Why is the Mediterranean diet so healthy?
What is a Mediterranean diet, and what makes it so good for you? Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, gives her view on the benefits of the sunshine cuisine.
There has been a lot of talk recently about whether fat or sugar is the worst offender when it comes to our diets. However, by focusing on individual dietary components, it’s easy to miss the bigger picture. While it’s important to understand how different foods and nutrients affect our health, a whole diet approach offers a more helpful way of looking at our eating habits and choices.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
A typical Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, cereals and cereal products, for example wholegrain bread, pasta and brown rice. It also contains moderate amounts of fish, white meat and some dairy.
It’s the combination of all these elements that seems to bring health benefits, but one of the key aspects is the inclusion of healthy fats. Olive oil, which is a monounsaturated fat, is most commonly associated with the Mediterranean diet, but polyunsaturated fats are also present in nuts, seeds and oily fish.
What are the health benefits?
Research into the traditional Mediterranean diet has shown it may reduce our risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are all risk factors for heart disease. It has also been found that people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet may live a longer life and be less likely to put on weight. While further research is still needed, early studies suggest that adherence to a Mediterranean style diet could be associated with a lower risk of dementia. With an abundance of brain healthy foods like olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and legumes central to this way of eating, it's unsurprising to see this link come into play.
How does it work?
As research into the benefits of this type of diet is ongoing, there may eventually be certain foods that are found to have greater significance for health. For now, however, it seems it is the overall diet approach and the combination of foods, rather than individual ‘superfoods’ that make this such a healthy way to eat.
This makes sense, as it’s true that if you are eating an unhealthy diet full of processed foods, adding one element such as olive oil is unlikely to have noticeable health benefits if that’s the only change you make. However, if you adjust your whole diet so you eat a little less meat and more fish, opt for healthy fats and eat more fruit and vegetables, then it could make a significant difference.
Although we are some way from the warm Mediterranean coast, it’s still possible to adopt this style of eating without making massive changes. Try out our favourite healthy Mediterranean recipes.
Do you have a taste for the Med? If you’ve adopted a whole-diet approach and have found it has worked for you, leave a comment below…
For more information on heart health
Spotlight on… heart disease
The British Heart Foundation
Vegetarian Mediterranean recipes
Healthy Mediterranean recipes
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