Mediterranean Diet Lowers Risk for Chronic Disease

Take a trip to the coastal village of Acciaroli, Italy, and you’re bound to see fisherman, boats on the sea, and plenty of fresh seafood and produce. And if you order a meal, you’ll probably fill up on the Mediterranean Diet.

It might be recognized as just a diet to the rest of the world. But in Acciaroli, the Mediterranean Diet is a way of life.

Have you heard of the Mediterranean Diet and the health benefits of eating this way?
It’s been widely accepted by health professionals as a way of eating that can treat and prevent chronic disease.[1] And you’ll see why in this article.

 

Mediterranean Diet foods

So what kind of food does the Mediterranean Diet include?
For starters, it’s not a restrictive diet. If you want a few sweet treats or a little wine, go ahead and enjoy them. While it is largely a plant-based diet, there’s plenty of room to enjoy other foods.

People who follow the Mediterranean Diet mainly eat:

    • Fruits. In Acciaroli, it’s easy to find street vendors selling fresh apples, cherries, grapefruit, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, berries, and other fruits.
    • Vegetables. They’re a staple of the Mediterranean Diet and include favorites like spinach, peppers, broccoli, carrots, beets, cucumbers, and many others.
    • Whole grains. A lot of diets recommend limiting grains because they’re high in carbohydrates. But whole grains are a traditional part of the Mediterranean Diet. Cereals, oats, breads, and pasta made from barley, wheat and rye are typical.
    • Fish. If you could step outside your front door and walk down to the sea with a fishing pole, what kind of fish could you catch? In the Mediterranean, it’s tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, and others.
    • Olive oil. This is one element of the Mediterranean Diet that’s a lot different than most diets. The average person in Acciaroli, for example, consumes a liter of olive oil in a week. It’s used to make dressings, saute vegetables, and make baked dishes.
    • Legumes. This fiber-rich food is another staple of the Mediterranean Diet. Look for ways to add green beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and others to your diet.
    • Herbs and spices. If you’re going to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, you need a way to make them taste better. A little salt and pepper to season works. But people who follow the Mediterranean also use generous amounts of herbs and spices like rosemary, basil, parsley, cumin, mint, oregano, and others.
    • Nuts and seeds. Enjoy a handful as a snack. Toss some in with a green salad. Or add to a bowl of cereal. Nuts and seeds are another important part of the Mediterranean Diet.

 

Other foods in moderation include:

Take a look at the list of foods that make up the Mediterranean Diet, and you won’t see burger, fries, soda, or candy bars on the list. These foods just aren’t healthy for you in a lot of ways. But the Mediterranean Diet isn’t totally restrictive. If you have a craving for something that isn’t on the list, it’s OK to eat these foods in moderation:

  • Dairy products
  • Red meat
  • Processed food
  • Sweets
  • Red wine
  • Poultry

 

Think you could stick to the Mediterranean Diet?

When you take a closer look at the foods it includes, even those in moderation, there’s a lot of room to enjoy great meals and snacks.

But there’s more to the Mediterranean Diet than just eating great food. About 1 in 10 people in this village known for fishing and tourism are 100 years old, or older.

 

The PREDIMED Study

When researchers began studying the eating habits of about 7,500 people in Spain, they had a hunch that the Mediterranean Diet was a healthy eating plan.[2]

They already knew generations of people in Acciaroli lived to be 100. But they didn’t entirely know why.

Was it because of their diet, lifestyle, genetics, or some combination of these factors? And what health benefits could be measured by following the Mediterranean Diet?

That’s what researchers wanted to find out.


In the study, one group of people followed the guidelines for the Mediterranean Diet, and another group didn’t.

They tracked their eating habits and looked for any warning signs of heart disease or stroke among the study population.

Then something unexpected happened.

 

Cut heart disease risk by 30 percent

People who followed the Mediterranean Diet were 30 percent less likely to develop heart disease and die early, than people who didn’t eat this way.

That was a bit of a surprise. But it wasn’t the only surprise that’s made the PREDIMED Study an example of the impact a healthy diet can have on longevity and disease prevention.

The evidence was so overwhelming, researches decided to call off the study early to encourage all participants to adopt the Mediterranean Diet.

That doesn’t happen every day, says lead researcher Dr. Ramón Estruch.

For any therapy, including drug therapy, this magnitude of benefit is impressive,” says Estruch. “For a dietary intervention, such results are truly remarkable.”

 

More benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Lowering heart disease risk by following the Mediterranean Diet was a major finding. Why?

It’s the leading cause of death in the world. Combined, heart disease and stroke kill an estimated 15 million people a year, according to the World Health Organization.[3] Yet these conditions are largely preventable with a healthy diet.

In the years since the PREDIMED Study, many more studies on the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet have found that eating this way can also reduce the risk for:[4]

 

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • Inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Certain types of cancer

 

Lifestyle habits matter too

It’s clear that a plant-based diet like this can promote health, prevent disease, and help you live longer.

It’s a big piece of the puzzle that’s helped researchers understand why some people live longer than others.

But in the PREDIMED Study, and others on the Mediterranean Diet, researchers also found that lifestyle habits matter. Daily walks, strong social connections, low stress, all contribute to Acciaroli’s record for producing more centenarians than anywhere else in the world.

It’s a smart eating plan that’s good for your heart, and your health. And it isn’t that complicated to learn how to eat this way.

Here’s how New York Times best-selling author Michael Pollen puts it in his book “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”[5]

Need help improving your diet? Work on following a plant-based diet, and you’ll tap into all the vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants you need for best health.

The Real Thing

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