Mediterranean diet, explained.

Usually when we think of a ‘diet’ we think of restrictions, measuring food and sacrifices on taste but the Mediterranean diet is the most enjoyable and yet the best diet regime out there. It is based on the dominant dietary culture followed in countries around the Mediterranean Sea like Italy, Greece and Croatia in the 1960s. Research has found that people living of these countries were healthier than average Americans while being at low risk of lifestyle disorders.

There are multiple studies done on this diet and the most prominent benefits are observed in heart health due to lowering of LDL cholesterol. Risks of other diseases like certain cancers, Alzheimer’s diseases, Parkinson’s diseases, and type 2 diabetes are also reduced. Although not designed to achieve any fitness goal, the Mediterranean diet also shows great results in weight loss.

The most appealing aspect of this diet is its flexibility and non-restrictive nature as this diet is just a pattern followed in some cultures and was not specifically prepared to achieve some goal like the Ketogenic diet. There are no strict rules, calorie counting or portion control plus flexible approaches are available which makes it easier to follow consistently.

What to eat and what not to:

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most inclusive diets and relies heavily on fresh produce like fruits and vegetable with healthy portions of unsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts and seafood.

Foods to avoid: refined grains, processed meats, sugary drinks, refined oils, foods with added sugar, packaged snack foods and red meat.

Foods in moderation: dairy, poultry, and wine (1 glass per day for women and 2 for men).

Foods to have: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, lentils, tubers, seafood, eggs, herbs and spices, olive oil, tea and coffee, chicken, cheese and yoghurt.

Pros and cons:

The Mediterranean diet’s pros greatly outweigh its cons. First and foremost is its level of ease, due to minimal food restrictions it is easy to adhere to it as compared to other diets. As mentioned before, this diet pattern was part of the Mediterranean culture and hence is quite sustainable for longer duration without compromising on nutrients or flavors. According to a study, the dropout rate of subjects following a Mediterranean diet was significantly lower than those on a low-fat diet. Secondly, scientific and practical data has been consistently highlighting its ability to improve health biomarkers such as lowering of LDL cholesterol, improving blood sugar control, and proliferation of gut microbiome, which leads to lowering of lifestyle disorder risks. The underlying principle of the success of this diet is its restriction on sugar laden and processed foods which are two major propagators of obesity and diet related diseases while strongly advocating for an active lifestyle. Lastly, eating Mediterranean gives you a superpower to modify your favorite foods by tweaking the ingredients and their amounts in a dish. For example, you can still enjoy a pizza by swapping ham or pepperoni with vegetables like mushroom or tuna toppings.

Major cons are the limitation on dairy and finding time to cook. Milk is a great source of protein, minerals like calcium, zinc and phosphorous, and vitamins A and B12 which are essential nutrients specially for bone health. To compensate milk, consumption frequency of yoghurt and cheese should be kept moderate while other nondairy foods can be incorporated like fortified almond milk, tofu made with calcium sulphate and sardines. Cooking or finding time to cook can be a challenge in the beginning but with right coaching and guidance on meal planning, the learning curves can be smoothened.

The Takeaway box

It is no surprise that U.S News & World Report has ranked the Mediterranean diet as no. 1 and is one of my favorite approaches towards healthy eating because of its simplicity and effectiveness. It helps change the way many people perceive dieting and provides an approachable stepping stone for those starting afresh. As with every diet or workout regime, consistency is important; it is imperative to stick to a plan to see results. Restrictive dieting are notorious for higher participant dropout rates while diets like the Mediterranean even allow moderate intakes of wine which seems ‘doable’ and sustainable for longer periods, leading to better health and eating habits which can be continued throughout life. Although it is named the Mediterranean ‘diet’, being active and social was also a major part of the lifestyle in those countries and are still crucial for healthy body and mind. Although wine and fats are given a green light, a free pass isn’t. You still have to keep wine under a couple glasses and aim for a colorful plate dominated by fruits and vegetables while consuming only about 30% of your daily calories from fat. As a nutrition coach, I prioritize consistency and habit change over short term, unsustainable interventions. These types of diets are a great option for beginners, diabetics and for those who go on seasonal crash diets only to gain back the weight they lost. It is also good for older people especially those suffering from or are on the risk of heart diseases and stroke.


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