The Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet
For those who have spent the entirety of their lives living along the Mediterranean Sea, they probably give as little thought to their diet as do most other people in the world. Eating the same food for a few thousand years, which is based on what grows naturally and is readily available, the Greeks, Tunisians, the Lebanese and others along the Mediterranean consider what they eat neither the latest trend nor a diet and certainly not worth all the fuss to conduct studies about the foods they eat. So, if those who eat the so-called Mediterranean diet don’t understand all the attention paid to it, why should you and I?
While Americans lead the way in obesity and chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease (stroke, heart disease, hypertension, also known as CVD) and diabetes, those who prefer olives over a bag of potato chips, four ounces of grilled salmon instead of a 16-ounce Porterhouse have what appears to be the among the lowest rates of cancer, diabetes, CVD, obesity and Alzheimer’s in the world.
As we age, health decisions we made in our 20s and 30s do have a way of coming back to haunt us. If you are someone who has always been active, but who loves your junk food, you might find as you get older that your doctor is concerned about your blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Maybe he or she has suggested lifestyle changes, which can include more exercise and changes in your diet.
To understand this further, it might be necessary to define the word diet. When we speak of the various foods we eat every day, we are referring to our diet. Conversely, when you look in the mirror and decide you don’t like those few pounds gained over the holidays that won’t work come summer when you can’t wear extra clothes to hide the weight, you might go on a diet. While the latter may have an affect on your overall weight, the former determines your risk for chronic disease(s).
Typical Mediterranean Meal
If you are seriously considering making some major lifestyle changes, the Mediterranean die, is not only healthy but at the same time, extremely delicious. Part of the reason delicious and healthy can be in the same sentence is that we are talking about food, and not:
- High fructose corn syrup
- 1000 mgs of sodium
- High in saturated fat
- Something that comes in a can, from the frozen food section and take only minutes to prepare in a microwave
- Ingredients that require a degree in chemistry to understand long enough to question their necessity
While it’s well known that those of us in California tend to eat healthier than many in the rest of the country, the fact is, the American diet can benefit from a major overhaul. Meals with an emphasis on large portions that are high in sodium, saturated and unsaturated fats, call for more meat than vegetables are recipes for disaster and can easily explain why Americans tend toward overweight and clogged arteries.
Although people in the Mediterranean eat meat, it doesn’t dominate the meal. Let’s take a look at a typical meal in Greece, for example. Your dinner plate will have lots of legumes – chickpeas or lentils are extremely popular. Rather than poured from a can, they were first soaked in water overnight, then sat on a stove simmering in garlic and fresh herbs for several hours. Your vegetables, spinach is a favorite in Greece, have been sautéed in olive oil and garlic, just long enough to wilt the spinach, not long enough to zap all of its nutrients from the leaves and stems. The starch is a small portion of rice that has a bit of saffron for color.
Along with this meal is a piece of fish – salmon and cod are favorites of the Greeks. Seasoned with fresh herbs, such as parsley, oregano, thyme and basil, then grilled with a touch of olive oil, in place of a huge pat of butter, you can actually taste the salmon. If you are wondering where the salt is, it isn’t needed, thanks to all the herbs to season it.
Accompanying this delicious meal are lots of water and what many on the Mediterranean and in Europe consider to be the nectar of the Gods – wine - red, white or rosé. Wine serves multiple purposes for many in the Mediterranean (as well as in Europe). It acts as a digestive, and it helps keep blood pressure lowered. It minimizes stress and although it does contain calories, they are good calories. Because you will have consumed only two glasses, and not the entire bottle, you have staved off cardiovascular disease and you needn’t worry about your liver or your growing gut.
There is one other aspect of this meal that might be a little tricky to navigate, given your 10-hour workdays. Although it will be your heaviest meal of the day, it should be consumed in the mid-afternoon, not at 8:00 p.m., after which you won’t be tempted to plop onto the couch for hours of channel surfing or your favorite reality TV program. It won’t hurt to take a little stroll around the block or in the neighborhood (not a heavy workout!), which will further aid in your digestion.
Again, this is not a new trend in dieting, a way to shed 10 pounds for summer, and something that rivals Atkins or South Beach. If you are committed to making a concerted effort toward changing your lifestyle, and stave off myriad chronic illness in the hope of living longer, the Mediterranean diet is an excellent one to consider.