Why do we want to eat and live like people from Mediterranean countries? It’s simple – they appear to live longer, happier lives. The cultural foods of these people have been studied extensively for their health benefits. The first study, the Seven Countries Study, revealed that people in Mediterranean regions had lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease (1). Since then, the Mediterranean diet has been held up as a model of a healthful eating pattern for disease prevention and longevity.
The Mediterranean diet is chock-full of colorful vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fish, with moderate levels of red wine and small amounts of red meat and dairy products. This pattern of eating has been shown to help lower rates of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome (2) – especially when coupled with physical activity, less stress, and no smoking. Eating this way has been shown to decrease rates of sudden cardiac death, too.
A recent study followed the eating habits of firefighters in the Midwest. The researchers found that those who ate more fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and fish had a 35% lower risk of metabolic syndrome. They also had better blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels than those that ate a typical Western diet (3). In fact, the firefighters who ate a Mediterranean-style diet were 43% less likely to gain weight.
Enjoy Mediterranean Flavors:
From savory oils, nuts, and grains to sweet fresh or dried fruits, pairing flavors can bring the Mediterranean into your very own kitchen.
I enjoy drizzling olive oil over salads with citrus fruits and leafy greens. You could also toss some pistachios or walnuts into a bowl of broccoli. Top it with a bit of smoked paprika. Of course, you can always get creative with fish by topping a filet with cherry tomatoes, white beans, and fresh tarragon.
By Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN
- Kromhout D, Keys A, Aravanis C, et al. Food consumption patterns in the 1960s in seven countries. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989 May;49(5):889-94.
- Rosella Saulle, Leda Semyonov, and Giuseppe La Torre Cost and Cost-Effectiveness of the Mediterranean Diet: Results of a Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2013 November; 5(11): 4566–4586.
- Yang J, et al. Modified Mediterranean Diet Score and Cardiovascular Risk in a North American Working Population. PloS One. February 4, 2014.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.