Each year, U.S. News & World Report ranks the best diet plans. This year marks the sixth consecutive year that the Mediterranean diet has been ranked the best diet overall.
The Mediterranean diet is a healthy departure from our typical modern diet.
Daily Diet Composition
The typical diet includes:
- Carbohydrates. White rice, white flour, and sugars are refined (also called simple or processed) carbohydrates. Whole, unprocessed carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Protein. Plant-based protein comes from beans and nuts; animal protein comes from animals, including beef, lamb, chicken, duck, and fish.
- Fat. Animal and vegetable fat can be further divided into saturated fatty acids, unsaturated fatty acids, long-chain fatty acids, and short-chain fatty acids. Some fatty acids are not found in the human body and must be obtained from food; they are called “essential fatty acids.” Similarly, “essential amino acids” cannot be produced by the body and must come from food.
In addition, food contains a large number of trace elements, minerals, and vitamins.
Problems with the Modern Diet
Under normal circumstances, most of the above ingredients are necessary for our bodies.
So why are some foods considered unhealthy? It is not always that the food itself is unhealthy, but if we consume too much of the same food, we veer away from a balanced diet.
For example, carbohydrates can produce energy, and saturated fatty acids in meat are important for human cellular structure and function. However, over-eating these or any type of food is unhealthy.
What are the main problems with our diet?
- We consume too much sugar, primarily from carbohydrates found in sweets and high-carb foods like pasta and white rice. Sugar is an addictive substance.
- Too much fried food. Fried food is fragrant, but with oil heated at elevated temperatures, it will produce substances that are very harmful to our bodies.
- Animal meat is not as healthy as it once was. Today, most poultry and livestock are raised artificially. They are locked in iron cages, fed food containing growth hormones and chemicals, and injected with antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick.
Unless we seek out grass-fed, free-range options, the meat we eat nowadays is no longer natural animal protein. This has resulted in many health problems, including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, tumors, and autoimmune diseases. Other metabolic diseases of hypertension, high blood sugar, and hyperlipidemia result from modern lifestyles and eating habits.
The Mediterranean diet plan offers a healthy alternative.
Introduction to the Mediterranean Diet
The most prominent feature of the diet of Mediterranean countries is that plant foods are unprocessed. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are consumed in their natural state.
The diet includes almost completely unprocessed olive oil, called extra virgin or virgin olive oil. Its manufacturing process is relatively simple: physical pressing and oil-water separation to obtain 100 percent fresh olive oil. This olive oil, which has not been chemically modified and has nothing added, is popular in Mediterranean countries.
The Mediterranean diet includes fish, seafood, and poultry, without much red meat. Fruits serve as a sweet treat. Along with a bit of wine that goes with meals, all the above constitute the Mediterranean diet.
The Role of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet focuses less on animal protein and more on plant and healthy fats. It is made with very few processed ingredients and very little added sugar. Therefore, the Mediterranean diet looks particularly good within the context of modern-day eating habits and dietary content.
It all started in the 1950s when heart disease was not as prevalent in Mediterranean countries as in the United States. People began to study the diet of the region, which is reported to protect against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke and to prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. The diet also protects against certain cancers, including breast, stomach, liver, prostate, and cervical cancers. Not only that, but it can help people lose weight and reduce the incidence of arthritis.
When people practice this way of eating, they avoid other eating habits that can induce diseases.
Some say the Mediterranean diet is good for health, mainly because of its healthier fats, such as olive oil. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fatty acids that lower total cholesterol and low-density lipids (LDL). Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in olive oil, avocados, and many nuts.
Fish rich in “good fats” (such as sardines, tuna, salmon, and other deep-sea fatty fish) contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can fight inflammation, lower blood lipids, and reduce the risk of stroke and heart failure.
Studies on the Mediterranean Diet
In a study published in the May 2022 edition of The Lancet, researchers divided more than 1,000 Spanish patients with coronary heart disease into two groups. One group was put on a Mediterranean diet, and the other on a low-fat diet. Both diets emphasize eating fruits and vegetables, but the Mediterranean diet emphasizes foods that are higher in monounsaturated fatty acids, namely olive oil, nuts, beans, whole grains, poultry, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. A low-fat diet contains fewer monounsaturated fatty acids and includes lean fish and poultry.
The two diets also differ in the proportion of carbohydrates. Low-fat diets contain more carbohydrates, such as potatoes.
Tracking the two groups of people for seven years to compare the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, the researchers found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 22 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. This was especially evident in the men in each group.
In conclusion, the Mediterranean diet is easy to start and can provide long-term benefits to your health.
- Remember to eat fish twice a week. The fish must be deep-sea wild-caught fish, not fish obtained from polluted water sources. Farm-raised fish may be polluted. For example, farm-raised salmon may absorb all kinds of heavy metals, which are harmful to the body.
- Whenever you feel hungry, eat a small piece of whole wheat bread with two teaspoonfuls of unprocessed olive oil to relieve hunger.
- Fresh fruit serves as a dessert in the Mediterranean diet. Be careful not to eat fruits that are too sweet.
It is beneficial to move our eating habits closer to the Mediterranean diet and, whenever possible, to choose organic and unprocessed foods.