The Mediterranean Diet
A total diet and lifestyle approach continues to be one of the best prescriptions for a long, healthy life.
Secrets of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is what most people associate with a Mediterranean-type diet. But it's not just any olive oil; it needs to be extra virgin.
“It may not be the monounsaturated fat as much as it is the phytochemicals and compounds in the extra virgin olive oil that offers the health benefits,” Mozaffarian says.
Still, it's not just about the olive oil.
"There is no good evidence that monounsaturated fats alone are protective for cardiovascular disease," Mozaffarian says. "Instead, it is the lifestyle and all the foods together that are so favorable."
Mediterranean Diet Benefits
The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with a low risk of heart disease.
Studies show that a Mediterranean-type diet is advantageous across the board for cardiovascular risk factors, including total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
For instance, the PREDIMED study compared the Mediterranean diet to a low-fat diet, and found the Mediterranean diet has more beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk factors.
And in March 2011, an analysis of 50 studies linked the Mediterranean diet to lower odds of getting metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of risk factors (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat) that make heart disease, diabetes, and stroke more likely.
Other studies suggest that -- along with maintaining a healthy body weight -- one of the best strategies to lower diabetes risk is to eat a Mediterranean-type diet that's rich in plant foods; low in red meat, meat products, high-fat dairy, and refined grains; and includes a moderate amount of alcohol (mainly red wine).
Besides all the other health benefits, there may also be a weight advantage. Research makes it clear: Being physically active and eating a nutritious diet made up mainly of whole foods that are filling and satisfying can help people lose weight.
A Model for Healthy Families
We can thank the cultures and countries that surround the Mediterranean for giving us the delicious flavors, traditions, and fresh foods that make up this healthy lifestyle, Baer-Sinnott says.
Families who eat meals together tend to be more content, eat more nutritious meals, and influence their children to make better food choices, Diekman says. A study published in Appetite found young adults who switched to a Mediterranean diet showed significant improvements in vigor, alertness, and contentment.
“Focusing on all the healthy foods that are good for you, not nutrients, is the best way to help families eat healthier diets and reduce risk of chronic disease,” Mozaffarian says.
Children who learn to eat a wide variety of foods early in life are more likely to enjoy and stick with a healthier dietary pattern for life. A wide variety of choices makes it easy, even for the pickiest eaters, to stick to and enjoy the diet.