In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, a famous research program called the Seven Countries Study found significant differences in heart disease rates between different countries.
One of their biggest findings discovered that the Mediterranean region (including Greece, Italy, Spain, and Morocco) had rates of heart disease much lower than in other parts of the world. This long-term study also observed that as the Mediterranean populations’ dietary habits changed, their heart disease rates increased. This suggests that their traditional diets were substantially more healthy than the Western diets (fast food, industrially pre-packaged foods, more red meat, added sugars, and trans fats) that were becoming more common.
In response to this evidence, the “Mediterranean Diet” was born. This eating pattern is based on the traditional foods consumed in the Mediterranean region and has since been shown to have several health benefits.
No Calorie Counting
The Mediterranean diet is not so much concerned with how much you eat. You don’t need to count calories or track your food intake. The diet focuses on the quality of the food you’re eating—if all of your food promotes good health, you won’t need to limit yourself to moderate portions.
However, this does not mean that you are encouraged to eat whatever you want. The Mediterranean diet strongly discourages:
- red meat
- fried foods
- pre-packaged meals and snacks
- refined carbohydrates
- sugary sweets
When you fill up on unhealthy foods like these, you’ll tend to increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
But the Mediterranean diet is not all about restriction and denial. Instead of worrying about the foods you shouldn’t eat, focus on the amazing recipes you can make that are packed full of healthy ingredients.
The Mediterranean region hosts a long history of delicious cuisines that only involve healthful ingredients. These recipes include ingredients such as:
- whole grains
- healthy fats (like olive oil)
- herbs and spices
- nuts and seeds
When you are preparing these meals in your own kitchen only using health-promoting ingredients, you can generally feast on as much as you want without having to worry about packing on the pounds. In fact, if you are switching from an unhealthy diet to the Mediterranean diet, there’s a good chance you will lose weight without ever feeling deprived or hungry.
A Little Bit of Wine is OK
The Mediterranean region is home to some of the best wines in the world, and these drinks have been included in their traditional diets for a long time.
Although overconsumption of alcohol is clearly linked to all sorts of health issues, small amounts on occasion probably won’t cause too much damage. Health guidelines recommend limiting your consumption to 2 or fewer standard-sized drinks per day, and not every day.
A glass of wine with dinner is probably OK for most people, but more than that can quickly offset the diet’s benefits and put your health at risk.
One of the main reasons the Mediterranean diet became popular in the first place was its link to heart health. This has been confirmed in numerous studies that have consistently demonstrated the diet’s ability to:
- lower blood pressure
- reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
- increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- improve triglyceride levels
- reduce inflammation
All of these effects work together to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases.
The Mediterranean diet has also been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
This effect is likely due to the high intake of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients and vitamins that are essential for brain health.
And in addition to these long-term benefits, you may also notice an immediate impact on your mood, energy levels, and cognitive function when you start eating a Mediterranean diet.
Live Healthier Longer
In general, people who eat the Mediterranean diet tend to develop fewer chronic diseases, age more healthily, and even live a longer average lifespan.
So if you’re looking for a diet that can help you stay healthy and improve your quality of life as you age, the Mediterranean diet is worth trying.
If you have any chronic health conditions or have an increased risk of developing one, talk to your doctor about whether the Mediterranean diet is right for you.