The Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet
There is no doubt that what is known as the Mediterranean diet is pretty delicious – consisting of plenty of nice things such as fish, vegetables, fruit, grains, fresh eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes, olives, and lamb. It is interesting, varied and colourful, with a wonderful variety of tastes and textures, as well as being nutritionally balanced.
It has for quite some time been considered by qualified nutrition scientists to be one of the healthiest diets around for helping to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Some of its benefits may include increased longevity, lower risk of obesity and chronic disease, and even a reduced risk of Alzheimers and Parkinsons disease.
Features of the typical Mediterranean diet
There really is no ‘prescription’ for the Mediterranean diet and as a rule no requirement to count calories or grams of this or that food group (unless your doctor says otherwise). In general, the diet looks something like this:
- High levels of vegetables, fruits, legumes and cereals.
- Moderate amounts of chicken, fish, low-fat dairy, eggs, and nuts.
- Small amounts of red meat and sweets.
- High ratio of monounsaturated fat (olive oil) to saturated fat – preferably 2:1.
- May also include some red wine in moderation taken with meals.
For the best health benefits, the diet should also be combined with other lifestyle factors, such as moderate exercise.
What the research says
During the 20th century, rates of heart disease began to rise around the globe. But researchers noticed that while rates were high in the US and the UK, they tended to be lower in certain regions, such as in parts of Greece and Italy.
As a result many studies have been conducted to see if there was a link between Mediterranean dietary factors, and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other illnesses.
The five-year PREDIMED study in Spain
This study involved 7,447 subjects. There were two Mediterranean diet groups, one supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and the other with nuts, and a third low-fat diet control group. Some of the results included:
- 39% reduced risk of stroke in the Mediterranean diet groups compared to controls.
- 30% and 28% reduced risk of combined heart attack, stroke and death from CVD for the Mediterranean ‘olive oil’ and ‘nuts’ groups respectively.
- Follow-up of 1,224 subjects after one year showed 6.7% reduced levels of the metabolic syndrome cluster of CVD risk factors.
- Follow-up after five years – lower risk of death by up to 63% in Mediterranean groups.
- Lyon Diet Heart Study – involving 605 middle-aged subjects who had suffered heart attacks. Those put on a Mediterranean diet showed a 72% reduced risk of another heart attack or death compared to the controls.
- Harvard Public Health study – showed reduced metabolic syndrome and risk of CVD in Midwestern firefighters by 35% in comparison to controls.
There are also plenty of other studies on the Mediterranean diet that have produced similar results.
What can you do?
Fortunately the Mediterranean diet – not so much as diet as a way of eating – is not boring or dull, nor will it leave you hungry. You can adopt it by swapping some saturated fat for olive oil, and including plenty of vegetables, legumes, delicious healthy breads, moderate amounts of feta or goats cheese, free-range eggs, fish, slow-cooked lamb, and of course some red wine and great coffee. Who said you had to suffer to be healthy?
There are lots of places to buy Mediterranean food in Sydney, such as at the wonderful markets, delis and supermarkets we are so fortunate to have. There are also plenty of fabulous Greek and Mediterranean restaurants in Sydney. Check out our dining menu at Georges Restaurant in King Street Wharf to see what we mean!
If you have any health issues, make sure you speak to your doctor before making dietary changes.
The Mediterranean diet has many health benefits. You can find great Mediterranean food in Sydney to incorporate into your diet and improve your health.
Did you know research shows that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest for helping to reduce the risks of heart disease and diabetes? Check out our article for more info.