Getting an excellent slender figure without hunger strikes and debilitating restrictions, staying healthy, energetic, efficient, and at the same time losing weight is everyone’s dream. What diet can provide this? According to a report by the American news magazine U.S. News & World Report, published in early 2021, the Mediterranean diet topped the list of the best diets in the world for the 4th year in a row. What is the secret of such success? What are the main principles of this dietary system, and how is it different from others? What are the pros and cons of the Mediterranean diet? You will find answers to these questions in our article.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is a food system practiced in Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece, and southern France. Such a diet combines moderation and a variety of foods with a unique way of life: cooking, physical activity, sharing the pleasures of food, etc.
The concept of the Mediterranean diet appeared in the 1950s, when Ancel Keys, a professor of public health in Minnesota, conducted a comparative analysis between the eating habits of residents of 7 Western countries (USA, Finland, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Italy, Japan, Greece) of mortality from cardiovascular diseases for 15 years. The results were impressive: the lethality of Cretans (3.8%) was very low compared to Finns (97.2%) or Americans (77.3%).
The main emphasis in the diet is on whole grains, a huge amount of fruits and fresh vegetables, olive oil, legumes, and oilseeds. Honey is used instead of sugar. The diet includes wholesome animal proteins from fish, seafood, poultry, and a small amount of red meat and goat and sheep milk products. Red wine in moderation and sufficient water is acceptable as an accompaniment to meals. An essential condition is high physical activity with calorie restriction from 1800 to 2500 calories per day.
In addition, according to UNESCO, the Mediterranean diet includes “a moment of social exchange and communication, reaffirmation and restoration of the identity of a family, group or community.” So such a diet gives much more than a healthy lifestyle. Through a social lens, the diet emphasizes the foundations of cultural identity based on two pillars: slow cooking and slow eating, enjoying simple and healthy meals while eating together, and communicating with family.
Pros of the Mediterranean Diet
A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and little red meat, as it turned out, is beneficial not only for those who want to lose weight but also for the whole family’s health. About the main pluses of the Mediterranean diet are in the sections below.
Improves Stomach Functions
Due to the abundance of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes, as well as whole grains rich in dietary fiber, the Mediterranean diet is very beneficial for the digestive tract. A five-year study published in the journal GUT showed that this way of eating could change the gut microbiome by populating it with healthy microbiota. As you know, the more diverse the intestinal microflora, the higher the balance towards beneficial microorganisms, and the lower the production of inflammatory mediators that affect cognitive functions, the risk of diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cancer.
The study involved 612 people aged 65 to 79 years. The scientists analyzed the gut microbiome before and after the start of the experiment. It turned out that after 12 months of the Mediterranean diet, the participants in the experiment experienced an increase in the number of bacteria that inhibit the rate of development of senile asthenia.
In addition, as the analysis showed, the number of bacteria associated with intestinal cancer and fatty liver decreased in the composition of pathogenic microorganisms. Most interestingly, the effect of the diet did not depend on the age or weight of the participants. Despite the significant microbiome differences, the Mediterranean diet had the same effect on everyone after a year.
All participants continued to adhere to this diet actively. When choosing herbal products seemed difficult, the participants turned to the plant identifier app – a program that tells everything about the plant’s genus, characteristics, and benefits. Therefore, the Mediterranean diet produces healthy eating habits and stimulates one to learn more.
Improves Heart Function
The Mediterranean diet is good for the heart. The University of Lyon made such a conclusion during one of the studies. During the experiment, 600 patients divided into two groups were observed. Both received the same drug treatment but different diets: the control group followed a normal diet, while the experimental group had a Mediterranean diet. After 27 months, scientists observed the experimental group to reduce the risk of heart attacks by 80%: 8 deaths in the Mediterranean group versus 20 in the control group.
Scientists attribute the healing effect to the presence in the diet of a large amount of fatty fish, seafood, and vegetable oils rich in omega-3-6-9 acids in an ideal proportion. In addition, vegetables and fruits, rich in antioxidants, successfully cope with inflammatory processes in the body.
Helps Fight Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, unlike type 1, develops with age and is always associated with malnutrition and being overweight. Because of the excess insulin, the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to absorb the remaining sugars in the blood.
One of the most extensive Predimed studies has shown that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of diabetes by 18-40%. The 9-year experiment involved 7447 people aged 55 to 80 prone to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Participants were divided into nutritional groups: an olive oil diet, a nut diet, and a low-fat diet.
In the study, the researchers found that groups 1 and 2 had a 40% and 18% lower risk of developing diabetes than group 3 participants who followed the low-fat diet. In addition, those on the Mediterranean diet needed insulin much later than those on the low-calorie diet.
The Mediterranean diet has been found to reduce the risk of death by 25%. The data, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, is based on extensive research conducted in Italy during 2005-2010. The study analyzed the health status of 5,200 people over the age of 65 by their diet. The result showed that those participants whose diet was close to the Mediterranean had a lower risk of death than those who ate differently. Scientists attribute this to an increase in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in the diet.
Analyzing the experiment, the researchers concluded that the diet remains effective even if individual components are removed, leaving the most important ones: fish, cereals, and vegetables. Thus, the study’s authors concluded that the Mediterranean diet could prolong life.
Cons of the Mediterranean Diet
Despite the many advantages, the Mediterranean diet has some negative points, namely:
- The weight loss process is not fast.
- It takes time to prepare meals.
- There are risks regarding food quality: heavy metals in fish, pesticides, etc.
- Elitism: good fish, seafood, goat cheeses, and quality wine are not cheap.
- Consuming red meat, pastries, cakes, and sweets is unacceptable.
- Cultural adaptation efforts are needed.
The Mediterranean diet is not just a certain way of eating. The Mediterranean diet is a way of life that includes good physical activity, being in the fresh air, and leisurely eating healthy food in the circle of family and friends. This is a conscious approach to your physical and mental health, allowing you to stay slim, healthy, and young longer.
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