Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes — The Diet that Has Been Linked to a Longer Life
Hello again! Cheers to another edition of Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes! You may or may not have heard of the Mediterranean diet that has become widely popular for its role in our overall health.
Typically characterized by its sparkling blue waters and mesmerizing architecture, the culture in the Mediterranean Sea offers us much to learn about life longevity, health, and wellness. The Mediterranean diet stems from the cuisine located primarily on the Mediterranean coast- from countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy, and France. The climate there ensures that foods like fruits, vegetables, olives, beans, and fish are abundant.
Research has shown that people living in these regions tend to be healthier, live longer, and have a lower risk of developing many chronic health conditions, especially when compared with people who follow the standard American diet that consists of refined grains, added sugars, fried foods, and highly processed foods. A recent study showed that adopting the Mediterranean diet can add years, even a decade, to your life! This diet has also been proven to help individuals to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight and prevent heart attacks, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
It is hard to define specific foods that belong to the Mediterranean diet because of the variation between countries. Although, overall, their diet is rich in plant foods, minimal in animal products such as dairy and meat, and utilizes herbs and spices instead of excessive amounts of salt. People who live on the Mediterranean coast typically consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and heart-healthy fats like olive oil. They also typically eat less processed foods, added sugars, and refined grains, and limit alcohol consumption.
The best part about the Mediterranean diet is that there is no set plan for following it. Unlike fad diets such as the keto diet or raw foods diet, the Mediterranean diet includes a variety of foods and is not restrictive- therefore it is much easier to maintain. Focus on consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fatty fish, seafood, nuts and seeds, potatoes, extra virgin olive oil, spices, and herbs. These foods provide fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial nutrients. Limit foods such as red meats, processed meats, added sugars, sugar-sweetened beverages, processed and fast foods, and beers and liquors. The Mediterranean diet may be lower in calories, sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat than other diets.
People in the Mediterranean also traditionally practice mindfulness by sharing meals with friends and family and eating without distractions such as their TV, cellphone, and computer. Mindful eating has been proven to have beneficial effects on our body and mental health, as it helps regulate our eating patterns and provokes a positive mindset around food. They also typically participate in daily physical activity due to manual labor and rural living in mountainous landscapes. The cities along the Mediterranean coast are also highly walkable, allowing for more movement amongst the people who live there.
The reasons are clear as to why the Mediterranean diet has been considered a gold standard when it comes to eating. If you have any questions or if there are any nutrition-related topics that you would like me to discuss here on Nutrition Notes, please reach out at LGardner@EPH.org.