The basics, benefits and problems of the Mediterranean diet

THE WORDS “MEDITERRANEAN DIET” undoubtedly conjure up images in your mind of a wide array of delicious foods and idyllic settings. After all, the Mediterranean has been described more as a way of life than a diet. And even if you’re not enjoying seafood and pasta to your heart’s content while you drift all day on a beautiful Greek island, the image of that is part of the diet’s appeal and its problem.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Mediterranean diet is its flexibility. Yes, red meat, processed foods and sugar are prohibited. But due to geographic proximity, unlimited pasta, fish, cheese, a daily glass of wine, and enough olive oil to drown a lower town of Amalfi are all acceptable staples in the setting. of the Mediterranean diet. Med isn’t as restrictive as keto or Atkins, allowing its acolytes to eat a range of foods that are frowned upon on other diets. But the Mediterranean diet has become too flexible, and at the same time not flexible enough.

Twenty-three countries border the Mediterranean Sea. But when the forefathers of the Mediterranean diet laid out its foundations, they largely eschewed nutrients and ingredients common in North African, Middle Eastern and Balkan dishes, in favor of Spanish, Italian and Greek cuisine. In case you didn’t know, these aren’t the only nations in the Mediterranean. The sea stretches from Morocco to Egypt, winding past countries like Slovenia, Montenegro, Syria and Libya.

The vaguely defined but nonetheless highly focused nature of the Mediterranean diet has had a dual effect. On the one hand, the rigidity of only eating foods belonging to tourist destinations like Italy and Greece deprives the body of essential nutrients from other cultures. On the other hand, its strong geographical orientation – it should rather be called Greco-Roman regime – contradicts its name. Calling the diet “Mediterranean” creates a sense of perceived flexibility far greater than the diet actually allows, granting its practitioners the flexibility to be liberal in their food choices and negating the beneficial impact of the diet.

This is probably not news you want to hear. For decades, the Mediterranean diet has been one of the most popular diets due to its ease of implementation and the undeniable appeal of Mediterranean cuisine. The diet can still be effective, however, and we’re about to tell you how.

What are the basics of the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet focuses on the traditional foods and eating habits of the northern Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy and Greece. Despite what the name suggests, it generally does not use Mediterranean cuisine as a whole, which includes North African, Middle Eastern, Balkan and Slavic cuisine.

The Med is known to be less strict than other popular diets and instead prioritizes the quality of foods consumed. As such, its principles are more like guidelines than rules. The Mediterranean diet requires a nutritional diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa (which actually comes from South America but who cares, right?), fats healthy foods like olive oil, nuts and seeds, and lean proteins like fish. , seafood and poultry, yogurt and cheese as sources of protein and calcium, moderate consumption of red wine for antioxidants and the use of garlic, basil and oregano as flavorings to reduce need salt.

It’s a long list of foods you can eat. The list of foods you can’t eat is relatively short, with the only glaring omission being red meat. Again, it’s not like Mediterraneans don’t eat red meat, the diet just plays fast and loose with its adherence to what actually constitutes red meat. the traditional food of the region. Aside from red meat, processed foods and sugar are also banned.

The Mediterranean diet isn’t just about food. The diet also emphasizes a social and active lifestyle, including regular physical activity and meals eaten in the company of others. Social eating may seem like a strange concept at first (and no, it doesn’t miraculously cause rapid weight loss), but studies have shown that social eating can have positive effects on mental health and promote adherence to a diet.

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What are the benefits of the Mediterranean diet?

In the 1950s, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States; they still are today, but that is not important. Scientists sought to find out why rates of heart disease in the country were so high and undertook the Seven-Country Study, which analyzed the diets of several countries in relation to rates of heart disease. It was found that where saturated fat intake was lower, so were rates of heart disease. In particular, the study found that Italy, Greece and Japan had lower rates of heart disease and all had limited intake of saturated fat.

The Mediterranean diet as we know it today was created based on this study and, as one would hope, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses. It has also been linked to healthy aging and increased longevity, with studies showing that this diet leads to a 46% increase in the chances of living to age 70. Med may also be beneficial for weight loss, with studies indicating it is more effective than low-fat diets like keto.

What’s wrong with the Mediterranean diet?

You are probably thinking This all looks great, what’s the problem? And really, the point we’re trying to make is that there’s no catch. The Mediterranean diet is fundamentally healthy and can provide many benefits. The problem with the diet is that people are increasingly easily bending its rules, while others follow it so strictly that they miss out on the benefits of other foods.

The Mediterranean diet was formulated on the premise that the diets of the Greeks and Italians led to lower rates of heart disease. But giving it the overall title of “Mediterranean” has led many people to believe that food from any nation surrounding the sea is healthy. Many foods from Mediterranean countries are not healthy. Consuming large quantities of pizza, pasta and garlic bread simply cannot be discounted due to the fact that Italy is in the center of the Mediterranean. That’s way too many carbs.

The opposite is also true. Although foods that can be eaten according to Mediterranean rules are healthy, many foods prohibited by the diet also have nutritional benefits. Red meats, for example, are an unbeatable source of iron, zinc and vitamin B. Saturated fats, a taboo among medical enthusiasts, may also improve brain health and reduce the risk of stroke. Eliminating them completely from your diet can be harmful.

How to optimize the Mediterranean diet?

To optimize your Mediterranean diet, you’ll need to stop looking down on couscous because it comes from another side of the Mediterranean and stop thinking that eating fatty gyros after a night out is a healthy choice just because Greece is a powerhouse. of the region. . As with most nutritional advice, the key is balance. But in this case, it’s also diversity.

Even though the flexibility of the Mediterranean diet allows you to eat just about anything, that doesn’t mean you should. Focus on what is actually allowed on the Mediterranean diet, not just what comes from the Mediterranean. Along the same lines, limit yourself to focusing only on what comes from the Mediterranean. There are a whole range of foods from elsewhere that are just as healthy, if not more so. Quinoa is a staple of the Mediterranean diet because it is considered more nutritious than rice. But as we mentioned earlier, quinoa comes from South America and not Europe. If that doesn’t highlight the need to diversify your diet, we don’t know what will.


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