Why The Mediterranean Lifestyle Might Be The Healthiest Diet Ever
If you are looking for the healthiest diet on the planet, then the Mediterranean Diet might be it.
Based on the eating habits of Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain, France and Italy, this diet has become the most popular among medical professionals.
Unlike many of the other diets we have examined in this series, the Mediterranean lifestyle does not necessarily prohibit you from eating any particular food or food group.
Instead, it puts forth very reasonable guidelines that almost anyone can follow.
I personally base most of my eating habits on the Mediterranean Diet with a few exceptions.
Welcome to the fourth installment of the WCT series on Diets.
In Part 1 Intermittent Fasting Explained [And How To Decide If You Should Do It], we examine the eating approach of strategically skipping meals and consuming all of your calories in a short window.
In Part 2 The Ketogenic Lifestyle: An Unusual Way To Lose Weight & Burn Fat, we discuss the pros and cons of forcing your body to burn fat for fuel in a process known as ketosis.
In Part 3 The Paleo Diet Plan: A Simple Way To Eat Clean & Improve Your Fitness, we go over a simplistic approach that encourages you to eat only the foods that were available to our ancestors.
Today's post is going to examine the ever so popular Mediterranean Lifestyle.
- What is The Mediterranean diet? What does it consist of?
- What are the health benefits of eating Mediterranean?
- What are the downsides?
- And much more
Let's dive right in...
What Does The Mediterranean Diet Consist Of?
The Mediterranean diet has been quoted by many to be the healthiest diet of them all.
So much so, that many healthcare providers are starting to advocate that their patients follow the Mediterranean guidelines.
It was originally developed because people from the Mediterranean countries are known to have less obesity and heart disease compared to their Western counterparts.
So what does it actually consist of?
The basic principles of the Mediterranean diet are
- Eat more vegetables
- Consume more fish
- Eat fruit for dessert
- Consume whole grains, legumes and nuts
- Use olive oil abundantly
- Consume less red meat
- Use herbs and spices in place of salt
As you will see, no foods are actually forbidden. The Mediterranean diet simply gives you recommendations of which foods you should eat more of, and which you should eat less.
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid
Proponents of the Mediterranean diet have also created a pyramid which can be used as a guideline to how you should base your eating.
At the very bottom of the pyramid is by far the most important aspect of living a healthy life.
Level 1 of the Mediterranean Pyramid: Physical activity, Movement, and Social Interaction
Movement is ingrained in our DNA. We are meant to be active. Unfortunately, all of the technology we have in our world today promotes sedentary living.
If you didn't already know, inactivity is really dangerous. So much so, that we wrote an entire post on The Detrimental Effects of Prolonged Sitting and 8 Ways to Combat It.
Without this base, you will not be able to optimize your health.
In addition, humans are social creatures. Even introverts (like myself), require social interaction from time to time. If you can, try and consume at least one meal per day with other people.
Level 2 of the Mediterranean Pyramid: The Staple Foods
The next section of the pyramid describes the foods that should be abundant in your diet. We recommend that you consume something from each of these categories every single day.
- Olive oil,
- Whole grains,
These foods constitute the base of the pyramid because they are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.
Far too many people are focused on the calorie content of a particular food, and not the nutrient content.
Our body NEEDS numerous vitamins and minerals to thrive.
The only way that you will get them is through a diet that is rich in these food groups.
Level 3 of the Mediterranean Pyramid: Fish and Seafood
The second food category that the Mediterranean diet emphasizes is fish and seafood.
As per the Mediterranean protocol, you should consume fish at least twice a week.
Focus on the kinds that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These include herring, salmon, tuna, halibut and sardines.
As always, make sure that you purchase the wild caught varieties and not the conventionally farmed raised varieties.
Level 4 of the Mediterranean Pyramid: Eggs, Dairy and Poultry
The next level of the Mediterranean pyramid is reserved for the foods that are very prevalent in the Western diet.
This includes poultry, eggs, milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. The recommendation is to consume these foods in moderate portions.
In other words, you can consume them daily (or weekly), but in small quantities.
What is moderate? It depends on who you ask, but here are some pretty safe numbers.
~No more than 3-4 oz of organic pasteur raised chicken per day
~No more than 2 organic cage free eggs per day
~No more than 1 cup of grass fed whole milk per day
~No more than 3 oz of grass fed cheese per day
~No more than 6 oz of grass fed yogurt per day
Level 5 of the Mediterranean Pyramid: Meats and Sweets
The fifth and final level of the pyramid is where the Mediterranean diet differs from many other popular diets.
It understands the importance of balance, as it allows you to consume foods that are typically prohibited.
This level contains meats (beef, turkey, pork etc) and sweets (cookies, cakes, doughnuts etc).
You can have them, but eat them at your discretion. The recommendation is simply to eat them in small amounts.
In general, only consume these items a few times per month.
Is The Mediterranean Diet Healthy?
Many healthcare providers are calling the Mediterranean diet the healthiest diet of them all.
It has been linked to numerous health benefits such as decreased heart disease, improvement in cholesterol levels, better glycemic control in diabetes and improvement in depression.
This is because the Mediterranean diet focuses primarily on plant-based sources and recommends foods that are 1) heart healthy, 2) contain anti-oxidant properties and 3) help you maintain a healthy weight.
Let's go over each one a little further:
Mediterranean Diet Benefits
1) Decreases Heart Disease
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes high intake of Omega-3 fatty acids. The best Omega 3s are EPA, DHA and ALA, all of which can be obtained from eating wild caught fish, as well as different nut varieties. These Omega-3s fatty acids can potentially reduce blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
In addition, the decreased intake of red meat and refined sweets further promote heart health as these foods have been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.
Omega 3 have also been found to increase HDL ("good cholesterol") levels, as well as decrease Triglycerides (another molecule that is tested in the lipid panel).
In addition, some studies have found that Omega 3's along with antioxidants found in olive oil could potentially slow the development of atherosclerosis in the arteries, however more research is needed.
Who would have known that Omega 3's have also been linked to a decrease in depression and bipolar disorder? As with most findings, more research is needed, but recent studies have been promising.
Last but not least, the Mediterranean Diet has been shown to improve blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. This is because the diet advocates for numerous servings of vegetables and healthy fats in place of sweets, refined sugars and other high glycemic carbohydrates.
A 4 year study showed that following a Mediterranean diet was superior to a low fat diet in individuals with Type II Diabetes.
How To Follow a Mediterranean Diet
Alright, now let’s go over how to follow a Mediterranean diet.
Keep in mind that there is no one way to follow a Mediterranean lifestyle. That’s what makes this diet so great. You can take these guidelines and tailor the diet to whatever you want it to be.
1) First things first, you should base almost every meal with some type of vegetable.
Start off with leafy greens such as spinach, kale, arugula and chard. Then you can include broccoli, carrots, onions, peppers, cauliflower and everything else in between.
Buy plenty of vegetables. They are the perfect side dish because they go with anything and everything.
Don't like how vegetables taste? Then sauté them with herbs and spices.
2) The next thing you want to do is buy plenty of fats. Olive oil, Avocado oil, coconut oil, all of the various nuts and nut butters, avocados, and all types of seeds. These are going to be your toppings and your snacks.
One of the easiest things you can do is drizzle olive oil onto your meal to give it a little extra flavor and a lot of nutrition.
3) The last component of the diet is your protein and carbohydrate sources.
For animal sources of protein, get a varied assortment of fatty fish, which you will consume at least twice a week, and lean poultry which you will consume in small quantities.
For plant based sources, use high protein legumes such as lentils, green split peas and garbanzos.
The carbohydrate is always easy. Stick with whole wheat grains such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta.
4) As a bonus, feel free to use dairy products at your discretion. If you are going to do so, get the grass fed options. They are much more expensive, but incomparable in quality.
Mediterranean Diet Shopping List
As a busy professional, it is difficult to go food shopping often. It is best to buy enough food to last you at least 2 weeks.
Here is a quick shopping list you may find helpful.
- 32 ounces of extra virgin olive oil (will last a lot longer than 2 weeks)
- 6-8 packs of mixed frozen vegetables (easy to store, easy to cook)
- A handful of fresh fruit and fresh vegetables of your choosing
- 2 packs of mixed frozen berries
- 20 ounce container of mixed nuts
- 1 tub of Almond, Cashew or any other nut butter
- 6 pack of Avocados (place them in the fridge for longer shelf life)
- 1 package of lentils, split peas, garbanzos, or black beans
- 1 lb of quinoa, or 1 box of whole wheat pasta
- 1 pack of whole grain bread
- 2 lbs of fatty fish
- 1-2 dozen organic eggs
- Seeds of your choice
- Herbs and spices of your choosing
Below, you will find a few sample breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas you could try.
Option A: 2 Eggs with peppers and olive oil with an apple on the side
Option B: Whole wheat toast with avocado, hummus and chia seeds
Option C: Oatmeal with berries, hemp seeds and almond butter
Option A: Sweet Potatoes with grilled chicken dressed in olive oil
Option B: Shrimp salad with olive oil and sunflower seeds
Option C: Grilled salmon with quinoa and asparagus
Option A: Tuna on whole wheat wrap with vegetables and avocado
Option B: Portabello mushrooms with green split peas and olive oil
Option C: Red lentil pasta with pesto and grilled chicken
There are many ways you can get creative. Mix and match different foods from each food group to find an endless amount of variations to choose from.
Can I Use The Mediterranean Diet To Lose Weight?
Yes, you can use the Mediterranean Diet to achieve any fitness goal you may have.
From a dietary perspective, losing weight requires three things
1) avoiding excessive calories from nutrient deprived foods
2) high consumption of nutrient dense foods from all three macronutrient sources
3) adequate water consumption
The Mediterranean diet adequately satisfies all three of these requirements. *It is also important to note that diet is only one component of weight loss. Given the complex nature of weight management, we have written an entire series on other weight loss strategies which can be found here.
Mediterranean Diet For Vegetarians
The Mediterranean lifestyle is one of the few diets that are vegetarian friendly. Given that the diet recommends that you limit your poultry and meat intake, it is easy to simply cut these food groups out all together.
In addition, you can eliminate the fish and seafood as well and supplement with a high quality fish oil supplement with high levels of EPA and DHA.
As always, focus on getting your protein from sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds and some soy products such as edamame and tofu.
Does The WCT Recommend The Mediterranean Lifestyle?
Out of all of the diets examined in this series, the Mediterranean diet is definitely the best diet.
This is because the Mediterranean diet isn't actually a diet at all, rather it is a lifestyle.
We personally base most of our eating habits on the principles set forth by the Mediterranean way of life.
Because the diet is not overly restrictive, we find that
1) it is a viable option for all individuals, busy professionals or not
2) people are generally more likely to stick with it since there aren't any hard and fast rules.
Whether you cook all of your meals at home, or buy all of your food prepared, you can easily adhere to the Mediterranean guidelines.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Use this information to make an informed decision on what you will and will not eat.
What do you think of the Mediterranean Diet? Do you think its the healthiest diet in the world? Do you know anyone who has tried it?
Comment below and let us know what you think.
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