Happy National Mediterranean Diet Month!
We sure do love our holidays in the US, don’t we? While you may not be celebrating National Mediterranean Diet Month, I bet you’ve at least heard of the diet. Maybe you’re even a little curious about what it is, or how it might help you.
While the Mediterranean Diet has increased in popularity significantly since the 1990s, it has received accolades since the 1960s.
Why should anyone consider the Mediterranean Diet?
Studies* show that people who eat a Mediterranean Diet have lower rates of:
- heart disease
- certain cancers
- Alzheimer’s disease
In fact, following the Mediterranean Diet may help you live longer. The way of eating is associated with lower all-cause mortality (dying for any reason at all).
Is it really a diet?
If you associate “diet” with “hungry and deprived” than NO, it’s not a diet. If you consider that “diet” means “way of eating” than YES 🙂
It truly is a lifestyle approach to eating, with a focus on fruits and vegetables, fish, beans, nuts and whole grains. Olive oil and wine are also components.
Why is the term“Mediterranean” used?
A big distinction that I want to make is that The Mediterranean Diet ≠ Mediterranean Cuisine.
The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of eating based on what is typical in the region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a composite of these cultures, it is not the eating pattern of any one of these countries.
What are the countries we’re talking about? Spain, France, Italy, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Malta, Tunisia, Turkey, Algeria, Albania, Greece, Israel, Croatia, Libya and Lebanon.
In case you’re not up on your geography, it is important to note that the focus is on the coastal communities. It is also important to note that the healthiest options are often the “poor man’s” versions. Many of the recipes we typically associate with Mediterranean countries (what we think of “Mediterranean Cuisine”) come from regions farther to the north.
One of the reasons I want to emphasize that this isn’t just Mediterranean cuisine is because Mediterranean people have some of the worst diets in Europe. About 75% of the population of Greece is overweight, and more than half of Italy, Portugal and Spain are overweight.
Additionally, the regional differences are significant. For instance, some countries use lard and butter in cooking more commonly than olive oil. The Muslim population in Northern Africa avoids wine, while countries like France and Italy enjoy liberally.
What IS the Mediterranean Diet, then?
The pyramid below is a visual representation of the eating pattern.
As you can see, the diet has a heavy focus on a plant-based diet. Fruits and vegetables, lentils, beans and whole grains are major components. Low-fat dairy and lean meat and seafood are encouraged. Healthy fats are a major focus, like nuts and seeds, olive oil, and avocados.
How Can I Get Started on The Mediterranean diet?
To get started, here are a few resources:
*There are TONS of studies that have been done that highlight the health benefits. A few for your viewing pleasure, to prove I didn’t make this stuff up:
- Lois M, García-Andrade C, Walther L, Núñez-Cortés J. The Mediterranean Diet: A Combination of Beneficial Elements for Cardiovascular Disease. Current Nutrition & Food Science. May 2010;6(2):105-108.
- Mitrou P, Kipnis V, Schatzkin A, et al. Mediterranean Dietary Pattern and Prediction of All-Cause Mortality in a US Population: Results from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Archives Of Internal Medicine [serial online]. December 10, 2007;167(22):2461-2468.
- Nordmann A, Suter-Zimmermann K, Briel M, et al. Meta-Analysis Comparing Mediterranean to Low-Fat Diets for Modification of Cardiovascular Risk Factors. American Journal Of Medicine [serial online]. September 2011;124(9):841-851.e2.
- Solfrizzi V, Frisardi V, Panza F, et al. Mediterranean Diet in Predementia and Dementia Syndromes. Current Alzheimer Research [serial online]. August 2011;8(5):520-542.
- Trichopoulou A, Bamia C, Trichopoulos D. Anatomy of health effects of Mediterranean diet: Greek EPIC prospective cohort study. BMJ: British Medical Journal (Overseas & Retired Doctors Edition). July 4, 2009;338(7710):26-29.