Diet

Reasons You’ll Love the Mediterranean Diet 

You may have heard of the Mediterranean diet. This eating plan is popular among dieticians and those trying to shed excess pounds alike because it’s healthy and relatively nonrestrictive. Plus, you get a full range of nutrients to fuel every cell in your body.

What makes the Mediterranean diet so terrific? Does it even qualify as a “diet” when you don’t have to count calories or carbs? Read on to discover what — if anything — is off-limits, what’s on the menu, and how you can get started feeling better today.

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Reduced Diabetes Risk

The rates of type 2 diabetes are reaching epidemic levels in the U.S. More than 100 million Americans currently live with diabetes or prediabetes — that’s nearly 10-percent of the population. This condition puts you at an increased risk of death.

This form of the disease occurs when your pancreas no longer secretes enough of the hormone that regulates glucose to keep your blood sugar in balance. It also occurs when you develop resistance over time. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole foods without a ton of additives like sweeteners, making it ideal for getting your glucose under control.

Possible Weight Loss Benefits

If you’re like many people, you may embark on a diet to shed a few unwanted pounds. Guess what? The Mediterranean diet works more effectively than a low-fat eating plan in clinical trials. Plus, you don’t have to sigh wistfully when it’s pizza night and your partner wants extra cheese.

Over time, this lifestyle helps you maintain your weight as effectively as other plans. It may have a long-term beneficial effect on your waistline, too. Since excess belly fat is associated with a higher risk of various health disorders, including cardiovascular disease, whittling your waist improves your overall health.

Increased Omega-3s

You’ve probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids and their role in preventing a host of conditions, including heart disease. Did you know that these nutritional powerhouses can also prevent hearing loss? This prophylactic ability is critical, because not being able to hear decreases your quality of life and can indirectly contribute to dementia.

Omega-3 fatty acids aid in maintaining blood flow to the cochlea of the inner ear. The cochlea receives sounds in the form of vibrations and passes them to your brain for interpretation. Like your lungs, they have tiny cilia, and omega-3s keep them pliable.

Lowered Blood Pressure

Your blood pressure consists of two numbers, your systolic and diastolic pressure. Researchers examined over 1,000 participants aged 65-79 who followed the Mediterranean diet for a year. Afterward, they discovered that the systolic blood pressure of the male participants decreased by an average of 5.5-milligrams of mercury.

Although heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of both men and women, more males than females have heart attacks. This finding offers one way to decrease the number of incidents.

Glowing Skin

The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants like the lycopene found in tomatoes. Because it emphasizes the good fats, you’ll also consume more foods high in vitamin E. This nutrient is critical for keeping your skin glowing and healthy. It also promotes hair and nail growth. If you’re typically plagued with things like acne or dry, breaking locks, this meal plan can restore your natural luster.

Plus, because you increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables, you’ll reap anti-aging benefits. Some research suggests that ascorbic acid in vitamin C, for example, has a positive effect when taken internally. You might notice fewer fine lines and wrinkles after a few weeks on this meal plan.

No Need to Count Calories

Let’s face it: Counting calories, points or anything else is a drag. Who wants to go out to dinner and have to calculate what they may or may not order off the menu? Fortunately, with the Mediterranean diet, you can put the calorie calculator away.

Eating on this plan merely entails making healthy choices. Feel free to eat the following — but stop when you feel sated:

  • Fruits and vegetables: You should aim to make plant-based foods the focus of every meal. Strive to fill at least half of your plate. The closer foods are to their natural form, the better — think light stir-frying or steaming. 
  • Nuts and seeds: Although these are high in fat, they’re the heart-healthy variety. You can sprinkle these on salads or enjoy a handful as a snack. 
  • Legumes: Beans, peas and lentils all make the list of safe foods. 
  • Whole grains: While you want to avoid processed flours, if you can tolerate gluten, you can eat whole wheat. You can also indulge in ancient grains like quinoa and amaranth if gluten upsets your digestion. 
  • Lean dairy and meats: While you want to consume these in moderation, many dieticians encourage eating fish at least twice per week. However, if you embrace a vegan lifestyle, you can practice this meal plan without including these foods. 
  • Healthy fats: You can enjoy olive oil to your heart’s content — pun intended. Try extra virgin or avocado oil.

And No Need to Ban Entire Classes of Foods

Another perk to the Mediterranean diet is that you don’t need to ban entire classes of food. However, nutritionists recommend that you avoid the following as much as possible on this eating plan:

  • Refined grains: This group of foods includes anything made from white flour. Opt for whole-grain instead. 
  • Refined oils: Oils such as canola are genetically modified and undergo a refinement process that sometimes contains chemicals. Stick to oils that are close to their natural state, like the ones listed above. 
  • Added sugars: Avoid foods labeled with additives like high-fructose corn syrup, such as sodas and many commercial pastries. 
  • Processed meats: The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled processed meats as a carcinogen and red meats as a probable one. Take a hard pass on deli sandwiches and limit red meat consumption.

Increased Herb Intake

Herbs served as humankind’s first medicine, and they continue to heal many. For example, researchers have identified oregano oil as a possible weapon in the war against MRSA. Unlike traditional medications, the substance doesn’t inspire antibiotic resistance to these deadly bacteria.

Since oils add texture but not a massive infusion of taste, you’ll use a ton of herbs in your Mediterranean cooking. Basil and garlic both have considerable health properties, as do cilantro and mint.

Plenty of Olive Oil

The predominant fatty acid in olive oil is oleic acid, which makes up 73-percent of its total content. Oleic acid fights inflammation and may even prevent some forms of cancer.

Because olive oil has a high smoke point, it’s ideal for cooking. However, you don’t have to heat this oil to enjoy it. You can use it along with balsamic vinegar to make a simple salad dressing in a snap.

Agility Benefits

The Mediterranean diet is chock-full of healthy fats and vitamin E, which benefits your blood vessels and heart. It also keeps your skin supple — but did you know it can help your joints, as well?

Your body needs to produce synovial fluid to keep your joints flexible. This meal plan provides the necessary building blocks to keep the moisture flowing and to protect your connective tissue from deteriorating. Many dieticians recommend this style of eating for patients with conditions such as arthritis.

You’ll Ward Off Alzheimer’s Disease

Recent research indicates that eating a Mediterranean diet may protect against Alzheimer’s disease by nourishing brain activity. Conversely, the typical Western-style diet that is high in processed foods may predispose patients to the condition decades before they begin exhibiting symptoms.

Alzheimer’s robs the quality of life from your golden years, and it has a devastating impact on your loved ones. Fortunately, scientists believe you can prevent one out of every three cases of the disease by addressing lifestyle factors. You have nothing to lose — and years of quality life to gain.

Reduced Inflammation

If you have an autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may have tried an elimination diet to identify trigger foods. Researchers have identified particular foods that fight inflammation, and many find a place in the Mediterranean diet.

The exceptions to this rule are plants in the nightshade family, such as tomatoes. They contain solanine, a chemical implicated in arthritis pain. Many RA patients experience significant relief when they eliminate these foods — so opt for a pesto sauce on your pizza.

You’ll Consume a Range of Phytonutrients

Because the Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based eating, you’ll consume a colorful array of vegetables and fruits. These provide a variety of health benefits that researchers continue to investigate.

Several studies imply that quercetin, for example, can help you recover from tough workouts. Others, like silymarin, may protect your liver from damage and help it regenerate new tissue.

It’s Delicious!

The best part about the Mediterranean diet is to-die-for food. Check out this sample meal plan:

  • Breakfast: Greek yogurt with blueberries or raspberries and hemp or chia seeds
  • Dinner: Whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce and grilled veggies
  • Snacks: Mixed nuts or celery and carrots with hummus. 

There are a million reasons to adore the Mediterranean diet. If you’re looking to supercharge your health this coming season, why not give this meal plan a try? 

Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston

Kate is a weekly contributor at ActiveBeat and a regular writer at other health and lifestyle sites like Thought Catalog, Darling Magazine, and Read Unwritten. She hails from Pennsylvania and enjoys taking long hikes and teaching her Zumba classes. She also runs her own site, So Well, So Woman, where she researches and discusses topics related to women's health.

Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Julie Ching is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Los Angeles. She decided to become a Dietitian after traveling through Europe, South America, and Asia and discovered a passion for food. She now works with people of all ages and varying disease states to improve their health. She is passionate about teaching people about nutrition so they can live their best life while still considering their cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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