. Eating is also one of our everyday pleasures, something we can share, or not, with those around us. Eating brings pleasure and awakens our senses. But it is also about keeping fit and being healthy.
A variety of diets praised for their health benefits appear every year. There are gluten-free or lactose-free diets, etc. But these ones are only of interest to those really suffering with food intolerance.
The Mediterranean diet, however, stands out in terms of its simplicity, as well as its health benefits.
So what is this diet? What are its main principles? How does it benefit our health?
We explain it all in our article!
"Let your food be your only medicine", this was Hippocrates's advice more than 2000 years ago. Now more than ever, we are aware that our food is one of the main keys to our physical and mental well-being.
Many still think that the word “diet” is synonym to restriction. However, the term "diet" simply defines the way we eat, whether it is good or not.
In this article, we will focus on the Mediterranean diet known for its numerous health benefits.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The term “Mediterranean diet” mainly refers to the traditional diet of the Greeks and the Cretans.
The first studies on the subject were carried out by Ancel Keys, an American scientist, in the 1950s, and were named “The Seven Countries Study”. He found out that people who adopted the Mediterranean diet, despite the fact that it is rich in fat, had a better health, a longer life expectancy and a better quality of life altogether. Thus were discovered the benefits of what was then called the Cretan, or the Mediterranean, diet and, above all, the importance of the intake of fatty acids which regulate the level of cholesterol and act as facilitating and protecting factors at the onset of coronary heart disease.
This diet originates, as the name suggests, from the Mediterranean basin. It's all about the plant food consumption, a limited consumption of animal products and an active daily life.
In some countries, this is accompanied by moderate consumption of red wine which contains a lot of polyphenols and antioxidants.
The Mediterranean diet is actually a general term for all the dietary variations found in different countries around the Mediterranean basin.
Nevertheless, the main principles of this diet can be found in dishes as diverse as a Greek salad, Italian seafood pasta or couscous in the Maghreb countries.
What are the main principles of the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet consists mainly of plant foods, rich in essential micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber and other plant compounds that are beneficial to our health.
Food to be eaten in large quantities
Legumes, whole grains and nuts
Legumes and whole grains are rich in protein and minerals and provide the body with some of the B vitamins. They are also known for their high intake of dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates.
Nuts, on the other hand, are rich in omega-3 and are good for the heart and the brain.
Fresh fruit and veggies
Low in calories, they are an excellent source of water, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.
Olive oil is mostly made up of monounsaturated fats. This allows it to be more easily integrated by the body, and not to be stored as much in adipose tissue, as other fats. Olive oil is also rich in vitamin E, antioxidants, phytosterol and plant lipids that help lower cholesterol.
Fish is a great source of protein and lipids that are good for our health. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines have even greater health benefits.
Foods to be limited
Red meat and cold cuts
Even though red meat and cold meats are a source of protein, they are nonetheless rich in saturated fats and contribute to the increase of cholesterolemia and blood pressure. They should not be eaten often, and only in small amounts.
Poultry, eggs and dairy
White meat is a good source of protein because it is devoid of trans-fatty acids (a type of unsaturated fatty acids).
In the Mediterranean diet, it is recommended not to consume more than 4 eggs per week. This quantity includes eggs used in pastry and other preparations.
Dairy products, on the other hand, can be consumed daily but in small quantities. Yoghurts and cottage cheese are better because they contain calcium and protein and have little saturated fat.
Sugary foods and drinks should be consumed in small quantities and, preferably, on special occasions (with the exception of fruit).
What are the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet?
The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are established on the basis of the results from epidemiological studies in various fields.
Proper adherence to this diet has been correlated with weight loss and lower levels of blood cholesterol. The Mediterranean diet is associated with a decrease in overall mortality as well as with a lower incidence of major chronic conditions: cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, osteoporosis and even age-related cognitive decline.
Moreover, under the influence of the Mediterranean diet, the intestinal microbiota undergoes positive changes.
The Mediterranean diet consists of foods rich in antioxidants, that have anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombogenic properties, which contributes to improved insulin resistance, endothelial dysfunction, lipid profile and counteracts telomere shortening related to the aging process.
In fact, this is due, on the one hand, to high nutrient density of the diet thanks to all the vitamins, trace elements and polyphenols contained in olive oil, wine, tea, seeds, nuts, fruit and vegetables and, on the other hand, to low energy density that comes with the consumption of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
In addition, due to the significant intake of monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3, its low glycaemic index and its high intake of fiber, the Mediterranean diet is likely to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and improve their development when they are diagnosed.
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