What YOU Need To Know About The Heart-Healthy Mediterranean Diet
Written by: Kat Gal
You’re double-fisting wine to get maximum health benefits, because it’s healthy, right?
How about the cheese to go with your wine… surely that’s healthy too!
If you’ve heard of the Mediterranean diet, then you may be thinking that regular combo is doing your body good!
But not so fast!
The Mediterranean diet has been really popular all over the news, in medical literature, on health sites and in cookbooks for many years now – and it’s claiming that you can lose weight and feel amazing, which may be true for some. But it’s NOT all about cheese and wine.
Actually, the Mediterranean diet is not about these indulgences at all.
Let me start with a little geography lesson. The Mediterranean is actually not a ‘place.’ It’s not even ‘just’ Italy or Spain or Greece. Instead, it consists of 21 countries surrounding the Mediterranean-sea in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Though there may be similarities between the traditional diets of those living in these 21 countries, there are also some major differences. Therefore, it’s hard to even pin-point one Mediterranean diet from the geographical, or even the cultural perspective.
Now, let’s look at what REALLY matters about this lifestyle – the NUTRITION aspect.
What Is The Mediterranean Diet And Why Is It So Good?
According to Dr. Michael Greger, the public health director at the Humane Society, people often associate the Mediterranean Diet with Italy. When you think of Italian food, you probably think of pizza and pasta, then the overload of cheese and wine.
But that’s not the Mediterranean diet people are referring to when they tout better health.
The famous Mediterranean diet is mostly plants! Last I checked, wine nor cheese came from plants… sorry to crush your dreams. in your modification you added, “last I checked, wine nor cheese came from plants… sorry to crush your dreams.
Yep, loads of vegetables, but also fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
After WWII, the Rockefeller foundation studied the Mediterranean for the government of Greece. They found incredibly low rates of heart disease in the region. Seeing these fascinating results, nutrition scientist Ancel Keys decided to study health and longevity in the area.
He included 7 countries in his research (clearly not ALL Mediterranean countries). Published in 1970, he found that Greek islanders on Crete had exceptionally low levels of heart disease. Additionally, they had the lowest cancer and mortality rates of all the countries included in the research. These findings ignited a worldwide curiosity – or shall I say, obsession! – in the “Mediterranean diet.”
This still continues today. In fact, people are crazy about the Mediterranean Diet… but no one talks about what the people in the study were EATING. Instead of looking at the actual “Mediterranean diet,” so many people tend to eat what they want – something Italianish, like pasta – and call it Mediterranean. Some even even publish cookbooks that – because of their heavy use of olive oil – claim to use the Mediterranean approach.
A better way to go about this and to actually bring on the health benefits is to look at the REAL Mediterranean diet – of the people of Crete in the 1960s.
The people of Crete were eating:
- A diet that was almost completely vegetarian.
- A diet that was at least 90% plant based (that means a maximum of 10% of the diet included ANY animal-based food – that includes not only meat, but cheese, eggs, dairy and more). Which may explain why they had such low rates of heart disease.
- The rich class were the only people on the island who did not have low rates of heart disease. And they were the only group on the island who included meat in their diet.
The Mediterranean Diet Today
Unfortunately, very few people are eating the Mediterranean diet the way it was intended. Nowadays, this is true even for the people in that region of the world. Within the past few decades, people have started to eat much more meat and cheese and fewer plants. Additionally, people are eating more and more processed foods. As result, heart disease has skyrocketed in the past few decades in the Mediterranean region as well.
Studies show that a whole-food, plant-based diet goes hand in hand with improved health, more energy, lower risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes and ultimately, a longer life.
If you want to follow the real Mediterranean diet, you should know that it’s more about REAL food than anything else. It’s not about labels or trying to make dishes regional to Mediterranean countries or eating out at your local Italian restaurant. It’s about the fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
You can eat a real Mediterranean diet while making your favorite dishes from organic, whole food and plant-based ingredients, while keeping the meat and animal-based foods to a minimum – it’s that simple.
Do you have a favorite plant-based recipe that complies with the real “Mediterranean Diet?” Please share with us below.
Kat Gál is a multi-passionate writer, world traveler, nomad, runner, and cat-person. She is a lifelong learner who lives outside of her comfort zones stretching her boundaries and discovering beauty around the world. She is a full-time freelance health & wellness writer, content creator, and also a Certified Holistic Health & Life Coach.
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