Posted on 26 February, 2018

The Mediterranean Diet: How Does it Work?

By Jacob Andreae in Lifestyle, Nutrition, Health The Mediterranean Diet: How Does it Work?

The Mediterranean diet is probably the world’s most famous and healthy diet. Research shows over and over again that the Mediterranean diet is good for you. Full of fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil, the Mediterranean diet even allows you to drink a couple of glasses of wine. How good is that!

I was sold on the Mediterranean diet as soon as I came across it about fifteen years ago. It sounded nice, the food looked appealing, and it was backed by heaps of research showing that it is in fact, very good for you. But just because it recommends all these yummy foods and wine, does that mean you should consume them, if you don’t already.

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve weight loss, better control your blood sugar levels, and reduce your risk of [multiple lifestyle diseases].

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The Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve weight loss, better control your blood sugar levels, and reduce your risk for depression, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as reduce levels of inflammation in the body.

Inflammation occurs in response to injury. White blood cells and chemicals called cytokines are released into your blood stream or affected tissues to protect you from foreign substances. This is a natural process and an important one, allowing your body to protect and heal itself. However, certain foods can cause chronic and uncontrolled inflammation.

Eating sugar, certain types of oils and fats, allergens, lack of exercise and chronic stress all contribute to inflammation. In addition to increasing the risk for all major chronic diseases such as cancer, dementia and diabetes, they also lead to fat accumulation. Being overweight means you are inflamed. It’s as simple as that.

The mediterranean diet is low in sugar and processed foods, and high in healthy fats and oils — the exact nutritional recommendations for permanent weight-loss. By following this diet, you can reduce inflammation, body fat, the risk for all major chronic lifestyle diseases and fuel your body with what it needs — protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals.

How The Mediterranean Diet Works

  • Fresh fruit

Fresh fruit gives you instant energy from the simple carbohydrates. It is also a good source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Fibre helps keep your digestive system healthy. Vitamins such as vitamin C act as an antioxidant, protecting your body from harmful molecules (known as free radicals) as well as form and maintain connective tissue. Minerals are vital for health and can reduce your risk for disease.

  • Fresh vegetables

With the protein and carbohydrates that your body needs, vegetables also contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals that you can’t get on the same level from anything else. Just like fruit, the nutrients in vegetables help maintain the functions of your body and protect you from disease.

  • Poultry

Apart from being high in protein, poultry such as chicken is also rich in the minerals phosphorus and calcium, which keep bones healthy, as well as selenium, which can reduce the risk of arthritis. Chicken is also rich in tryptophan and vitamin B5, which have a calming effect on the body — good for relieving stress. It is also high in magnesium — the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and responsible for over 300 enzymatic reactions. It is often the most deficient mineral as a result.

  • Fish

Fish is also high in protein, vitamins and minerals, but most importantly, many other nutrients too. Fish is high in healthy fats and oils such as omega-3 fatty acids. The body should contain a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 but in today’s modern Western diet, this ratio can be as much as 1:20 or even 1:30 in extreme cases. Increasing your intake of omega-3 is one way to equal this ratio out. Omega-3 fatty acids are also crucial for brain health and its intake is strongly linked with the reduced risk for many diseases. The healthiest fish include salmon, sardines, shellfish, prawns, trout and tuna.

  • Whole grains

Whole grains contain the entire grain as opposed to refined grains that have been ground into flour. Examples include oats, rye, barley, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, quinoa, corn and air-popped pop corn. Whole grains contain fibre, which in addition to maintaining healthy bowel function, also help to reduce blood cholesterol levels. In addition, whole grains contain B vitamins that help the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrate, as well as magnesium and selenium.

  • Olive oil

One of the most recognisable components of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. Monounsaturated fatty acids improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which carries low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol out of the arteries. Research has repeatedly shown that olive oil reduces your risk for heart disease and new research is now showing it could also be good for your brain.

  • Red wine

Just because this diet says that red wine is good for you doesn’t mean you need to start drinking it if you don’t already. However, if you want an alcoholic drink at night, red wine is a good choice. It’s the antioxidants in red wine that give the health benefits, so if you’re getting your antioxidants from the foods above, there’s really no need to drink it. But don’t let that put a downer on one of the best things about this diet. If you like red wine, go for it. Just stick to less than 90ml for women and 150ml for men per day, and enjoy it with a meal. As with all foods, preservative-free and organic is best. Red wine is no exception. Look for “contains sulphites” or “preservative 220” to know if a wine contains preservatives, and steer clear of these wines.

In summary, the Mediterranean diet is extremely healthy. It includes eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables that provide you with all the vitamins and minerals your body needs. It is also high in protein from poultry and fish that form the building blocks of your body and help to keep you feeling full. Healthy fats are a major component of this diet and in addition to being great for your cardiovascular and brain health, are also a preferred source of energy for your body. Finally, the entire diet is full of antioxidants, which is why red wine makes it on the list. Just keep your intake low and enjoy it with a meal.

Final thought: Although there are lots of positives to the Mediterranean Diet, there is no mention of water. It is probably taken for granted that everyone will consume an appropriate amount of water, but I feel the need to make the point. Ensure you start your day with 500ml—1L of water, and keep your intake up throughout the day so that your urine maintains a clear colour.

Question: Have you tried the Mediterranean diet? What was your experience? If not, what appeals to you the most about this diet? Leave your questions and comments in the discussion section below.

[Image source: CBS News]

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About Jacob Andreae

About Jacob Andreae

I write and speak about Fitness, Nutrition and Mindset. 

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The Mediterranean Diet: How Does it Work?A quick start guide to losing weight and staying on track. Learn the strategies I use to eat and move for optimal health. Includes worksheets to enhance your motivation, commitment and discipline, along with a sample eating plan and exercise program.