A nutritionist reveals the missing piece of the Mediterranean diet

from many Fad diets that plague us with, one of the most persistent is also one that is balanced and backed by science. The Mediterranean diet, so named because of the cuisine associated with the countries surrounding the sea, encourages eating foods that are high in fat, low in carbohydrates, and low in processing.

The diet features whole grains, plentiful fruit and vegetables, olive oil as the main cooking fat, and protein mostly from fish and legumes. But part of the diet’s success may come from a specific X-factor, something that cannot be measured or tested in a clinical setting.

Where did the Mediterranean diet come from?

It can be argued that the Mediterranean diet has been around since humans lived and ate around the Mediterranean. When and how it became a popular diet for the rest of the world is another story.

In 1958, American physiologist Ansel Keyes launched the Seven Countries Study. Keys aimed to find a relationship between diet and the prevalence of coronary heart disease in seven countries with dissimilar lifestyles and diets: Greece, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Japan and Finland. An important link they sought was how dietary fat affects blood cholesterol levels. It found that participants from Japan, Greece and Italy had the lowest rate of not only coronary heart disease but all-cause mortality. Curiously, the Japanese participants were on a low-fat diet, but the Mediterranean groups (Greece and Italy) had a higher-fat diet. In particular, the diet was effective in older adults who did not smoke, exercise regularly, and drink alcohol in moderation.

Starting in the 1960s, what we now know as the Mediterranean diet began.

What makes the Mediterranean diet healthy?

While the term “healthy” is relative, the underpinnings of this diet come from its focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, moderate consumption of alcohol, and avoidance of ultra-processed foods and sugars. The diet is high in monounsaturated fats, which most people call “healthy” fats, rich in fiber, and has a low glycemic index.

In May 2022, an article was published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition A direct comparison of the keto diet and the Mediterranean diet. In this study, 40 participants with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes spent 12 weeks on the Mediterranean diet and 12 weeks on the keto diet. One of the study’s authors, Christopher Gardner, a nutrition researcher at Stanford University, notes that during both diets, participants lost significant amounts of weight, had better control of their glucose levels, and had lower triglycerides (a value that reflects the fat content of their diet). blood), although the keto portion is lower in triglycerides. On the other hand, keto seems to raise LDL cholesterol.

The follow-up he found was interesting. Twelve weeks after both experimental diets ended, Gardner and his team checked to see which of the participants’ diet habits stuck with them. Most of them ate a Mediterranean diet, which he believes is because the keto diet is more restrictive.

Is there more to the Mediterranean diet than food?

As interesting as this comparison is, Gardner believes there is something missing from the discussion of why the Mediterranean diet works, and it has nothing to do with food.

Gardner recalls a Nutrition Action Healthletter publication from the Center for Science and the Public Interest. Remember about 20 years ago, when trendy diets were at their heyday, Healthletter’s cover story on the diet came out.

“They said, ‘The Mediterranean isn’t just a diet — it’s a way of life,'” he says. Cover, he says inverseHe evoked Western European manners – walking for hours every day, eating a huge lunch, taking a three-hour nap, and meeting friends late at night for a light dinner and a glass of red wine.

The idea is that in addition to the food you eat, so is the way you eat and live. This take on the Mediterranean diet is not just about enjoying food but life itself. There is no need to restrict or ban certain foods, and eating is an enjoyable group exercise. Glowing health benefits stem from the diet itself, as well as from living a low-stress life.

However, Gardner notes that things like joy are hard to define. As such, it is difficult to test multiple factors associated with life satisfaction the way one tracks multiple macros in a diet.

But there is some support for a healthy diet more than the food itself. This idea comes from what are now known as Blue Zones, or communities around the world where people are living longer and healthier. From the data, Gardner recalls, blue zone centenarians have two great things in common: a relaxed, physically active lifestyle — and beans. Beans are high in protein and fiber and low in fat, and they seem to make sense, and this is easily tracked. Even physical activity is easy to track. But it can be difficult to measure relative levels of relaxation and life satisfaction because it affects an individual’s diet.

“I really can’t randomly assign you to be at peace with yourself and nature,” says Gardner.

Why do they still exist?

According to Gardner, the key to this diet’s survival is simple: “It tastes good.”

There’s no need to sacrifice carbs or fats. It’s flexible and inclusive, notes Gardner because the Mediterranean diet can include Greek, French, Italian, Turkish, and Middle Eastern foods.

As of 2018, nutrition researchers are still researching the science behind the Mediterranean diet. In 2013, the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) study was published, looking at the effects of a Mediterranean diet on more than 7,400 people. They found an inverse relationship between diet and risk of cardiovascular disease, as did Keys, and compared it to a group assigned a low-fat diet.

In 2018, the researchers amended their study after PREDIMED was withdrawn, although Gardner still considers the original paper to be legitimate and influential. Furthermore, the reissued paper came to the same conclusions.

While it may be a fad diet, the benefits of the Mediterranean diet lie in its non-restrictive nature and the value that it is not only possible to live a healthy life while enjoying food, but that it is actually wholesome.

A nutritionist reveals the missing piece of the Mediterranean diet

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