Top 5 Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Fresh asparagus with radishes and fennel
Fresh asparagus with radishes and fennel

Although the Mediterranean diet reflects the ways of eating that is traditional in the countries that surround the Mediterranean, you can bring the remarkable health benefits and affordable style of eating to your own kitchen.  Your local supermarket has all the fresh and flavorful ingredients needed to follow this healthy way of eating.  The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Eating mainly unprocessed plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil.
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Limiting red meat to a few times a month.
  • Eating fish and poultry at least three times per week.
  • Low consumption of dairy products.
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional).
  • Avoiding saturated and trans fats.

The Health Benefits

Scientists have studied the eating patterns of the Mediterranean diet for over 50 years.  To date, there is a large body of scientific evidence supporting the healthfulness of the traditional Mediterranean diet.  Here are the top 5 health benefits:

  1. Increased lifespan.  A convincing scientific study published in 2013 showed that a Mediterranean-style diet warded off premature death in addition to cardiovascular disease.  Researchers looked at the dietary habits of over 10,000 women in their 50s and 60s.   The study found that women who ate a Mediterranean diet in midlife were about 40% more likely to live into their 70s without chronic illness and with less physical and mental problems than those who ate unhealthy diets.  The healthiest women were those who ate more plant foods, whole grains and fish; ate less red and processed meats; and had limited alcohol intake.  While you probably get the most benefit by eating this way earlier in life, this study shows that starting the Mediterranean diet as late as in your 50s and 60s results in significant benefits.
  2. Decreased cardiovascular disease risk.  The Mediterranean diet has been linked to better cardiovascular health through many scientific studies.  The benefits include lower risk for people who have been diagnosed with heart disease.  A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2012 shows that a Mediterranean-style diet can help prevent future cardiac events (like chest pains and heart attacks) in people with heart disease.  People who ate the most vegetables, salads, and nuts lowered the risk of repeat heart trouble the most compared to those who ate the least of these heart-healthy foods.
  3. Decreased diabetes risk.  Intake of processed foods filled with fat, sugar, and refined grains has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Because the Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole unprocessed foods, risk of type 2 diabetes is reduced.  In 2014, researchers in Vienna, Austria reviewed data of over 122,000 adults to investigate the association between the Mediterranean diet and diabetes risk.  After analyzing data between 2007 and 20014, the scientists found that greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a 19% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  4. Reduced age-related cognitive decline.  Turns out that the nutrient-rich Mediterranean diet keeps your brain intact.  A study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology shows that the Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish, and good fats like olive oil, is linked with better brain health and fewer age-related thinking problems.  In another study published in 2013, researchers in the UK looked at the possible relationship between the Mediterranean diet, cognitive function, and dementia.  They found that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with slower mental decline and decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  5. Reduced risk of colon cancer.  A huge study published in 2012 involving nearly 2 million people showed that increasing  your intake of high-fiber whole grains reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.  According to the study, eating 3.25 ounces of whole grains per day was associated with a 20% lower risk.  Fiber helps improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, and it helps control appetite by keeping you full for a longer period of time.  Men over 50 should get at least 30 grams of fiber, while men 50 years old and younger should get at least 38 grams.  Women over 50 should get at least 21 grams of fiber, while women 50 years old and younger should get at least 25 grams.

The vast body of scientific evidence shows the Mediterranean diet has many health benefits, and many health experts are hoping you’ll be inspired to start the journey to better health Mediterranean-style.  The Mediterranean diet is affordable and one your whole family can follow for good health.