3 Health Benefits of Mediterranean Diet Foods

From tapeworms to cabbage soup, mind-boggling food crazes litter the world of nutrition like so many discarded cigarette butts.

But, there are gems hidden within the dietary refuse; particular eating plans that provide a key ingredient to living a longer, healthier life.

One such jewel is the “Mediterranean diet,” a collection of nutritional and behavioral best-practices typically adhered to by people living in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This particular eating regimen also offers a series of benefits specific to the aging population.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

Built on a foundation of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, the Mediterranean diet has slowly gained prominence as an effective way to increase longevity and stave off chronic illness and cognitive decline.

Recently, the diet nabbed the third place spot (out of 29) on U.S. News and World Report’s, “Best Overall Diets,” list—receiving four out of five stars from nutritional experts.

“This diet is an example of great nutrition mostly because it is rich in colorful fruits and vegetables. Which means it’s rich in a variety of powerful vitamins and minerals,” says Gwen Weiss, nutritionist and author of, “Extraordinary Centenarians in America: Their Secrets to Living a Long Vibrant Life.”

Here’s what science has to say about the positive effects of the eating habits of Mediterranean natives:

Keeps elders agile: A 2012 study conducted on elderly residents of Tuscany, Italy, found that keeping to a Mediterranean-style diet decreased a senior’s odds of developing hallmark signs of frailty (slow walking speed, muscle weakness, generalized exhaustion) by about 70 percent, when compared to those who subscribed to a different nutritional program.

Fights chronic ailments: Study after study shows how Mediterranean diet foods can help reduce a person’s risk for developing chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, dental disease, macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s. They may also play a role in helping people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) manage their condition.

Protects the brain: Adhering to healthy lifestyle practices may reduce a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders. “We know that dietary habits can and do have profound effects on our brains both directly, as well as indirectly,” says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., a leading nutrition and brain health researcher and co-author of the book, “The Alzheimer’s Diet: A Step-by-Step Nutritional Approach for Memory Loss Prevention and Treatment.” Ochner’s co-author and colleague, Richard Isaacson, M.D., an Alzheimer’s disease specialist says that a good diet is one that is high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in dairy, saturated fat and refined sugar (a.k.a. the Mediterranean diet). He adds, “The positive effects on memory function associated with a brain-healthy diet may be as effective (or even more effective over time) than those achieved with current FDA-approved medications.”

Good nutrition alone isn’t enough. To reap the maximum health advantages, Weiss stresses the importance of the non-food elements of the Mediterranean diet.

“The Mediterranean people also remain active well into their platinum years, eat moderate portions and savor their food. Americans tend to be more sedentary, eat way too quickly and in excess—which contributes to digestive disorders and obesity,” she says.

Communal meals eaten in the company of family and friends are also an important component of dietary lifestyle of these individuals.

Keep reading to discover some important tips for going Mediterranean:

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Top 3 Health Benefits of Mediterranean Diet Foods originally appeared on AgingCare.com.

Guidelines for going Mediterranean

One of the oft-cited advantages of the Mediterranean diet is that it’s relatively easy to follow.

You don’t have to forgo any major food groups—even sweets. And, because you’re mainly noshing on fiber-rich foods, there’s no starvation necessary.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when attempting to adopt a Mediterranean-style diet:

Go fishing for Omega-3s: A central tenant of the Mediterranean Diet is to avoid all but the leanest meats (sirloin, beef round), and even those should be consumed infrequently. Fish is the preferred supplier of animal protein. According to Weiss, the rule of thumb is to eat fish twice a week. She suggests tucking into tuna or salmon—both of which are good sources of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

Get friendly with (good) fats: The word, ‘fat’ has become taboo in modern society, but there is a crucial difference between “good” fats and “bad” fats. According to Weiss, monounsaturated fats (found in avocados, almond, olives, salmon and tuna) can contribute to heart health by regulating blood pressure and promoting properly functioning blood vessels.

Know your reds: The Mediterranean Diet allows for moderate consumption of red wine which, research indicates may increase longevity, improve immune and digestive system functioning and help maintain healthy levels of good cholesterol (HDL).

Fill up on fiber: Fiber-rich foods such as, fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains should be a staple in everyone’s diet—regardless of age.

Spice things up: The right spices can make a dish delicious without excess salt and fat. Basil, Cardamom, Cumin, Garlic, Nutmeg, Oregano, Paprika, Saffron and Sage are all used in traditional Mediterranean dishes.

Common Mediterranean diet foods:

Arugula
Baba Ghannouge
Couscous
Falafel
Feta cheese
Hummus
Olives
Paella
Pesto
Pita bread
Red wine
Salmon
Spinach
Tahini
Whole grains

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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

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88 comments

Joel Romp
Joel R.2 years ago

lovely read, the wife and I are thinking of going to this diet, because it suits both our personal tastes.

Rosa mc
Lydia Mcintyre3 years ago

Great article and very true also. Thanks!

Photorecipe Step By Step

Hi, great report! There are many interesting studies showing the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on weight control, prevention of breast cancer, strokes, heart attacks, anaemia and others. The Mediterranean diet besides being varied and balanced nutritional intake is rich in fiber, unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. More than a diet is said to be a way of life, which must be combined with moderate exercise daily.
I invite you to learn more about the Mediterranean diet reading our last post: http://goo.gl/tROxL

Regards,

Photorecipe

Julie F.
Julie F.3 years ago

ty

Robby R.
Robby R.3 years ago

I remember an English teacher bringing figs and some other Mediterranean stuff.

Leena K.
Leena K.3 years ago

This suits me and it is really great lifestyle!

Iolani Tedesco
Iolani Tedesco3 years ago

I love this diet but does anyone know how to cook tapeworm? Maybe I read it wrong ?

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey3 years ago

I completely advocate this diet. Especially the part of consuming olive oil. Olive oil has almost single handedly brought my shoulder arthritis to something I rarely notice anymore.

Marie W.
Marie W.3 years ago

The key is REAL food.

Syd H.
Syd H.3 years ago

And let's not forget the nuts. Almonds taste different in every country. Hazelnuts in Turkey really do taste better than the US ones, & the Walnuts from Iran are simply amazing. But the pistachios! Several different kinds it turns out. It's heaven. In Turkey, sunflower seeds are ubiquitous. But also pumpkin seeds.

My first night back in Istanbul a get together among friends we sipped black tea (grown in Turkey) gathered around a table while we peeled & shared citrus of several kinds, Turkish pears (interesting), several kinds of nuts (cracking hazelnuts with our teeth which is easy it turns out), and dried fruits. All vegan even though not all the people were. No gluten either.

Chips also only get a small rack in the stores, not an entire aisle. Produce is usually outside colorfully inviting people inside to shop.

Soups too, are often vegan as in Portugal (pureed veggie -- even McDonald's has soup on the menu) and Turkey (red lentil) plus really inexpensive. But super delicious.