For more than 50 years, doctors have observed that Mediterranean people are very healthy. They are much less likely, than those in more industrialized countries, to suffer from heart diseases or strokes. They have amongst the lowest rates of chronic diseases and the highest adult life expectancy. Mediterranean diet is said to be very heart friendly. What are their secrets?
The Mediterranean food pyramid is recognized as the “gold standard” eating pattern that promotes life long good health. In 1993, the Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the European Office of the World Health Organization made the Mediterranean diet even more popular when they came up with the food pyramid called The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.
1. They eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains
The people living in the Mediterranean eat a lot of food from plant sources: fruits, vegetables, potatoes, breads and grains, beans, nuts and seeds. They try to avoid processed food and prefer seasonally fresh and locally grown foods. By doing this, they get most of the healthy micronutrient and antioxidant.
Legumes, tomatoes and tomato products are a staple food in the Mediterranean diet. Tomatoes contain lycopene, important in the fight against heart disease and cancer. Mediterranean’s don’t get majority of their calcium from dairy like in the US. Instead they consume most of their calcium from plant foods like dark green vegetables, figs, seeds, almonds, tofu and white beans.
Some of the popular vegetables in the Mediterranean diet are: Spinach, Eggplants, Tomatoes, Broccoli, Peppers, Mushrooms, Garlic and Capers Beans.
The Mediterranean’s eat fruit for desert instead of cake. Olives, Avocados, Grapes are only some of the fruits that are very much enjoyed in the Mediterranean. If you eat 3-4 fruits every day you will get the antioxidants, crucial in the fight against heart disease and cancer.
2.They have nuts for snack
Nuts are a staple food in Mediterranean diet. They are high in healthy monounsaturated fat, the one that does not get stuck in our arteries. Scientific studies have found that almonds and walnuts are the most beneficial for our health. Have a handful of nuts as a snack in your morning break.
3. They spice their food with garlic, onions and aromatic herbs
Mediterranean herbs flavor everything from meats, soups and stews, to pizza and spaghetti. You can replace salt with garlic and aromatic herbs. Garlic has been found to be a major contributor to the low incidence of high blood pressure in Mediterranean countries. Recent studies have shown that garlic reduces cholesterol and triglycerides, lowers blood pressure and prevents the formation of blood clots and protects our bodies through its antioxidant properties. Onions and other aromatic herbs work very similar to garlic. They contain about 25 active compounds that appear to help combat heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
4. They eat less of fat cheese, yogurt, eggs and red meat
Dairy is not as big a part of the Mediterranean diet as it is of the typical American diet. Sure, yogurt and cheeses are an important part of the Mediterranean cuisine, but still they don’t eat as much because they use it more sparingly as an appetizer or dessert, or in a salad.
But cheese and yogurt can be really good for you. They contain a lot of calcium. The downside is that they have a high cholesterol level, but if you choose the low-fat or non-fat versions you will get a lot of the good calcium without the bad fat. The Mediterranean diet recommends 2 servings (or more depending on your needs) per day of dairy foods. A serving equals 1 cup of low-fat or nonfat milk or yogurt or 1 ounce of low-fat cheese.
Eggs are consumed moderately in the Mediterranean diet. They only eat 0-4 eggs per week and that includes the amount used in cooking and baking.
They prefer fish and poultry over red meat. In fact, they only eat red meat a few times per month. Have fish and sea food two or three times a week. You should try to eat more of salmon, trout and herring because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your health. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may help against: cardiovascular and heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation, acne, depression, anxiety, birth defects and miscarriages.
5. They prefer olive oil
They don’t eat a lot of butter and margarine. Instead they replace all that saturated fat with olive oil, rich in unsaturated fat and anti-oxidative substances. They really love their olive oil and that is really good since it has many beneficial health effects. It offers protection against heart disease by controlling cholesterol levels and has a beneficial effect on ulcers and gastritis and also lowers the incidence of gallstone formation. In other words, if you want to stay healthy, switch to olive oil!
6. They enjoy a glass of wine
They are known to take a glass of wine with meals and studies show that, in some cases, it might be good for your health. If you drink moderately (one glass of wine per day) it may improve your heart, help you lose weight, reduce forgetfulness, boost your immunity and help prevent bone loss. Be aware though, that drinking alcohol should be avoided when it puts the individual or others at risk.
7. Their life style is relaxed and sociable
Another important thing to consider, that actually contributes to good health, is their life style. In the Mediterranean, mealtime is not rushed. People usually relax at the table. They share food and conversation with family and friends. All this helps to reduce stress and improve the body’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. Stress will slow your metabolism and will make you eat more. More stress means more stored fat in your body. This is why a relaxed life style is so important for your health.
Another good habit amongst the Mediterranean’s is their afternoon naps. Scientific studies have showed that taking a nap is very good for you health. Your nap should not be longer than 20 minutes, or you may wake up with a headache. A 15 minute nap at midday will help keep stress away.
8. They walk or take their bike
Eating a Mediterranean diet and following national recommendations for physical activity are each associated with a reduced risk of death over a five-year period, according to two reports in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The Mediterranean’s enjoy walking, swimming, playing soccer, basketball and tennis. The easiest way of exercise is when you integrate it into your daily activities. For example, walking and bicycling are typical methods of getting from place to place in many parts of the Mediterranean but not so common in the US. There are ways to get around that, though. Get up early and go for a 20-minute walk before breakfast, or try to go for a short walk during your lunch break. Other ways may be to park your car a walking distance from stores, or jump off one bus/train stop earlier, or take the stairs. There are many ways, be creative!
To summarize: Focus primarily on eating fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains with daily servings of dried beans, nuts or seeds. Consume fish regularly and only small amounts of red meat. Use garlic, onion and herbs to spice your food and reduce the salt. Olive oil should be your main source of fat, instead of butter or margarine. When you crave for a dessert don’t go for the high-fat, high-sugar desserts and bakery products, choose fruits. Eat slow with friends and family and take a short nap. Enjoy your daily walks!