Wouldn?t it be lovely if there was a delicious way of eating that was good for your heart, reduced your cancer risk and protected you from dementia?
Welcome to the Mediterranean diet.
It?s a perfect balance of vegetables, grains, beans, fruits and fish, with smaller portions of dairy foods and just a little red meat, drizzled in olive oil and served with wine. Here?s the best part: Recent studies suggest the closer you adhere to the traditional Mediterranean diet, the longer you?ll live.
Of course, many Europeans have been eating this way for centuries, but in the 1950s, Ancel Keys, Ph.D., a health researcher, "discovered" the Mediterranean-style diet when a colleague wrote him to say that men in Naples, Italy almost never had heart attacks. His ?Seven Countries? study, which found associations between cardiovascular disease of populations and their diets, proved its benefits. Keys loved the lifestyle so much that he moved his whole family to southern Italy where he lived to be 100. He was proud that he never developed coronary heart disease.
?The Mediterranean diet increases longevity,? says Antonia Trichopoulou, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at the University of Athens Medical School in Greece. Research shows it helps lower your risk of developing heart disease and several forms of cancer. Research also shows a lower risk of Alzheimer?s disease in the elderly, and a lower risk of asthma in children. Even if you?ve had a heart attack, switching to the Mediterranean diet can cut your risk of dying prematurely by nearly a third, according to research.
Trichopoulou says there are nine key elements to the Mediterranean diet:
- Olive oil as the primary source of fat
- High daily consumption of vegetables
- Low consumption of red meat
- Consumption of fish and seafood at least once or twice a week
- Daily consumption of ?pulses? such as beans, lentils and
- High daily consumption of cereals, especially those made of whole grains
- Low to moderate consumption of dairy, with an emphasis on preferred consumption of yogurt and cheese
- High daily consumption of fruit
- A regular but moderate intake of alcohol, mostly as wine, usually during meals
The latest research suggests that some elements of the diet may be particularly protective. In a study of nearly 25,000 Greek men and women, the components of the Mediterranean diet found to be the most protective were moderate consumption of alcohol; low consumption of meat and meat products; and high consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil and legumes. Consumption of cereals and dairy foods didn?t make a difference in longevity. It should also be noted that this group did not consume much seafood, so that didn?t show up as a longevity contributor in this particular study, although many other studies have found that regular seafood consumption cuts heart disease risk.
A simple way of eating
The Mediterranean diet may be one of the healthiest dietary patterns ever discovered. But just drizzling olive oil on your steak won?t help you get healthier. Nor will eating one extra vegetable serving. There are no magic bullets or superfoods: It?s the whole dietary pattern that protects you.
?I think that food and nutrition is not a complicated issue,? says Dr. Trichopoulou. ?Of course, if I go to a restaurant, I like something to be well presented. But in my daily life, it?s not so difficult to eat healthfully. I think you have to simplify things.?
The Mediterranean diet, she says, ?takes into account the synergies of the foods. It?s a simple, frugal cuisine. When you eat the foods, they speak to you.?
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