The Mediterranean Diet for Prevention
If you would like to eat healthy foods that can help protect you from heart disease, certain cancers, and other serious chronic diseases, try the Mediterranean diet!
Rich in flavorful dishes made from vegetables, nuts, natural vegetable oils, whole grains, and fruits, the Mediterranean diet includes a wide variety of fresh, delicious dietary options that help promote good health and longevity.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
Nutritionists recognized the plant-based Mediterranean diet in the 1960s, when chronic disease in the Greek and southern Italian populations was among the lowest and adult life expectancy was among the highest in the world.
Key elements of the Mediterranean diet include consuming:
- An abundance of seasonally fresh vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and fruits
Research shows that a diet primarily based on plants (10 servings of vegetables and fruits a day) is high in fiber, low in saturated fat, and rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats and oils. Whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals are an outstanding source of fiber; nuts are rich in heart-healthy oils and high in protein; and beans are high in fiber and protein
- Few or no processed foods
Although there are no data to suggest that all processed foods are bad for you, some research shows that they have disadvantages. For example, processed foods tend to be high in sodium, trans fats, and high-fructose corn syrup. Too much salt in your diet can contribute to high blood pressure, trans fats raise bad (or low-density lipoprotein [LDL]) cholesterol and lower good (high-density lipoprotein [HDL]) cholesterol and can contribute to heart disease; and high-fructose corn syrup is high in calories, contributes to insulin resistance, and tends to be stored as fat instead of used as energy
- Olive and other healthy vegetable oils instead of saturated fats and oils such as butter and margarine
Research shows that olive oil and other monounsaturated (MUFAs) fats or polyunsaturated (PUFAs) fats can lower total cholesterol levels as well as keep your blood cells slippery and protect you against harmful blood clotting. Some data also show that MUFAs have a positive effect on insulin levels and blood sugar, which can be good for people with type 2 diabetes. It's important, however, to remember that all oils are high in calories! If you are like most of us and watching your weight, include healthy oils sparingly in your diet
- Fish and chicken, with an emphasis on fish
Fish and chicken are lean and ideal sources of protein, which help build muscle tissue, cells, and bone. Certain fishes such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, herring, and lake trout and are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids also are linked with better brain, memory, and behavioral function. Chicken is an excellent, low-fat source of protein (3 ounces yield 27 grams of protein), selenium, the vitamins B3 and B6, and essential amino acids.
- Lean red meat in small amounts (12 to 16 ounces) only a few times each month
Because red meat is a higher fat protein source than fish and chicken, you should have it only occasionally rather than as a staple in your diet
- Low-to-moderate amounts of non- and low-fat cheeses and yogurt
Nonfat and lowfat dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are good sources of calcium and protein. Try a dollop of fat-free plain yogurt or low-fat yogurt atop your whole grain cereal with strawberries and blueberries for a tasty, protein-packed, high-fiber, low-calorie start to your day!
- Up to 7 eggs each week, including those used in cooking and baking
A nutrient-dense food, eggs are a terrific low-calorie (~80) source of protein, vitamins (A, B, C, D, and E), and minerals such as selenium that are essential for good health. The choline in eggs helps keep cell membranes healthy, while the selenium is a potent antioxidant that can help strengthen your immune system. Folate and riboflavin are B vitamins, that help convert food into energy. The folate in eggs also helps prevent birth defects. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which some researchers believe can help prevent macular degeneration
- Fresh fruit instead of sweets made with sugars
Fresh fruit is a delicious way to satisfy your desire for something sweet without the added calories and fat in many processed sweets. In addition, eating fruit gives you fiber that's good for the health of your colon and cardiovascular system
- Total fat <25% of calories, with saturated fat ≤8% percent of calories
Eating a low-fat diet can help protect you from heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, and diabetes
- Moderate amounts of wine with meals; 1 to 2 glasses per day for men and 1 glass per day for women
Red wine provides antioxidants that can help raise good (or high-density lipoprotein [HDL]) cholesterol. Some research shows that the flavonoids in red wine have benefits for the heart
"In addition to being an excellent source of nutrition, the Mediterranean diet can be combined with regular physical activity and attention to total calories to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight," says Summit Medical Group Dietitian Susan Canonico, RD. "The best thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it offers many meal and snack options that taste great in addition to being good for you!"
For more information about the Mediterranean diet
or to schedule an appointment,
call Summit Medical Group Nutrition Services today