Over the past couple years, it seems like everyone is talking about the Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean diet food list features seafood, beans, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. It emphasizes healthy fats such as olive oil–specifically omega 3 fatty acids. It also calls for very low amounts of red meat, and emphasizes yogurt and various types of cheeses as dairy products.
When people first think of the Mediterranean today, thoughts of pizza, gyros, and long loaves of white bread come to mind. Multi-course dinners with endless bottles of wine are also considered standard fare. This is as far from an ideal Mediterranean diet food list as you can get. However, prior to the last 50 years, traditional eating habits consisted of the healthy, inexpensive products that the diet focuses on.
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is based on the dietary traditions of Southern Italy and Greece from the 1960’s timeframe. Back then, issues with chronic disease in that section of the world ranked among the world’s lowest. Conversely, adult life expectancy ranked at the highest levels in the world despite limited medical services.
Besides the food elements, other keys to a Mediterranean diet are exercising daily, meal sharing, and having a true appreciation for eating healthy and delicious foods.
Associated Myths and Misconceptions
There are lots of misconceptions about the Mediterranean diet. The first one is the supposed expense. Most people think it costs a lot of money to eat this way. However, if consuming beans, vegetables, and whole grains is the core of your daily meal planning, then it’s much less expensive than eating processed foods and lots of meat.
Another myth about the diet is that large amounts of pasta is consumed on a regular basis. In reality, pasta is usually a side dish with a 1-cup serving size. The rest of their plate consists of seafood, a salad with beans, and some vegetables. Lentil soup is a regular option before serving the main portion of the meal.
The last one is that it’s all about the food. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. When they sit down for a meal, it’s in a relaxed and leisurely fashion with other people. This can be just as important, if not more, than what you actually eat.
Associated Health Benefits
A traditional Mediterranean diet food list coupled with physical activity—reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. To be specific:
- A Mediterranean diet is rich in fiber, which slows down digestion and keeps blood sugar levels normalized. Here’s my article on
- Processed food and red meat are discouraged in a Mediterranean diet. If you want to drink alcohol in moderation, it suggests red wine over hard liquor. All of the above have all been linked to preventing heart disease and strokes.
- It reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. Multiple researchers believe that a Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol and blood vessel health. There’s a strong chance that both factors reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
- Halving the risk of Parkinson’s disease. One of the foundation pieces of a Mediterranean diet is focusing on foods that are high in antioxidants. Diets containing high levels of antioxidants prevent cells from undergoing a damaging process called oxidative stress. Preventing oxidative stress cuts the risk of Parkinson’s in half.
Negatives of a Mediterranean Diet
There are lots of health benefits associated with a Mediterranean based diet, but there are just enough drawbacks to take a moment and consider possible alternatives. The biggest one is to adopt heavier usage of olive oil on a daily basis, but not make the other necessary changes to your diet.
To further illustrate this point, multiple studies have poked some holes in olive oil’s heart–health claims. For example, researchers from the University of Crete compared residents of the country who had heart disease with residents who didn’t. They found that residents eating a diet with higher levels of monounsaturated fats that originated from olive oil led to higher levels of heart disease.
Another study investigated how people’s arteries could expand to accommodate increased blood flow after eating multiple meals. Each one emphasized different ingredients of the Mediterranean diet. After the meal with olive oil, the ability of people’s arteries to expand was significantly reduced.
Adopting sections of this diet plan while still eating pizza, lots of pasta, and drinking lots of red wine will not benefit your health. Alcohol consumption isn’t for everyone, and it obviously carries it’s own risks. Some people can exercise restraint and moderation when consuming alcoholic beverages. Drinking more than a glass of red wine per day regularly will hurt your health.
In summary, the Mediterranean diet is a valid consideration for those looking to improve their health and lose weight. As always, you should consult a doctor or nutrition expert to see if it’s right for you.