Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
A delicious Mediterranean eating plan can help protect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer – even help with weight loss.
When we think of the Mediterranean diet, we picture Europeans leisurely
dining on meals of fish, vegetables, fruits, olives, and crusty whole-grain
bread dunked in olive oil, along with a glass of wine.
For thousands of years, residents of the Mediterranean coastal region have
enjoyed this kind of delicious diet -- high in plant foods and monounsaturated
fats (like olive oil) -- while getting plenty of regular physical activity.
They don’t think of their eating habits as a diet plan; it's simply their way
of life. And it's a way of life that apparently leads to long, healthy
lives virtually free of chronic disease.
For the past 50 years, scientists have studied the eating patterns
characteristic of the Mediterranean diet -- and they continue to find
additional health benefits. Recently, a large study published in journal
BMJ showed that healthy people who followed a Mediterranean diet had a
lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Further, a recent study published in The New England Journal of
Medicine showed that a restricted-calorie Mediterranean diet (as well as a
low-carb diet) could be even more effective for weight loss than a low-fat
diet, while also offering other health benefits.
"Research continues to demonstrate that being physically active and
eating a nutritious diet of primarily whole foods that are filling and
satisfying can enable people to control weight, lower blood pressure [and]
cholesterol levels, reduce risk of diabetes, heart disease [and] Alzheimer’s
disease, and basically protect against chronic diseases," says cardiologist
Arthur Agatston, MD, creator of the South Beach Diet, based on the
Mediterranean diet model.
What Makes the Mediterranean Diet So Healthy?
What is it about the Mediterranean diet that makes it so healthy?
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and seeds
provides thousands of micronutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that
can help protect against cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, among
other conditions, experts say.
The multiple factors at work in the Mediterranean diet, Agatston explains,
provide health benefits that "cannot be replaced by a
Monounsaturated fats, found in avocado, fish, canola and olive oils, are
anti-inflammatory and fight disease at the cellular level. And olive oil, with
its rich monounsaturated fat content, has gotten lots of attention. But
according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in
2003, it may not be the olive oil itself, but the interaction or synergy
between all the foods that leads to the health benefits.
Studies show the Mediterranean diet's protective effect against obesity and
type 2 diabetes is likely due to its high proportion of plant foods,
fish, and olive oil, along with moderate consumption of alcohol.
"A Mediterranean diet is high in fiber, which slows down digestion,
preventing wild swings in blood sugar; reduces insulin resistance (a precursor
of type 2 diabetes); and improves insulin sensitivity to reduce obesity and
type 2 diabetes," says Agatston.