The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating plan based on typical foods and recipes of Mediterranean-style cooking. It focuses on the eating and lifestyle habits common to those living in parts of Greece, Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain that surround the Mediterranean Sea. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans points to this way of eating as an example of a healthy-eating plan. It emphasizes plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It replaces butter with healthy fats, such as olive and canola oils, and uses herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods. Red meat is limited to no more than a few times a month, while fish should be on the menu twice a week.
Dr. Ancel Keys, who died at age 100 in 2004, was a world-famous physiologist at the University of Minnesota. Most of his adult life was spent studying the effects of diet and saturated fat as a major cause of heart disease. He was responsible for two famous diets: K-rations for combat soldiers in World War II, and the Mediterranean diet. He conducted a study after World War II which examined the health outcomes of around 13,000 middle-aged men in 7 countries, including the United States. He and his associates found that men from Crete, a Greek island, had lower heart disease rates than their equals in other countries. They determined that this was credited to their postwar “poor” diet, which consisted mostly of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and fish.
From that work evolved the “Mediterranean diet”. Since Keys’ first observation decades ago, hundreds of studies have documented an array of health benefits linked with the traditional Mediterranean diet, including increased life span, healthy weight, improved brain function and eye health, fewer symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and poor fertility, lower risks of certain cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, and lower levels of blood pressure.
Dr. Rico Orlandi, a Minneapolis cardiologist, gives all his patients a copy of the Mediterranean diet. Here are a few excerpts from that document, which includes a healthy life style, a way of life that incorporates wholesome foods, family and friends and being active. The food is comprised mainly of fresh fish, lean meat, whole fruits and vegetables and heart-healthy whole grains and oils.
On Exercise: Stay hydrated, Drink plenty of water before, during, and after any physical activity. Don’t get bored: replace one day with gardening, another with the gym, and another with tai chi classes, for instance.
On Food: Lots of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts (not more than 1 handful per day), use of healthy, monounsaturated fats such as Olive and Canola oils.
The Mediterranean “diet” is not a diet as we know; it’s a way of life. In general, this is the way to eat.
Eat these: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil. Eat in moderation: poultry, eggs, cheese, yogurt, fish, and a small amount of red meat–one to two times a month.
Don’t eat: Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.
Michael Pollan, a distinguished American journalist, activist and professor of journalism at the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism writes about food and sums it up with 7 words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.