Mediterranean Diet – What It is, It’s History and Benefit

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As the name suggests, the Mediterranean diet is a diet based on the traditional foods of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Italy, Portugal, France, Spain and Greece are just some examples.

In America and the Western World, our diet has become increasingly high in fat and sugar. The red meat content is also extremely high – butter, sweets, cheese, burgers, steaks – you name it, we’re eating it.

Unfortunately, this western diet is causing all kinds of health issues for the everyday man and woman. High cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and even strokes can be caused by a high fat diet and our dependency on a convenient and fast food lifestyle is seeing a steady increase in these illnesses.

The areas surrounding the Mediterranean are home to the lowest rates of heart problems such as heart attacks, heart disease and other diet related health issues. This is largely because of their traditional diets. Don’t get me wrong – some areas have started to adopt the Western diet of high fat foods and convenience eating but there are larger areas which stick to traditional foods and traditional home cooking.

When you think of home cooked meals you probably aren’t thinking of the same kind of meals that the Mediterranean diet includes. In fact, you’re probably thinking about bacon and egg breakfasts, burgers or takeaways for lunch and maybe slab of meat, potatoes and buttered veg for dinner!

For most people, this sounds like a great meal but it’s not actually the healthiest way to eat. Research has shown that plant-based diets are actually far better for you than animal-based diets.

The Mediterranean diet is a diet based on an entire region of countries as opposed to one cuisine. Generally, the diet consists of whole grains, dried beans and a huge range of vegetables and fruits as well as legumes.

Small amounts of red meat are eaten but some people don’t even bother with that.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Mediterranean diet and how it can help you on track to a much healthier lifestyle then this eBook is just for you. It’s a personal guide through the Mediterranean diet and will help you get started as well as teach you some general health tips.

What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean is a hugely popular holiday destination, probably because it’s also one of the most beautiful places in the world. Rich history, culture and wonderful weather – it’s no wonder people flock here in their hundreds and thousands every single year.

The cuisine is also one of the reasons people enjoy a visit to this part of the world. Not only one of the healthiest diets, Mediterranean cuisine is also one of the tastiest. A mixture of European, Asian and North African flavors can make for some very tasty meals.

Research has proven that this diet is one of the healthiest so it’s sometimes a shock for people to learn that it can also taste really good. Even with so many countries playing a part in influencing the Mediterranean diet, they all have things in common which is why it’s an interesting diet to consider.

It’s not only the food. The attitude towards food is very different in the Med compared to the rest of the world. A lot of this is down to cultural differences and the ways in which they lead their lifestyles compared with America.

A major part of the Mediterranean diet revolves around harvest and fresh food. Usually, the foods eaten are seasonal and are enjoyed shortly after they are harvested and not only that, but they don’t travel far. Seasonal food is one aspect – the other is locality. The idea is that food isn’t transported far – that way it doesn’t need any extra protection or preservatives. It’s fresh.

Vegetables in spring, tomatoes, cantaloupes, eggplants and watermelons in the summer! All fresh and seasonal vegetables and fruits.

After summer, they work on wine pressing and olive harvests. You’ll discover in this guide how all this plays a part in following the Mediterranean diet.

The lifestyle in the Med is perfect for outdoor markets – you might think you know what these are but until you’ve seen real fresh produce, you really don’t.

In the USA, and other parts of the world where food is more processed and travels hundreds of miles before it’s put up for sale, suffer from what can only be described as dull looking food.  In the Mediterranean, outdoor markets are exceptionally vibrant and colorful.

When it comes to meat, the Med diet is usually made up of lamb and veal or similar – and usually only on special occasions. Meat isn’t a huge part of the diet, but you will see chicken and fish a lot in main courses.

Bread is something that not everyone would class as healthy. However, you are probably thinking of the white processed breads we have in the Western world. In Italy for example, where the Med diet is traditional, they eat bread all the time. However, the bread they eat is dark, whole grain bread with seeds and other additions – not like the processed breads we see in supermarkets.

You’ll also find pasta and legumes are very popular with the Med diet. Legumes are more affordable than meat so usually provide a great substitute. Lentils, chickpeas and small red cranberry beans and even fava beans are super popular choices.

Cheese is a common option before and after meals but not in the same way we do over here. Wine is also very commonly consumed with meals – but very few people drink for recreation. Wine is almost always only enjoyed with meals.

Like we touched on earlier, the Mediterranean diet and way of life is simply different because of culture. You will find a way of life that is entirely different to ours. Food is a social thing and involves massive families gathering and enjoying flavors and they appreciate food far more than we do. It’s an event and it’s an enjoyable feast that everyone can enjoy.

The History of the Mediterranean Diet

Back in the 1950s, research began to show that what we were eating in America wasn’t as healthy as we’d all thought. Most of the dinners in America consisted on steak, potatoes and buttered rolls. Milk was also a very common drink with a meal.

This was because it was thought to be a nutritious way to eat. However, research started to show that the Mediterranean diet was actually a much healthier way of eating. Plant-based diets were far better for us and the lower rates of health problems in these parts of the world started to be understood.

The lower servings of red meat, higher quantities of fresh produce and fresh ingredients for home cooked meals mean a much healthier way of life. People from the Med tend to live much longer due to their much better diets.

The biggest and most notable research into the Mediterranean diet came in the form of the Seven Countries Study by Ancel Keys in the 1950s and 1960s. This included a sample population from Greece, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Finland, the Netherlands, Japan and the United States.

Specifically, the study explored the relationship between disease and diet. It involved over 12,000 men between the ages of 40 and 59. The study revealed that men on the Mediterranean diet were less likely to contract coronary heart disease.

Later studies proved that a diet low in saturated fat reduces cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. The Mediterranean diet mainly consists of monounsaturated fat which is the good kind of fat that your body needs. This good fat is mainly from olive oil which is a mainstay in most Mediterranean dishes.

Research continues in order to have a better understanding into the links between lower risk of heart disease and the Mediterranean diet. Apart from the diet, research now points towards increased activity as part of the lifestyle as another cause for this figure – so it’s not all about diet but it’s a huge part of it.

The Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

So, we’ve established that the Mediterranean diet is definitely better for you than the usual American diet. However, let’s take a real look at why and what the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are.

In basic terms, there are four major factors that play a role in your health. The first is of course your diet, the second is physical activity and the third is limiting alcohol intake, the fourth is not smoking.

These four factors are major parts of what makes a healthy lifestyle but the first is probably the most important. Our food is our fuel and it’s exceptionally important that we pay attention to what we fuel our bodies with.

In terms of diet, traditional Mediterranean diet definitely has it all. Research has proven that the kinds of foods in this diet have a lot of benefits for your health. People under this diet have less chances of contracting metabolic illnesses.

The same people also have less chances of getting inflamed cells which reduces the chance of getting disease as well. Apart from less chances of coronary heart disease and other similar diseases, the Mediterranean diet also lowers the chances of getting other diseases. People in this diet can rest easy knowing that they have a smaller risk of getting cancer.

The same thing can be said about Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Equally important is that people in this diet to live longer as well.

When it comes to fats, people tend to think that these are all bad, but this idea could not get any worse. Saturated fats come from animal products while polyunsaturated fats are produced from plants, seeds and vegetable oil among others.

Monounsaturated fats are considered the healthiest and ideally should be included in your diet in place of other kinds of fat. The good news is that the Mediterranean diet revolves around this line of thinking. Of course, it is by no coincidence that this is the reason for the health benefits you get from it. All this is thanks to the kind of staple foods included in Mediterranean cuisine.

Mediterranean cuisine takes root from several countries each with its own distinct flavor. At the heart of these dishes though 20 are certain foods that have been proven by research to be important for good health. These foods for vitality are responsible for all the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and making you feel better at the same time.

The Mediterranean Diet Basics

The following foods are more or less a staple in any Mediterranean dish. You will find them in most recipes no matter what country from the region they come from.

Vegetables

No healthy diet is complete without a serving of vegetables. The truth is that you never have too much vegetable in your diet. For better results, you want to make them part of your lunch and snacks as well. Apart from side dishes on your dinner plate, adding vegetables to your sandwiches can be very tasty as well. Essential vitamins and minerals can be found in vegetables which are important for good health.

Legumes

Legumes are pulses are an important part of any healthy diet. In botanical terms, legumes refer to a certain species of plant. However, it is also used to describe fruits that develop seeds in a pod. These are great sources of fiber and protein.

Fruits and Nuts

Instead of munching on sugary sweets and other junk foods, a much healthier alternative would be to include fruits in your snacks. As such, it is important to stock up on apples, pears and oranges to always have something healthy to eat.

Drinking fresh juice is alright but eating an actual piece is a whole lot better.

Nuts on the other hand have calories and contain good monounsaturated fats at the same time. Still, these are better taken in moderation.

Cereals and Grains

Whole grains are good for the health but making the transition from white and processed starches may be difficult for some. For better results, start with whole wheat breads from the lighter variety.  

Work your way up to whole grain breads once you get the hang of it. Using this kind of bread for your sandwiches paves the way for a healthy and delicious snack. Other healthier alternatives include whole wheat pasta which goes with just about any kind of sauce you can think of. It is the same story with brown rice as well. This increases your fiver intake easily. Consider replacing potatoes with sweet potatoes or yams as well.

Cereals which are less processed should be your top choice with oatmeal as the best example. Less sugar and more fiber is the way to go here.

Fish

The Mediterranean diet calls for less servings of red meat and more fish in its place. With fish, you get a good source of protein without having to worry about getting bad fat like in beef and pork. In fact, you get the good kind of fat from fish with Omega-3 fats being the most important among them.

Studies have proven that Omega-3 fats help reduce the risk of heart disease. The progression of such a condition may also be prevented by eating fish or shellfish. Another thing is that fish is relatively more affordable and obviously a healthier source of protein than red meat.

Oils and Fats

When it comes to fats, olive oil is a mainstay in Mediterranean diet. It is a good source of monounsaturated fats which is the good kind of fat. This kind of fat does not increase blood cholesterol levels like saturated fats. Olive oil is also a good source of Vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D, E as well as K. Other healthy options include canola oil and grapeseed oil.

Olive oil is harvested from pressed ripe olives. The oil that comes from the first pressing is known as virgin. It is low in acid content with less than one percent concentration. This is regarded as the best of its kind with the fruitiest and best flavor.

Dairy

Traditional Mediterranean diet does not put a lot of emphasis on dairy products. In fact, people on this diet tend to reduce their consumption of dairy products.  Even then, small servings usually of yoghurt and cheese are made occasionally.

Meats

Like dairy, a Mediterranean diet calls for fewer meats. It is recommended to eat red meat just once a week with the average consumption of only four ounces per day. When choosing meats look for cuts that are leaner since these will have lesser amounts of saturated fats.

Alcohol

The same studies that explored the Mediterranean diet uncovered evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol is a good thing. Men who consumed half or two drinks per day had a lower risk of heart attack.

Drinking more than this amount also showed a lower risk of heart attack as well. This finding even holds up when researchers take into account other factors such as level of physical activity, age, medical history, body mass index and smoking.

The health benefits from the Mediterranean diet all boil down to one thing. All the foods mentioned earlier are rich in essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs for vitality.

Consuming these foods can more or less guarantee that you are getting enough of these nutrients. Some of these are the following:

  • Antioxidants – These help fight off free radicals which are chemical substances that roam around the body and cause damage to the cells.
  • Carotenoids – This substance is found in red, orange and yellow plants, fruits and flowers. They help protect the body from damage caused by light and oxygen.
  • Monounsaturated Fats – Also known as the good fat, this can help delay or reduce the risk of heart attack. Studies have also shown that cancer development is lowered as well.
  • Phytochemicals – These substances can be found mostly in plants and are used for protection against bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Apart from reducing the risk of a wide range of chronic diseases, these are proven to promote longer and healthy living as well.

The Mediterranean Way of Life

Apart from the food you eat, the Mediterranean diet calls for certain changes in your lifestyle. All this is to live a healthier and longer life. Compared to the American way of life, the Mediterranean one seems harsh and very stressful with little to none of the conveniences you are used to.

In a twist of fate, the Mediterranean way of life is much healthier than the American one. The modern life it seems is responsible for much of the health problems of today.

Of course, it is very much possible to live a healthier lifestyle. All it takes is a little planning and adjustments where needed.

Physical activity has always been part of the Mediterranean way of life. People have to exert a lot of effort just to grow, harvest and prepare food. This more than fulfills the exercise requirement for a healthier lifestyle.

It is not even seen as a requirement, just something that has to be done. This is in stark contrast to the American way of life and how exercise is seen as something expendable from the list of daily activities.

Numerous studies have shown that even the simplest forms of exercise can improve your overall health. In an issue of the New England Journal of Medicine published in 1999, it was revealed that women who got regular exercise reduced their risk of a heart attack by as much as 40 percent. Walking for at least five hours a week cuts this risk in half as well. Even exercises lasting only ten minutes of three times a day can have a significant impact.

Exercise has other benefits as well. Old people who undergo an aerobic exercise program will have better mental fitness than those who do not. Studies have proven that old people who exercised reacted 25 percent faster than people who do stretching and toning exercises.

The benefits of exercise to the body are no coincidence. Science has proven that inactivity can result in more risk to chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer diabetes and osteoporosis. The risk for obesity is reduced as well. Getting regular exercise also means better sleep, a more positive outlook and better overall health.

Moving more means preventing high blood pressure and even lowers already high levels of it. It strengthens the heart making it work more efficiently.

At the same time, exercise prevents the spread of chemicals that promote atherosclerosis. With exercise, the body is better able to metabolize carbohydrates and increases sensitivity to insulin. This in turn lowers the incidence of diabetes.

With all these benefits, it comes as no surprise that exercise promotes a longer life. Studies have proven that even the smallest amount of exercise drops mortality rate significantly.

This is why an increasing number of physicians prescribe exercise for avoiding chronic diseases.

With the rigorous activity demanded by farming, most Mediterranean folk get their weight training exercise from this. It may not be the same as the weights at the gym but it does have the same effect of strengthening your body.

This includes lifting, hauling, pulling, pushing, loading, chopping and digging among others. Evidently, strength training can become part of daily life without having to go to the gym. Strength training is somewhat different from other forms of exercises. For one thing, it needs less endurance and more short-term effort of increasing intensity. This builds both muscle and bone structures within the body.

Strong muscles do not just look better, they work better as well. Of course this does not mean huge and hulking muscles. It means muscles that are fit, well-nourished and active.

Bigger muscles are better at processing oxygen which takes some load of the heart. Strong muscles around the joints also help relieve pressure around them. This added strength can certainly make a difference in daily life.

Coping with Stress in the Mediterranean Way

In the Mediterranean way of life, people had plenty of ways to cope with stress. For one thing, social relationships with family and friends were kept strong and often prioritized. Even neighbors offered support for each other in times of need.

This kind of close support helps people cope with stress better. Another thing is that these people are closer to nature than most others. They grow and harvest their food off the land.

While there is not much conclusive evidence to suggest that nature reduces stress levels, anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. There is just something in nature that puts the mind at ease.

Too much stress is bad for the health and this is unacceptable. The answer could not be more obvious. You will need to make a few changes in your lifestyle stress to weed out stress.  Moving to the sun-drenched lands of the Mediterranean sounds like a good idea but is not really possible for most. You should know that it is possible to live a stress-free life in this fast-paced world.

Consider the following tips as your guide:

  • Appreciate your friends more. Try to improve your social relationships by keeping in touch more. Make it a point to ask family and friends their opinions and ideas. Joining support groups, organizations and other such groups is also a good idea.
  • Meditation relives stress and it is a good idea to try it. The visualization involved can be enough to put your mind at ease and chase your worries away. Spend as much as ten minutes of your day to clearing your mind through meditation. How about imagining a relaxing stay at a traditional café on Southern France? Perhaps a stroll through the Greek coastline would do it? This is sure to recharge your mind and body and help you relax more.
  • Step outside and enjoy the sun with the protection of sunscreen of course. Feel the breeze as it passes through gently and quietly. If you must, drive out of the city and towards somewhere with fresh air and enjoy your stay there.
  • Consider things in context. Each stressful event, no matter what it may be, should be put into perspective. They may be inconvenient and irritating at times but your whole world does not need to come crashing down. Keep in mind that there are just some things you cannot change no matter how hard you try.

Summary

The healthier lifestyle in the Mediterranean proves one very important thing. Clearly, living and eating healthy is a choice anyone can make regardless of your current situation.

It is all a matter of taking the initiative to make the necessary changes to live healthy. With increased vitality, less risk from chronic diseases and a longer life, who would not want to?

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