By Lorna Fedelem, MD
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
More a style of eating than an actual “diet,” the Mediterranean diet is based on the cuisine found in the areas bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Western diets are often meat-focused, while Mediterranean-style diet is largely plant-based including vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins, like fish. The Mediterranean diet also avoids red meat, refined sugars, uses small amounts of dairy, and includes heat-healthy grains, legumes and olive oil.
What are the benefits of following this style of eating?
First and foremost, the Mediterranean-style of eating is a well-rounded approach to ensuring your body gets what it needs. It is not terribly restrictive (like other diets for weight-loss) so it is a sustainable choice for a healthy lifestyle. It is considered a “heart-healthy” way of eating because it has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease primarily by lowering LDL cholesterol. It also has been shown to reduce certain cancers, improve blood sugar control for those with Type II diabetes, and possibly decrease risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Why is a healthy diet important as we age?
A healthy diet is important at any age, but for those in midlife, proper nutrition along with regular exercise is more important than ever. All of us tend to gain weight as we age due to decreased activity and loss of muscle mass. Unfortunately, we find that the calorie counts that worked for us in our younger years are likely too high as we get older. For menopausal women, the decrease in estrogen leads to a shift of fat to the mid-section. Obesity, especially this deeper “belly fat” obesity, has been linked to serious health conditions such as certain cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
How difficult is it to switch to a Mediterranean-style of eating?
It’s so much easier than you might think! Again, don’t think of it as a restrictive diet, like a low-carb or low-calorie diet, or one that requires you count macros or even fast. There’s none of that here. Instead, you focus on fresh foods, nothing processed, healthy fats (think: olive oil, avocado, etc.) and lots of veggies. You can have bread (in moderation) – stick with whole grain or pita. And the menu options are limitless! Search for recipes online that emphasize seafood, fresh veggies, herbs and spices, and whole grains or beans. Even wine (in moderation) is fair game. You can find some of our favorite recipes here, here and here.
Will it help me lose weight?
Although that’s not its intent, many people do lose weight (or find it easier to maintain their ideal weight). Following Mediterranean-style diet does mean you’ll eat fewer processed food and more healthy fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber and help you feel full faster, which might mean you consumer fewer calories. Combined with regular exercise, the Mediterranean-style of eating has been shown to be an effective, sustainable, healthy lifestyle choice.