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The Mediterranean Diet – What’s All The Hype?

Guest blog by Winthrop University student, Zachary Scott

We all want to live longer, healthier, higher quality lives. However, those of us who live in America and much of the western developed world have seen a trend of lower life expectancies than previous generations, along with greater chances of developing chronic diseases compared with people living in other developed countries. So, what are we doing wrong? Sure, genetics play a role in this trend, but they don’t explain all the differences. The other factors affecting these differences are most likely lifestyle factors and modifiable choices.

Blue Zones

No, Blue Zones aren’t areas where people are feeling overly sad or blue. Quite the opposite, actually! Individuals living in Blue Zones typically live much longer and happier lives than we do in America. These zones include areas in Greece, Italy, and Japan. Blue Zones contain the world’s highest life expectancies and largest proportion of centenarians, or people who live to 100 years or longer. Naturally healths scientists have given special attention to Blue Zones to better understand why this trend is happening. What they’ve discovered are many commonalities in the lifestyles of folks across these Blue Zones.

Enter the Mediterranean Diet. This is actually less of a diet and more of a lifestyle, as it covers more than just nutritional aspects of health. This “diet” features a great number of fresh fruits and vegetables (especially root vegetables) and whole grains; fatty fish; lower amounts of red meat; greater amounts of lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts and legumes; and olive oil, canola oil, and  nut oils. Total fat intake should be between 30-35% of total calories, with the majority coming from sources high in omega-3s, and under 10% of total calories coming from saturated fats. Fiber intake should be relatively high (around 27-37g/day). This “diet” also places emphasis on managing stress and maintaining an active lifestyle.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Health Benefits

Not only has the Mediterranean Diet been found to increase life expectancy, but it is also associated with reduced risk of several common chronic diseases. Reduced risks of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s have been found, likely due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidative nature of this diet. Lower risks of cancer have been noticed as well, also due to the antioxidative qualities. The Mediterranean Diet is most commonly recommended to individuals at risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, stroke, heart attack, etc. All components of this diet have cardioprotective capabilities due to its focus on reduced red meats, increased antioxidants, reduced saturated fats, increased healthy fats, and increased fiber.

If you want to check out how you’re doing on hitting the main goals of this lifestyle, check out the Mediterranean Diet Score Tool. What additional changes can you make to get closer?

Mediterranean Diet Score Tool

References:

Mediterranean Diet Score Tool: http://www.cardiacrehabilitation.org.uk/docs/Mediterranean-Diet-Score.pdf

Sofi, F., et al. “Adherence to Mediterranean Diet and Health Status: A Meta-Analysis.” BMJ, vol. 337, no. sept11 2, 2008, doi: 10.1136/bml.a1344.

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