US News & World Report recently ranked the Mediterranean diet as the best overall diet seven years in a row.
Adopting this style of eating is healthy for many reasons. Those who follow the diet's basic principles lose a lot more than weight; they also reduce inflammation, blood pressure, and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
The best part? Dieters are anything but deprived; they can choose from a wide array of delicious, satisfying foods.
Following the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet centers around fresh plant foods—as much as a pound of day of veggies and fruit.
In addition, followers enjoy:
- whole grains
- olive oil
Poultry and dairy products can be enjoyed in moderation—along with red wine.
- Choose whole grain breads, cereals and pastas.
- Eat two servings of fish a week.
- Use spices and herbs to flavor your food instead of salt.
- Cook with olive oil instead of butter. Don't overdo it, though: each tablespoon contains about 120 calories.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Research shows that when it comes to heart health, a diet high in vegetable fat may be dramatically preferable to a low-fat diet.
In 2018, a review of 29 studies that looked at almost 13 million people found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of:
- cardiovascular disease
- coronary heart disease
- heart attack
- Type 2 diabetes
- overall cancer occurrences
- neurodegenerative diseases
For these reasons, the American Health Association (AHA) endorses the Mediterranean diet. Researchers believe the benefits of the diet stem from its emphasis on monounsaturated fats (from avocado, fish, and olive oil) as well as its high fiber, which slows digestion and prevents blood sugar spikes.
A review of studies shows that overweight people who adopted this style of eating lost between 5 and 18 pounds over a period ranging from one to two year.
Those who incorporated exercise into their routine are the ones who lost the most weight.
A new major clinical trial shows that 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in those at high risk by following a Mediterranean diet, rich in extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, fish, legumes, fruits and veggies, and wine.
Researchers followed 7,447 people, ages 55 to 80, who were at high risk for cardiovascular disease. People were broken into 3 groups:
- One group ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil (at least 4 tablespoons a day).
- Another group followed the Mediterranean diet supplemented with a nut mix consisting of walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts. Each day, they ate a generous handful (about a quarter cup).
- The third group ate a low-fat diet.
Of the 288 people who died during the study, 109 came from the group following the low-fat diet. Those on the Mediterranean diets were 30 percent less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke.
In fact, the results were so clear that researchers ended the study early for ethical reasons.
This research is part of a larger project called PREDIMED— a multi-center trial conducted between 2003 and 2011 to study the Mediterranean diet’s effect on cardiovascular disease.
Stress and PTSD
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that women who followed the Mediterranean diet were less likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than those who ate more red and processed meats.
PTSD occurs when a person has difficulty in recovering from having experienced or witnessed traumatic events. Not all people exposed to traumatic events develop PTSD.
Findings suggest that a healthy gut microbiome supported by the Mediterranean diet may contribute to a more modulated stress response.
Fiber and omega-3 essential fatty acids, key components of the Mediterranean diet, reduce inflammation (a risk factor for PTSD) and support the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome, in turn, influences the responses of the amygdala, the region of the brain that processes fear.
Certain beneficial gut bacteria are well-supported by foods found in the Mediterranean diet, including:
- fish and other seafood
- fiber-rich fruits and vegetables: