You may wonder how Mediterranean dishes such as lasagna, spaghetti, kebabs and spanakopita can be good for your health. Eaten in moderation and prepared in the traditional way, they can be part of a healthy diet. What’s not healthy is eating too much of a good thing. It’s one reason Americans have higher rates of heart disease and shorter life expectancy than people who live in Mediterranean countries. To gain the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, you have to eat in the traditional way: lots of vegetables, small amounts of meat, and enjoying fresh fruit for dessert.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on traditional foods found in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The foundation of the Mediterranean diet is plant-based. Eggs, dairy, poultry, and fish are consumed regularly, but the portions are smaller than typically consumed in a Western diet. Meat is added in small amounts to add flavor to sauces and dishes. Healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados, are also part of the diet.
The main components of this style of eating include:
- Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, legumes and seeds are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet.
- Fish and seafood are eaten at least twice a week.
- Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt are eaten in moderate portions.
- Red meat intake is limited (used mainly for flavor).
- Red wine is consumed in moderation.
What are the benefits of the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet garnered attention in the 1960s when it was observed that those following the diet had some of the lowest rates of chronic disease and some of the highest life expectancies in the world. Since then, it has become one of the most studied diets in the world. Numerous studies continue to show that following a Mediterranean diet is associated with significant health benefits.
Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet include:
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Mediterranean diet is the reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Following this diet limits your intake of processed foods and red meat, which can contribute to an unhealthy heart.
- Lower risk of dementia and cognitive decline. A study published in 2021 found that adults following the Mediterranean diet were 20% less likely to develop dementia. Another study showed a link between a Mediterranean diet and “slower rates of cognitive decline, reduced conversion to Alzheimer’s disease, and improvements in cognitive function.”
- Protection against certain cancers. The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, which can fight cell degeneration and cancer cell growth. The diet has been linked to a lower risk of many cancers, including breast, prostate, colon, colorectal and bladder cancer.
- Helps maintain a healthy weight. While it isn’t intended as a weight-loss plan, following the Mediterranean diet may be a sustainable (and delicious) way to lose weight. By eating more fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed food, fast food and sweets, you can satisfy your appetite without expanding your waistline.
- Increasing your life span. By reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of death in the United States — and cancer, you’re adding years to your life span.
The Mediterranean diet is about more than just food.
Along with a healthy diet, many people in Mediterranean countries treat meals as a social occasion. Mealtimes last longer, allowing friends and family time to savor the experience as much as the food. Making mealtimes a social occasion helps relieve stress and boosts mood.
In addition, people in Mediterranean countries are typically more active than their American counterparts. They tend to walk more than we do, ride bicycles, and enjoy doing things outdoors. It all adds up to a healthier, longer life.
Get a taste of a healthier lifestyle.
At Heritage Senior Living communities, healthy and delicious are always on the menu. Our nutritionally balanced cuisine includes fresh fruit and vegetables, homemade soup, salad, and bread, in addition to seasonal and local favorites.
Residents can also stay active and engaged with a full calendar of life-enriching activities, including fitness classes, book clubs, art programs, discussions, guest presentations, outings and more. To learn how we can support a healthy lifestyle for you or a loved one, contact us or find a community near you.