7 Benefits of A Mediterranean Diet: Heart Health & Reduced Inflammation
Ever heard of the saying, “you are what you eat”? Well, this statement screams truth considering everything we put into our bodies affects us in some way that we might not even realize. That is why your diet is extremely important to your health and well-being. So if you're looking to revamp your microbiome this year, maybe you want to look into these benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
- The Mediterranean diet is based on traditional foods that people eat in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
- This diet is perfect for anyone looking to improve their health and lower their chances of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and so many other chronic conditions.
- With a strict Mediterranean diet, you want to try to limit your weekly meat and dairy intake to around 2-3 days a week. The focus of this diet should be on healthy fats, veggies, legumes, nuts, and fish.
We realize that keeping up with all the different types of diets can be exhausting! The word “diet” itself has developed a negative connotation associated with all of these “fad diets” that promote weight loss.
Diet should be about so much more than losing weight – it should be about transforming the inside of your body and working on creating a healthier and happier self! So if you want to start out a new year with an all around nutritious and healthy diet, the cuisine of a Mediterranean diet is the way to go.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is based on traditional foods that people eat in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Research has shown that the people living in these countries have a lower risk of developing chronic conditions and can boast of many other benefits. Think of this diet as a whole food diet, eliminating all the processed food people in the western world tend to love.
There are many benefits of a Mediterranean diet, other than just weight loss, which most diets promote. This diet is perfect for anyone looking to improve their health and lower their chances of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and so many other chronic conditions.
Other benefits of a Mediterranean diet include reduced inflammation and skin improvements. The Mediterranean diet helps to rid your body of foods that continually upset your stomach or weaken your immune system. When these irritating foods are finally eliminated, your body’s inflammation is significantly reduced, including the inflammation of the skin.
7 benefits of a Mediterranean diet
Let’s dive into all the scientific backed benefits of a Mediterranean diet.
Promotes heart health
The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating heart healthy fats that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as olive oil and fatty fishes. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for decreasing triglycerides, blood clotting, and reducing the risk of heart failure. A study posted by the US National Library of Medicine, showed that people who strictly adhered to the Mediterranean diet in their study showed a 30% reduction in developing cardiovascular issues compared to the people not on this diet.
Protects brain function
One of the main ingredients for the Mediterranean diet is extra-virgin olive oil. Olive oil has been found by many scientists and researchers to boost brain health by reducing the formation of plaque and tangles within the brain. This diet is also tied to reducing the risk of Alzheimer's, a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important functions.
According to the American Academy of Neurology, the people that were consistent with a Mediterranean diet were found to have retained more brain volume over a three year period compared to those not on this diet.
Reduces risk of stroke
A research team at the University of Harvard found that implementing a Mediterranean diet can significantly reduce your chances of a stroke. They also found that this was more prominent for women who were on this diet, but still reduced the chances for men as well.
Help weight loss and weight maintenance
This whole food diet works to speed along weight loss mostly because you eliminate foods such as processed food, fast food, and junk food. The diet encourages healthy nutritious foods that don’t cause inflammation or bloat.
The Mediterranean diet is different from those popular short-term “fad-diets”, in that the Mediterranean diet focuses on lifestyle changes so that you can maintain the weight loss and consistently improve your overall health.
Protective against certain kinds of cancer
Research has found there to be a positive relationship between a Mediterranean diet and the decreased risk of certain types of cancer. Since the Mediterranean diet focuses on foods with high contents of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, the body has a significantly higher chance of fighting off cell degeneration and the formation of cancer cells.
Reduce risk and feelings of depression
Since the Mediterranean diet cuts out a lot of inflammatory foods, researchers have suggested that eliminating these foods can reduce your risk of depression by 24% in a 12 year period. The research, published by the journal of Molecular Psychiatry, revealed that a lower inflammatory index directly correlated with a lower risk for depression.
Promotes skin health
Similar to why the Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce risk of cancer, the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients found in this diet/lifestyle also help with the maintenance of healthy skin. Eating a whole food diet, rich in nutrients will significantly prevent aging, enlarged pores, and even breakouts. Again, this goes back to the saying of you are what you eat!
The science behind this diet
There have been many scientific studies on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and how it reduces certain diseases. However, one specific study stood out, in that it was a randomized control study of over 7,000 participants that showed no history or clinical signs of cardiovascular issues. This trial broke the participants into a low-fad diet group and a Mediterranean diet group and sought to figure out if these diets reduced the risk of certain diseases. As a result, the study found that the groups randomized to the Mediterranean diet showed a significant 30% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular complications, with an impressive 40% reduction in the risk of stroke.
Foods to eat and not to eat on a Mediterranean diet
So, how do you go about achieving all of these amazing benefits of a Mediterranean diet? First, you need to start with eliminating certain foods that usually are not healthy for you in the first place.
Foods to eliminate on the Mediterranean diet:
- Refined grains (white bread, white pasta, white pizza dough)
- Refined oils (canola oil, soybean oil)
- Foods with added sugars (candies, pastries, sodas)
- Processed meats
- Processed and packaged food
Once you eliminate those food items from your fridge and pantry, we can move on to the foods you should always be eating on this diet.
Categories of foods to incorporate on a Mediterranean diet:
- Vegetables - tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips
- Fruits- apples, bananas, oranges
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butters- almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, cashews, peanut butter
- Legumes- beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas
- Fish and seafood- salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, oysters, clam
- Poultry- chicken, turkey
- Eggs- chicken, quail, and duck eggs
- Dairy- cheese, yogurt, milk
- Healthy Fats- extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado, avocado oil
You may be thinking to yourself that a lot of these foods listed above you already incorporate into your diet. If so, that is great. However, with a strict Mediterranean diet, you want to try to limit your weekly meat and dairy intake to around 2-3 days a week. The focus of this diet should be on healthy fats, veggies, legumes, nuts, and fish.
Some other tips on how to live the Mediterranean way include: serving fruit for dessert, building meals around veggies and whole grains, eating fish at least twice a week, and using olive oil rather than butter to prepare food.
When looking into if you should try this Mediterranean diet, you should think of it as a lifestyle change, rather than just a quick fix diet. Make your meals more colorful and fully embrace eating these nutritious and tasty foods. This diet does so much more for you than just weight loss, it has the power to transform the overall health of your body, inside and out!
Written by Emma Carlson