The Mediterranean diet, is it more than just a diet?


Mediterranean dietThe Mediterranean diet gained notoriety following the Seven Countries Study, which compared diets of people living in southern Italy and Greece with the diets of people living in the U.S. and northern Europe in the 1970s. This was the first study to recognize an association between the Mediterranean diet and a reduction in premature death from any cause, including cardiovascular disease.

The Mediterranean diet has come to be viewed as a model diet for good health. But a recent article in the journal “Nutrition Reviews” postulates that factors besides the diet itself might play a role in the benefits attributed to the Mediterranean diet. For example, could differences in types and varieties of foods and methods of preparation play a role?

Imagine if you could travel back in time to the island of Crete circa 1970. Your choice of plants (fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and grains), how and if you cooked your food, and what types of meat and dairy were available would likely be different. Could it be these details that make a difference in health outcomes? The jury is still out.

In the meantime if you want to bring a bit more authenticity to your Mediterranean diet, try these tips:

  • Eat a variety of vegetables. In particular, include a variety of dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, cabbage, arugula and broccoli. They are rich in vital nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Include more purple and orange fruits. Pomegranates, figs and grapes are rich sources of flavonols, anthocyanins and procyanindins, all of which may reduce heart disease risk. Apricots, peaches, nectarines and cantaloupes are sources of carotenes and other types of antioxidants.
  • Retain and eat all nutrients foods have to offer. When cooking vegetables, for instance, do so in a soup or stew. You’ll retain more nutrients in the cooking liquid, rather than losing them when you pour off the water after boiling or steaming.
  • Eat fruit for dessert. The antioxidants in fruit may counteract inflammatory processes that may occur after you eat a meal.
  • Try a new milk or cheese. In the Mediterranean region, goats and sheep are more common than cows, and these animals are more likely to be pasture-raised. A grass diet changes the types of fatty acids in milk and other dairy products.
  • Add flavor. Use garlic, herbs and virgin olive oil to flavor your foods. They may protect your heart.
  • Go more Mediterranean. Make lunch your largest meal of the day, take a midday nap, be physically active and be more social.

I like these ideas. How about you? Will you adapt these changes to your current diet and lifestyle?

By Jennifer Nelson, M.S., R.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D, Mayo Clinic