By Tina Paymaster, PHASE IV Functional Nutrition & Health Specialist
A QUICK HISTORY…
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most thoroughly researched and studied diets. Named after the traditional eating patterns of people in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, it is considered one of the healthiest dietary approaches due to many health benefits including fighting inflammation. These countries include Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain, France, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco and Tunisia.
In the 1950s and 1960s there was increased interest in learning about the connection between diet and heart disease. During this time Dr. Ancel Keys conducted a study, named the Seven Countries Studies, which collected data from about 13,000 men from Greece, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and the United States.
The study was conducted over several decades and the findings showed that the men who lived in the Mediterranean region (the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea) and at a Mediterranean diet had lower mortality rates and more health advantages than the other groups of men – despite having less access to medical care.
An important point to note as well is that these men got daily physical activity (even though irregular) and ate their meals with other people. This shows the important role lifestyle habits, which can affect mood, can play in health as well.
Subsequent studies have also shown the Mediterranean diet to be helpful in fighting inflammation, heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, muscle wasting/weakness and cognitive declines.
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN A MEDITERRANEAN DIET?
A traditional Mediterranean diet consists primarily of plant-based foods and include the following:
Lots of fruits and veggies – Fresh fruits and vegetables that are local and in season make up the bulk of the diet.
Good fats – This diet consists of about 35-40% fat, mainly from unsaturated sources such as avocados, nuts and olive oil. Only about 8% is from saturated fats, which mainly come from meat and diary.
Dairy – Dairy, primarily in the form of cheese and yogurt is eaten in small quantities.
Eggs – Eggs are eaten moderation about four times per week.
Fish – Fish is the main source of non plant-based proteins and is only eaten typically 1-3 times per week.
Beans/legumes – Beans are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. If you have trouble digesting them, try soaking them for 8 hours or overnight and then cooking them with a piece of kombu seaweed as the helps to break down the sugars that often cause digestive discomfort.
Red Meat – Red meat is only eaten up to a few times per month.
Whole Grains – Wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, and corn made up the majority of whole grains, which are eaten in place of refined breads and pastas.
Sweetener – Honey is the primary sweetener used in these regions and sweets are only eaten a few times a week in small amounts.
Wine – Yes, wine – up to 2 glasses per day – is also a part of a traditional Mediterranean Diet. Before you pop open another bottle of Pinot and rejoice, it’s important to understand that the Mediterranean lifestyle is also one with a lot less stress, processed foods and damaging lifestyle habits. Wine can be a part of a healthy diet in moderation, but it won’t benefit you if all the other pieces of the diet and lifestyle puzzle aren’t working together as well.
HOW TO MAKE A MEDITERRANEAN DIET WORK FOR YOU
At PHASE IV we work with people from all walks of life – professional athletes, students, CEOs, moms, dads, doctors, 9-to-5ers and more. While many fat diets have come and gone in the 30+ years we have been serving our clients, we have continued to believe in a primarily Mediterranean approach to our nutritional guidance, keeping in mind that every individual needs to be looked at on an individual basis.
Physical activity intensity, metabolic health, fitness goals and age will all affect your nutrition requirements.
Inflammation is the main cause of injury, longer recovery times and most chronic illnesses. Our goal is to help you get better, fitter and happier not just for the next month, but for the next 10, 20, 30+ years.
Here are few great tips to begin tweaking your diet to support your overall health and performance. If you want even more personalized support including learning what and how much food you should be eating to reach your goals, schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation with our Nutritionist today by calling us at 310-582-8212.
1. Eat more veggies and fruits
We need carbs in our diet, but a good rule of thumb is to get them primarily from greens, vegetables and fruits. Make sure you are getting your daily dose of vegetable at each meal and include a few pieces of fruit earlier in the day with breakfast or snacks.
2. Eat breakfast
Even if it’s something small, a healthy breakfast can provide the fruits, whole grain and fiber your body needs to support your digestion and metabolism for the rest of the day. Think plain Greek Yogurt with berries, eggs with sautéed spinach, tomato and avocado or oatmeal with nuts and fruit.
3. Eat meat and seafood in moderation
Focus on getting most of your non plant-based protein from wild caught fish to ensure you are getting a healthy dose of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Aim for 2-4 times a week. You can swap in a few days of chicken as well.
4. Think plant-based
It’s a good idea to eat vegetarian 1-2x a week to ensure you are getting your veggies and whole grains and giving your digestion a break from difficult to digest animal proteins. There are many sources of vegetarian protein that you can add into your diet and many athletes today are experimenting with this lifestyle change.
5. Limit red meat
Excess consumption of red meat has been shown to contribute to certain types of cancer and other diseases. While it can be a healthy source or protein in a balance diet, limit intake to once a week or a few times a month and always choose organic, pasture-raised sources.
6. Eat whole grains
Believe it or not, studies show that even Paleolithic people at whole grains. Whole grains are a great sources of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Swap out your refined white breads, pastas and rices with whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, rye, barley, buckwheat and whole oats.
7. Get in those healthy fats
Gone are the days when fats were believed to make us fat. Good fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil and coconut oil should be a part of a healthy diet. Make sure to include a source of good fat at each meal. This can not only help your body learn to burn more fat, but it can also improve cognitive health, heart health and ease joint pain.
8. Swap your sugars
Instead of rich, heavy desserts, choose fresh or baked fruit as a tasty dessert. In addition swap out your white sugar with small amounts of raw honey, pure maple syrup, dates or coconut sugar.
9. Get social
Instead of eating along, make mealtime a more enjoyable experience by eating with others. Step away from the television and sit around that nice dining table that’s piling up with old mail. Studies have shown that sharing a meal with others can help in creating healthier eating habits.
10. Cook with others
Cooking is one of the best ways to ensure you are getting the right nutrition. As an added benefit, cooking with others can help to create a more enjoyable experience around meal time. Good moods will lead to less stress, better eating habits and will support your body in digesting your food more efficiently.