Mediterranean diet proven healthiest
By Dr. Conway McLean
The health of America is in danger. With the rise in diabetes and obesity, heart disease and cancer, our lives are being shortened or impaired. Our system of medicine is primarily geared towards the treatment of disease, as opposed to the maintenance of health. A hugely important part of this is the fuel and nutrients provided to the body.
The “western diet” is one dominated by the consumption of meat in various forms, and also packaged and prepared foods, often composed of nothing natural. This, in addition to the unnatural fats manufactured for our foodstuffs, has resulted in a tremendous increase in the incidence of heart and blood vessel disease, along with cancer rates.
Although studies on nutrition have rarely been able to provide definitive answers on the topic of nutrition, things have changed. We have collected enough data, articles collated, to know the western diet is detrimental to many components of good health. In contrast, modern science is now able to say conclusively the diet indigenous to the area of the world termed the Mediterranean is most conducive to health and well-being. At this juncture, it is one of the most studied and well-known dietary patterns in the world.
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the eating habits typical of southern Spain, southern Italy, and Crete. It was formulated as a specific nutritional plan in the early 1960s. This system emphasizes plant-based foods and natural, healthy fats. The primary food type consumed are vegetables and fruits, followed by whole grains. The main source of fat in this approach to nutrition is olive oil.
The evidence produced by numerous studies on the Mediterranean diet, or MedDiet as it is now referred to, is now overwhelming. Definitively, it can improve one’s cardiovascular health, lowering the risk of heart attacks and heart disease. But clearly it is able to reduce the chances of developing many other chronic conditions, notably diabetes and certain types of cancer.
The list of demonstrated benefits has grown to include supporting a healthy body weight and proper blood sugar levels. The MedDiet aids in maintaining good blood pressure and also good cholesterol levels. It lowers your risk of metabolic syndrome and supports a healthy gut microbiome. But the list isn’t done: this diet can slow the decline in function of the aging brain. In summary, the MedDiet increases longevity, helping a person to live longer, and better.
From another perspective, a significant consequence of pursuing a Mediterranean style diet is environmental. The effects to the climate of raising beef are hugely detrimental, requiring more water and producing tremendously more greenhouse-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Because of its emphasis on plants as opposed to meat, the MedDiet produces more oxygen, and more carbon dioxide consumed. It has a smaller water footprint and lower greenhouse gas emissions compared with the other dietary patterns. And as temps rise globally, these concerns grow from secondary to life-threatening.
An important attribute of the MedDiet is the focus on eating patterns as opposed to strict formulations. There are no calorie or fat calculations. And because many different countries practice the same concepts, there are many variations depending on regional availability of the beneficial foodstuffs. There is no specific definition, with flexibility in how it manifests. This attribute allows one to tailor it to their needs and preferences.
The benefits appear to be due, at least in part, to the healthy fats consumed in the Mediterranean Diet, which are derived from foods like olive oil, nuts and fish. The reduction of saturated fat and trans-fat is an additional factor in its health benefits. Small amounts of saturated fat are important but too much raises your bad cholesterol, increasing the risk of plaque buildup in your arteries. On the other hand, trans fat has no health benefits whatsoever, being completely artificial. Both of these bad fats appear likely to increase blood-borne levels of inflammation.
Those aiming to align their dietary regimen with the MedDiet should make vegetables the foundation of their foodstuffs. Also important is regular consumption of beans, lentils, and nuts. Whole grains are recommended as part of the MedDiet, eschewing refined carbohydrates and processed flours. Also part of the dietary regimen is a moderate amount of cheese and yogurt.
The Mediterranean diet limits the use of sodium, healthy since a diet high in sodium can raise your blood pressure. There is minimal consumption of sugars and refined carbohydrates, which have numerous harmful effects on our body. Foods high in refined carbs can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels, encouraging metabolic syndrome, diabetes and prediabetes, as well as central adiposity.
Western medicine would like to distill health-giving therapies down to a single agent, but this is not how nature works. Studies have ably demonstrated the diverse assortment of food types in the MedDiet are optimal for health. There’s no single food or ingredient responsible for the many benefits. Instead, the diet is good for you because of the combination of nutrients it provides. The MedDiet is unique, especially because of the relatively high intake of nuts and olive oil, along with including a moderate intake of wine.
The global industrialization of society has led to a rapid dissemination of ultra-processed foods, fast food, and unhealthy eating patterns. An overview of disease trends reveals a clear association with the Western diet, with its emphasis on meat at every meal, packaged foods, and the ubiquitous use of saturated and trans fats.
Although definitive information about nutrition and its relationship to health and disease prevention has been slow in coming, the evidence now is clear. We have done enough studies and gathered sufficient evidence. We know that health, well-being, and longevity are fostered, encouraged, and more likely achieved, if one follows the tenets of the Mediterranean diet.