For years, the Mediterranean diet has been heralded as a healthy diet especially as a key factor in preventing heart disease. In fact, a 2007 US study found that people who consumed a Mediterranean diet lowered their risk of death from both heart disease and cancer. A recent 2009 Canadian study, has just re-confirmed the benefits as well.
So what is the Mediterranean diet? The Mediterranean diet is a simple one that incorporates the basics of healthy eating plus olive oil. It is the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece and Italy. Key components of the Mediterranean diet include:
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables and grains: The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, the diet averages nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are substances thought to protect our cells from a vast array of conditions including cancer, heart disease and even aging. Grains are typically whole grain and usually contain very few unhealthy fats. Bread is an important part of the diet in these regions. However bread is eaten without butter or margarine.
- Healthy fats: The Mediterranean diet contains less cholesterol but has more fats than the typical North American diet. However, the fats are healthy (or “good fats”), including monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, which contain the beneficial linolenic acid (a form of omega-3 fatty acid). These fats are found in canola oil and nuts, especially in walnuts.Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that can help reduce LDL cholesterol(the “bad-cholesterol”) "Extra-virgin" and "virgin" olive oils are the least processed forms, which means that they contain the highest levels of the plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.Nuts may be high in fat, as 80 percent of their calories come from fat, but tree nuts, including walnuts, pecans, almonds and hazel nuts, are low in saturated fat (“bad fat”). Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and may improve the health of blood vessels. Nuts are high in calories, so they should not be eaten in large amounts; in general, no more than a handful a day. For the best nutrition, avoid honey-roasted or heavily salted nuts.
- Very little red meat and fish on a regular basis: Mediterranean diet limits intake of red meat, and features fish at least once a week. In fact, studies have linked high red meat consumption to a vast array of illnesses including premature death. Fish on the other hand, is another source of omega-3 fatty acids is eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean diet. However you should avoid fish that's fried or lcovered with butter or heavy sauces.