The Mediterranean Diet and Why it Works
There are more diets than you can count, and each one promises to help you lose weight successfully. However, few actually deliver on the promise.
There are diets based on eating only plant based foods. Others promote eating only protein and yet others suggest eating grapefruit all day. Rarely do they offer a balanced way of eating that is healthy for the long term and beneficial for the heart, brain and body.
The Mediterranean Diet is one bold exception. It is considered one of the very best ways to eat for a healthy heart and to prevent depression and dementia.
Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health describes it as an “eating pattern rather than a strictly regimented diet plan”. It’s incorporates the foods common to the countries that ring the Mediterranean Sea and focuses on eating mainly:
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
- Beans and other legumes
- Nuts, herbs, and spices
Meat is eaten in smaller quantities and protein is gained mainly from fish and seafood.
Adopting the Mediterranean Diet and making it a new eating habit is fairly easy because it requires following general guidelines for the types of food one eats, rather than adhering to specific measurements of each food. For example, the rule of thumb is to eat more fruits and vegetables than dairy or protein. Other guidelines include:
- Replace butter and other fats with olive oil which is considered a healthy fat. Healthy fats can also be found in avocados, walnuts, and oily fish like salmon and sardines.
- Fish should be eaten twice each week.
- Poultry, eggs and dairy should be eaten in smaller portions and only once a day or a few times a week.
- Red meat should be eaten only a few times each month.
- Water should be the beverage of choice.
- Exercise should become part of daily life by finding activities that one enjoys participating in.
Numerous studies have shown that the Mediterranean Diet has wide ranging helath benefits from reducing heart disease to protecting the brain against cell damage that adversely impacts cognition.
- A study of 26,000 women found that following the Mediterranean Diet reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 25 percent.
- Another study found that eating increased quantities of foods high in antioxidants, like fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, can protect brain cells against damage from stress. This can protect cognitive function, working memory, processing speed, and reasoning, and reduce the risk of delayed recall.
- Harvard reported yet a third study that showed the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. The Nurses’ Health Study followed 10,670 women between the ages of 57 and 61 to determine the effect of dietary patterns on aging. “Healthy aging was defined as living to 70 years or more, and having no chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, lung disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, etc., or major declines in mental health, cognition, and physical function. The study found that the women who followed a Mediterranean-type eating pattern were 46% more likely to age healthfully.”
A sample of meals on the Mediterranean Diet might look like this:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with strawberries
- Lunch: A sandwich made with whole grain bread and an assortment of vegetables
- Dinner: Salmon with greens dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar
- Snack: A piece of fruit or sliced vegetables
- Breakfast: Eggs cooked as you like, using olive oil to grease the pan, and an orange
- Lunch: Salad with feta cheese, tuna, and small tomatoes (check out this light & flavorful salad dressing recipe)
- Dinner: Grilled chicken with a baked potato or brown rice and steamed vegetables
- Snack: a cup of nuts
There are many other creative meal plans that feature fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The Mediterranean Diet is never boring and the ingredients are always easily found at the supermarket or local farm stands when the season allows. Eating a rainbow of colors found in fresh foods is good for your heart, your brain and healthy aging.
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