Joanna Foley, RD, CLT
Joanna Foley, RD, CLT, is a registered dietitian and the owner of a private nutrition consulting business at joannafoleynutrition.com.
Chances are that you have heard about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. This eating style has consistently been ranked by major health and news publications as the best overall diet of the year. You may be wondering what exactly makes this diet so beneficial and how it can help you live a longer, healthier life.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is based on the traditional foods and eating styles of the people and countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
The diet is composed of a variety of plant foods including fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and other legumes, fresh herbs, and whole grains.
Wild-caught fish and other seafood are the primary animal products consumed on this diet, while other animal products like high quality cheeses, free range poultry, and cage-free, organic eggs are consumed in smaller amounts and less often.
Red meat is consumed very infrequently and in small amounts. Olive oil is a primary source of fat, and things like red wine and desserts like dark chocolate are enjoyed in moderation.
How a Mediterranean diet is the path to longevity
Many studies have linked a Mediterranean diet with longevity. Research shows that following this diet can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and many types of cancer, which are leading causes of death in the world.
It has also been studied and shown to slow or help prevent the development of age-related diseases including Alzheimers disease. In addition, a comprehensive study of elderly Europeans showed that following a Mediterranean diet led to a 7% reduction in all-cause mortality.
Following this diet can also produce improvements in many other aspects of health, including blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
While it is not a restrictive diet intended for weight loss, it can also help with weight management if it replaces less healthy eating styles.
The benefits of this eating style come from the many types of antioxidants, polyphenols, and anti-inflammatory nutrients that make up the foods in this diet, which help protect your body from disease.
How to follow a Mediterranean diet for longevity
Longevity and the other health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet are not limited to only people living in Mediterranean areas, but by anyone who follows this eating style.
Here are some tips for incorporating a Mediterranean diet in your life:
- Choose olive oil in place of butter or other fats. Olive oil can be used in salad or other dressings, as a dip for bread, and in low to medium temperature cooking.
- Snack on a variety of nuts and seeds, such as almond, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pistachios, and brazil nuts.
- Enjoy plant-based proteins, like chickpeas, lentils, and soybeans in place of animal-based proteins more often.
- Eat fish and other seafood 2-3 times per week. Wild-caught canned or fresh fish are both suitable options and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways.
- Switch to whole grain products, such as whole wheat bread, pasta and tortillas as well as other whole grains like oats, quinoa, farro, couscous, barley, and wild or brown rice.
- Include fresh fruit with most meals and snacks. Pair fruit with a protein and fat source to create a balanced meal and snack that won’t leave you hungry.
- Eat more salads.Enjoy salad as a side dish or as a main course by including plenty of protein, high fiber carbs, and healthy fats to your leafy greens.
- Replace other alcoholic beverages with red wine. This provides your body with the health benefits of antioxidants.
- Limit sugary drinks, including soda, sweetened tea and coffee, and juice, and drink more water instead.
Remember that it is best to start small when making dietary changes. Pick one area you can modify your diet each week that is both realistic and sustainable to you, and begin incorporating it gradually.
Sample Mediterranean diet meal plan
Breakfast- Oatmeal mixed with nut butter and chia seeds and topped with fresh berries. Enjoy 1-2 eggs on the side.
Lunch- Entree salad made with leafy greens, filet of cooked salmon, vegetables of choice, cooked quinoa, feta cheese, and a handful of almonds, drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Dinner- Lentil soup made with vegetable broth, canned diced tomatoes, cooked lentils, diced onion and zucchini, a variety of fresh or dried herbs and seasonings, and topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Snacks- veggie sticks dipped in hummus, apple paired with nut butter or cheese slices, or trail mix made with a variety of nuts, seeds and unsweetened dried fruit.
Dessert- 70% or greater dark chocolate and/or a glass of red wine
Follow the path to longevity with the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is proven to be among the best for overall health and longevity. It’s simple and delicious and can be enjoyed by anyone.