The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet

The countries of the Mediterranean basin have consistently had lower rates of cardiovascular disease than the United States. The diet of these countries, the Mediterranean Diet, is an important contributing factor.

A 2013 study in The New England Journal of Medicine (republished in 2018) identified that the adoption of a Mediterranean Diet “resulted in an absolute risk reduction of approximately 3 major cardiovascular events per 1000 person-years, for a relative risk reduction of approximately 30%, among high-risk persons who were initially free of cardiovascular disease.” Additionally, a study published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2022 demonstrated similar benefits even in those people who had had a prior cardio- vascular event.

This well-studied diet has been associated with a reduction in the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, complications of pregnancy, and certain types of cancer. It has also been connected to a reduced risk of depression and improved cognitive function.

The Mediterranean Diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and other healthy fats. It embraces olive oil as an important source of fat, and rejects butter, which is commonly used in the U.S. It also emphasizes fresh, colorful eating and rejects food and ingredi- ents which are heavily processed. It is high in antioxidants, rich in nutrients and is packed with fiber, all factors that can contribute to improved weight management.

What is not in this diet is as important as what is in this diet. Refined carbohydrates (sweets and white bread), saturated fats (milk, butter, ice cream), fatty meats and processed foods are all excluded. Alternative sources of iron include nuts, tofu, legumes, and dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. Iron absorption can be augmented by foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Converting to the Mediterranean Diet is uncompli- cated and can be accomplished with a series of food-swaps. For example, fish for red meat, brown rice for potatoes, and olive oil for butter. Implementation should be gradual; every few days, replace an unhealthy food item with a food that is on the Mediterranean Diet list, and move toward full implementation of the diet over the course of several weeks.

The Mediterranean Diet is achievable in its simplicity and availability, and sustainable in the abundance of flavors and textures it offers.

An excellent source of more information is available online by searching for: The Harvard Health Blog: A Practical Guide to the Mediterranean Diet

Food lists and cookbooks are also available online.

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