May is Mediterranean Month so let’s go Mediterranean with the Mediterranean Diet, that is! We may not all live surrounded by the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean, but I suggest that we eat as if we do. We can do this by eating the foods that the people from the Mediterranean do more often and by making it an eating lifestyle! While we don’t have to eat all the foods all the time, we can eat some of the foods much of the time. Why am I suggesting this? Because research has shown and continues to show, that the eating patterns of the people in the Mediterranean offer major health benefits. And let me add, what a way to get healthy!!
Why am I so excited about the Mediterranean way of eating? Well, I can still remember my experience in Sicily (the homeland of my grandparents), which is at the heart of the Mediterranean. Long after I returned, I still think about the allure of the food; the aromas, textures, and taste. Eating each meal was an event, not just a meal! And since then I myself made some changes to my eating, not just for my health (of course, our health should be most important), but for the joy and taste of the food. In fact, one of the changes that I made was to use Olive Oil only, and next week we’ll discuss this magical oil, which helped me to improve my very own cholesterol levels! This week, let’s discuss some of the merits of the Mediterranean Diet. I am convinced that we can become healthier, maintain our weight and enjoy ourselves at the same time!
Why is this way of eating considered so healthy? Well, first it’s been established scientifically that dietary patterns strongly influence the development of the major risk factors for chronic disease. These diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer affect how well we live, not just how long. That is, they affect the quality of our life; they affect how we feel physically and emotionally as well as how long we live. When we change our eating patterns and foundation of eating, we do affect how well we live our lives. Let’s consider the research.
Research consistently indicates that the Mediterranean Diet can,
Reduce several cardiovascular risk factors (considered a primary prevention) and/or reduce cardiovascular events or mortality in those of us patients after a first cardiac event (considered a secondary prevention). The reduction of risk factors include lowered high cholesterol levels, hypertension, diabetes and obesity, all which lead to coronary heart disease (isn’t pasta so tasty?).
Play a role in cancer prevention. While these eating patterns are not a "diet", they include vital nutrients that are known to fight cancer, such as antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In one study reported in the latest Global Perspective of Cancer Research, the Mediterranean Diet was associated with a reduced colorectal cancer recurrence in women for instance.
Increase our lifespan. Research has shown an overall reduction of mortality, not only from these chronic diseases Americans are plagued by such as heart disease, but science has consistently shown a reduction of overall mortality rates. Don’t we think that this is important not only to our longevity, but to our anti-aging health & wellness too?
Reduce Inflammation. New research indicates that Olive Oil, a major component of the Mediterranean Diet eaten daily over a period of time, may confer anti-inflammatory benefits similar to Ibuprofen (active ingredient in Advil). This may contribute to the anti-inflammatory benefits important to our cardiovascular system (similar to a baby aspirin taken daily). It may also play a key role in the reduction of early dementia thought to be a component of cognitive decline in aging and it may play a similar role in Alzheimer’s prevention.
Lower our risk for insulin resistance and type II diabetes. Of course I overindulged on desserts in Sicily, but overall the eating patterns of the Mediterranean people consist of fresh whole foods and less of the simple nutrient-less sugar snacks than we Americans partake in. Let’s also not forget the role that the fast foods we eat play in obesity, insulin resistance and the onset of type II diabetes. Fast food is definitely not a way of life in the Mediterranean (and we don’t have to slave over a stove either
Okay, just what is the Mediterranean Diet? It consists of an eating pattern dominated by plant -based foods, and low in processed foods; it includes the monounsaturated fat Olive Oil rather than butter and other vegetable oils; it includes fresh fish eaten regularly rather than red meat, which is eaten less frequently; it includes legumes, pasta, whole grains (all the carbohydrates we love but avoid), with a high intake of fruits and vegetables and a small amount of daily yogurt and cheeses. Oh lest I forget, it does include a moderate amount of wine with meals.
Starting next week with Olive Oil, we’ll take a closer look at the merits of some of these foods. I will also post on my website a few weekly recipes using the foods that we discuss (with our weight management efforts in mind) so that we can begin to "Mangia" as we say in Italian! And as I’ve mentioned, oh what a way to get healthy!
Check out the Mediterranean Food Alliance founded by Oldways  for more info including hundreds of recipes, http://mediterraneanmark.org/ 
June M. Lay M.S.
Next Week, Olive Oil, my oil of choice!
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- Denis Lairon; Intervention studies on Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular risk, Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, Volume 51, Issue 10 , Pages1209 - 1214
Copyright © 2007
- Ursel Wahrburg, Mario Kratz, Paul Cullen ; Mediterranean diet, olive oil and health, European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology., Volume 104, Issue 9-10 , Pages 698 -705 © 2002
- Beauchamp, et.al., Ibuprofen-like activity in extra virgin olive oil, Monell Chemical Senses Center, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and Department of Chemistry. University of Pennsylvania, reported in Brief Communications Nature Vol 437, September 2005
- Antonia Trichopoulou, Vardis Dilis ;Olive oil and longevity, Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, Volume 51, Issue 10 , Pages1275 - 1278. Copyright © 2007
- World Cancer Research Fund/AICR, The Mediterranean Diet, Judgments and Evidence, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer a Global Perspective 2007