The Mediterranean diet stands out for its proven ability to help people live longer, says Dr. Stephen Kopecky, a cardiologist at the world renowned Mayo Clinic. So forget those expensive food plans, gimmicks and expensive fad diets.
They may help you lose a few pounds, but this diet can do it all. While it may seem too good to be true, Kopecky says it has repeatedly stood up to scientific scrutiny.
“It really helps us reduce many diseases – not just heart disease, also Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr.Kopecky says. “It reduces almost all cancers. It reduces arthritis. It’s an anti-inflammatory diet, and, so, you have less joint pain.”
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most studied. “In tens of thousands of patients [it] has been shown to be very helpful for us,” the cardiologist says.
It’s less restrictive than many fad diets you find online. It’s very easy to do, and it can be very inexpensive,” he says.
The diet is based on eating more fruits and vegetables and also eating more fish and lean meats.
“It’s really one of the highest fat diets after the keto diet because it’s more monounsaturated fat from olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, things like that,” Kopecky says.
The best part is, the diet doesn’t involve a draconian regimen. It follows the cooking style of people who live along the Mediterranean Sea, and even allows a glass or two of red wine.
At least 16 countries border the Mediterranean, so diets vary between these countries, according to the American Heart Association.
Many differences in culture, ethnic background, religion, economy and agricultural production result in different diets. But the common Mediterranean dietary pattern has these characteristics:
- high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds
- olive oil is an important monounsaturated fat source
- dairy products, fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts, and little red meat is eaten
- eggs are consumed zero to four times a week
- wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts
The Mediterranean diet features olive oil as the primary source of fat. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat — a type of fat that can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels when used in place of saturated or trans fats.
“Extra-virgin” and “virgin” olive oils — the least processed forms — also contain the highest levels of the protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.
Fatty fish — such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon — are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish is eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean.
Although the health effects of alcohol are widely debated, the Mediterranean diet typically includes a moderate amount of wine. This means no more than five ounces (148 milliliters) of wine daily for women (or men over age 65), and no more than 10 ounces (296 milliliters) of wine daily for men under age 65.
Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.
In fact, a meta-analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults found that a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality.
The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
The focus of the Mediterranean diet isn’t on limiting total fat consumption, but rather to make wise choices about the types of fat you eat. The Mediterranean diet discourages saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans fats), both of which contribute to heart disease.
The incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries is lower than in the United States. Death rates are lower, too. But this may not be entirely due to the diet, the Heart Association cautions.
Lifestyle factors (such as more physical activity and extended social support systems) may also play a part, it notes.