Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Mediterranean Diet: A HealthCentral Explainer

By APage

Mediterranean Diet Infographic
(click to enlarge)

Much has been said about the healthy effects of the Mediterranean diet--lower mortality rates, fewer cases of heart disease and less chronic illness in that region.  Now researchers at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Navarra in Spain have published a study focusing on what makes the diet so healthy.

How did they do thstudy?
For four years, researchers worked with more than 11,000 university students, first asking them to provide their dietary intake.  Mediterranean foods such as like fruit, fish, nuts, cereals, and vegetables were positively valued, while meat, alcohol, and dairy products were negatively valued.  A questionnaire was used to measure the students’ quality of life after four years of monitoring their eating habits. 

What did they find?
Researchers found that participants who stuck to the Mediterranean diet had better mental and physical wellness, as well as a significantly better quality of life.  The scientists created a Mediterranean food pyramid that outlines the main diet factors:
  • Daily water consumption should be 2 liters.
  • Meals should contain vegetables, fruit, cereals, and dairy.
  • Olive oil should be the main source of fat, but lean animal proteins such as eggs, fish, and seafood are also permitted.
  • Sugar and sweets should be limited; However small amounts aren’t harmful.

Other recommendations include limiting meats and sweets, consuming moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy weekly, consuming fish and seafood several times a week, and basing all meals on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, seeds, and herbs. 

Other key components to following the Mediterranean diet include plenty of exercise, focusing on plant-based foods, replacing butter with healthy fat such as olive oil, using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of table salt,  limiting red meat to once a month, and drinking red wine in moderation. 

So what’s the significance?
While researchers can’t pinpoint the exact reason students showed better mental health and physical quality of life, the Mediterranean diet is believed to be a major factor.  Additionally, improved physical health will generally boost your mental health in the long run. 

Simply adding fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meat, and cereal to your diet, while limiting sweets, could be the first step to fighting illnesses such as heart disease and minor depression by boosting your overall mood. For those with a family history of mental illness or heart disease, adding a fairly non-restrictive diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can be a good strategy for increasing wellness.


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