Why a Mediterranean Diet May Help Your Heart & Increase Your Longevity
8 minute read
The Mediterranean Basin is known as the cradle of world civilization and has always been a region making great contributions to the world, from philosophy and art to science and technology. Today, we’re realizing that much can be learned even from the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet’s heavy reliance on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains supplemented by proteins from fish and poultry makes it an obvious healthy choice when compared to an American diet loaded with carbohydrates, fried foods, and red meat. Research continues to show just how important the diet can be for your heart and longevity.
The New Mediterranean Diet Science
A recent study on the effects of a Mediterranean diet and mortality in the elderly found that sticking to a Mediterranean diet resulted in 25% lower risk of mortality in elderly individuals. This group of scientists also reviewed the results of seven other studies on the Mediterranean diet and discovered that the more closely individuals aged 65 and older stuck to the diet, the better their cardiovascular health.
In the past, other research has shown that the benefits of a Mediterranean diet are that it is associated with lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, which tends to build up in your arteries. It’s also been connected with reduced rates of cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Also, women who follow the Mediterranean method of using extra virgin olive oil and snacking on mixed nuts might have reduced risk of breast cancer.
What Is a Mediterranean Diet?
If this has spiked your curiosity about this diet, then you’re probably wondering what a Mediterranean diet is. There are some regional differences for those in the Mediterranean, but a few of the overarching aspects of their diet are listed below.
Fruits and vegetables: You’ve probably heard this your whole life, eating your fruits and veggies is good for you. But with the typical American diet, getting your recommended five servings in a day is difficult.
In a Mediterranean diet, they not only hit it, they often exceed it to the point of doubling that recommendation.
Whole grains: Not all grains are created equally. While we’re often warned away from pastas and breads, the Mediterranean diet embraces these foods because they’re made with heart-healthy whole grains.
Olive oil: Skip the butter and start using extra virgin olive oil, especially when cooking.
Discover spices: Try to stay away from simply using salt for flavor and learn what other herbs and spices give food flavors you love. As an added benefit, there are a lot of health perks that can come from spices.
Snack on nuts: Nuts are a filling and healthy snack, as long as you don’t opt for candied ones or those loaded with salt. They are high in fat and calories though, so a handful is a good serving size.
White over red: When choosing your proteins, pick fish and white meat over red meats. Trend toward eating fish twice a week and grilling it over frying. When eating red meat, make sure it’s a small portion of lean meat.
Low-fat dairy: Mediterranean diets don’t revolve around dairy, but it does make an appearance. To keep it healthy, use lower-fat dairy options.
Drink red wine: This is a bonus for those who like wine, the key is to have only a glass or maybe two with your meal, not to overindulge.
Meals in the Mediterranean are typically very social events. There is evidence that having a healthy and active social life can increase your quality of life and lifespan. Try to make your meals more engaging and entertaining by spending time with family and friends.
How Mediterranean Meals Translate Into Healthy Choices
From what you know about diet and foods, you already understand how some of the foods used in traditional Mediterranean diets are healthy. It’s pretty clear that fruits and vegetables are the way to go, but some other choices might seem a little confusing.
How is olive oil good and should you really be drinking alcohol? The key to any good diet is always moderation, but there might be some benefits you didn’t expect in a Mediterranean diet.
Healthy fats: Total fat consumption doesn’t really feature in this diet, but the use of monounsaturated fat (found in olive oil) over trans fats does:
♦ Olive oil can help reduce LDL cholesterol while extra virgin olive oil has antioxidant effects.
♦ Some nuts contain linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that lowers triglycerides and decreases blood clotting, which improves the health of your blood vessels and moderates blood pressure.
♦ Fatty fish also contain omega-3s and are the basis of many Mediterranean meals.
Red wine benefits: The health benefits of red wine have been studied extensively and some of the results can be found in Medical News Today. The first thing to note is that alcohol is not safe or good for everyone.
Even if you’re cleared by your doctor to have wine with your meals, a healthy amount is very little, often just one 5 oz. glass. But if you do stick to those limits there may be some benefits to drinking red wine:
♦ The resveratrol in red wine can protect against some cancers, prevent some vision loss and boost heart health.
♦ Red wine boosts levels of omega-3 fatty acids in plasma and red blood cells, another heart healthy step.
♦ The ethanol in wine appears to play an important part in metabolizing glucose, which could help diabetics.
♦ Breathe easier as wine can boost lung function and might even prevent lung cancer cells from spreading.
♦ A study has found that there is a significantly lower risk of dementia among those who regularly drink moderate amounts of red wine.
♦ Surprisingly, a group of scientists discovered that the flavonoids in wine inhibit the formation of reactive oxygen species in cells, meaning that it might protect the skin from the damaging effects of the sun.
More plants: The Mediterranean diet is far from vegetarian and vegan, but it does put the spotlight on fruits, vegetables, plant-based oils, nuts, and whole grains. This shift away from animal-based foods provides many benefits.
♦ Eating up to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day loads your body with fiber, nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants.
♦ Whole grains also have fiber and lack unhealthy trans fats.
♦ Nuts help support a healthy heart with unsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, plant sterols, and L-arginine.
The Bottom Line
You’re never too old to change your eating habits, and now that we know it’s never too late to reap the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, it’s time to make the switch. With a diet that focuses on eating large amounts of plant-based foods, white meats and fish with moderate amounts of alcohol, your body soaks up the heart-healthy benefits and rewards you for your food choices.
Start small and work your way into as many Mediterranean habits as you are comfortable with—the stricter you are with this diet, the better it is for you.