“Mediterranean diet” is a generic term for a nutritional plan inspired by the foods, recipes, and customs of the 21 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea—in Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain; in Asia: Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey; and in Africa: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. The Mediterranean’s year—round, dry summer climate is conducive to growing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. The abundance of mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon, among other fatty fish taken from the sea, are rich in polyunsaturated fats, which fight inflammation in the body. Add eggs and lean, unprocessed meats and you have the foundation foods of the diet.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Interest in the diet began in the 1950s, when it was noted that heart disease was not as common in Mediterranean countries as it was in the U.S. Since then, numerous studies have confirmed that the Mediterranean diet helps prevent heart disease and stroke.” Indeed, today numerous dietitians, doctors, and health organizations advocate a Mediterranean diet. As the American Heart Association notes, “Year after year, the Mediterranean diet comes out on top in the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of best diets.”
Unlike trendy diets, such as paleo, keto, Atkins, and intermittent fasting, which the AHA warns may “show dramatic but short-term results and are not heart-healthy,” a Mediterranean diet not only plays a significant role in preventing heart disease, but it reduces risk factors such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, lowers levels of diastolic and systolic blood pressure—and yes, even premature death. What’s more, there is evidence that this olive oil-rich diet slows the progression of plaque buildup and can remove excess cholesterol from arteries, keeping blood vessels open. A Mediterranean diet can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and improve levels of hemoglobin A1C, a marker that measures long-term blood sugar, and decreases insulin resistance, which is a condition that impairs the body’s ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar levels effectively. Last but certainly not least, research has shown this healthy diet lowers the risk of dementia, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease, and can improve cognitive function, memory, attention, and processing speed in healthy older adults.
Needless to say, this diet is good for everyone—providing you use common sense. Don’t snack in between meals. Limit added sugars, sugary as well as diet beverages, salt, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats. What, no prosciutto? Cannoli? Cheese? W-I-N-E? Of course, you can—providing you eat in moderation.
So, eat like Mediterranean peoples do and take time to eat and enjoy your food. Start the day with a big breakfast (something the British are famous for.) Make lunch your big meal of the day. Eat a small dinner. As Roni Caryn Rabin recently reported in The New York Times, “The latest evidence suggests we should front-load our calories early in the day to jump-start our metabolisms and prevent obesity.” Now, that’s the wise way to lose weight.