It’s no secret that diet plays a major role in the prevention of many chronic diseases. Particularly, heart health seems diet-dependent. In the 1906s, scientists discovered that populations in countries of the Mediterranean region, such as Greece and Italy, experienced lower mortality from cardiovascular disease compared with other countries. Since that time, the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been the source of much investigation.
The Basics: What is the Mediterranean Diet?
In a nutshell, the World Health Organization defines the Mediterranean diet to include the following:
- High monounsaturated/saturated fat ratio (including the use of olive oil as main cooking ingredient)
- Low to moderate red wine consumption
- High consumption of legumes, whole grains, and cereals
- High consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Low consumption of meat and meat products
- Increased consumption of fish
- Moderate consumption of milk and dairy products
Let’s Look at the Statistics
This diet is gaining international attention, and it’s no surprise. There are numerous studies and reviews that clearly establish the benefits of this way of eating.
Reduced Risk of Cancer
Studies reveal that adherence to the Mediterranean diet can reduce the incidence of cancer as much as 50%. Furthermore, the rate of reduction is in proportion to the level of adherence to the diet. In other words, those who adhere to the diet more strictly decrease their cancer risk proportionally.
You’ve probably heard someone say that drinking red wine is good for the heart. And in fact, studies show that consumption of the occasional glass of wine can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. That glass of wine can help increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels and decrease fibrinogen, which is a protein that increases the risk of blood clots.
Use caution and common sense here, folks. If you are an alcoholic or have problems with addiction, it is best to avoid drinking alcohol. Furthermore, more is not better in this case. If one glass of wine is good, it doesn’t mean the whole bottle is better. The studies are based on consumption of moderate amounts of no more than one drink per day.
Prevention of Obesity
Eating a Mediterranean style diet is also linked to a decrease in the occurrence of obesity.
Reduced Risk of Diabetes
A large study conducted over a period of more than 4 years reports a significant decrease in the occurrence of Type 2 Diabetes among people who adhere to a Mediterranean diet. The study also evaluated participants with a higher risk of diabetes (such as older age, higher BMI, family history of diabetes, personal history of hypertension, and a higher proportion of ex-smokers). Even these higher risk participants who had better adherence to the diet had a lower risk of diabetes, suggesting that the diet has substantial potential for prevention.
Decreased Coronary Heart Disease
Numerous studies address the benefit of the Mediterranean diet for reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. The diet is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, or omega-3 fatty acid. This polyunsaturated fat is found in seeds, nuts, and some vegetable oils, including olive oil, and works by decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood. Reduced LDL and increased HDL cholesterol contribute to a reduced risk of both stroke and coronary heart disease.
Reduced Bodily Inflammation
The large quantity of monounsaturated fat in the Mediterranean diet is credited for reducing inflammatory markers in the blood, including C-reactive protein. This decrease correlates with a decreased risk of atherosclerotic disease.
Decreased Risk of Hypertension
The diet shows potential not only to decrease the risk of hypertension, but may even lower blood pressure, thereby being a feasible treatment option for those with elevated blood pressure.
There You Have it.
Ready to try the Mediterranean way of eating? Before you begin, talk to your health care provider and let him know your plans. Most likely, he will support your decision to eat a healthier diet. If you are taking medications for any of the above conditions, do not stop taking your medicines. After a few weeks/months on the diet, visit your doctor to have your levels checked to see if you can decrease or wean off of any medications for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, etc.
As many of the studies suggest, increasing your HDL cholesterol and alpha-linolenic acid intake can bring about many health benefits. Even if you don’t go all in with the Mediterranean diet, just increasing your healthy fats and reducing your consumption of meats and dairy can go a long way towards better health.
Have you tried it?
Comment below with your experience or testimony about the Mediterranean diet.
To learn more about the benefits of eating plants, check out Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet.
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