Two years ago, my husband and I took a vacation to Northern Italy and we very nearly didn’t come back. No, we weren’t in a life-threatening situation, quite the opposite – the food was too amazing to believe. Everything we ate was so fresh and flavorful that even I, a registered dietitian, didn’t stop to think if it was healthy or not. The good news is that it was indeed healthy. In the words of Yale University’s Dr. David Katz, traditional Mediterranean cuisine is, “the foods you love that love you back” and he is so right.
I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Katz, who is the director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center and a vocal proponent of the Mediterranean Diet, speak at the recent Mediterranean Diet Roundtable 2018, a conference in Washington, D.C. with scientists, nutrition & wellness experts, food industry experts, high volume food services, distributors, importer/exporters, chefs and opinion leaders learning more about the Mediterranean lifestyle and its food system. During his presentation, Dr. Katz announced the Mediterranean Diet earned the #1 spot in the 2018 U.S. News & World Report list of Best Overall Diets. To earn a top spot, a diet had to be relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against diabetes and heart disease. So why aren’t more American’s running to the grocery store to start the Mediterranean Diet? It may be a matter of awareness.
First, let’s define the Mediterranean Diet. It really isn’t a diet at all, at least not in the way Americans typically think about diets, it is more like a cultural style of eating. The many countries in the Mediterranean region each have a unique ethnic heritage where food is often the focal point of every occasion or social event. They also have an abundant supply of natural resources, both plant and animal, which they eat when seasonally available.
When you think about countries from this region, places like Italy, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and Greece, food is one of the very first things that comes to mind. And that’s for good reason – these countries brought us popular foods like pizza, pasta, feta cheese, paella, stuffed grape leaves, caponata and more.
What do these foods all have in common? They share ingredients like fruits and vegetables, fish, ancient grains, legumes, Greek yogurt, small portions of high quality lean protein, and most importantly, extra-virgin olive oil, the cornerstone of the diet.
In addition to the delicious foods promoted by the Mediterranean Diet, research indicates that this cuisine can improve overall Quality of Life. In fact, a recent Newsweek article showcased a new study from researchers at the Weill Cornell Medical College focused on the Mediterranean Diet and its impact on Alzheimer’s Disease. The study found that people adhering to the diet were more likely to delay the onset of the disease by 1.5 to 3.5 years.
Similarly, new research from Temple University published in the June 2017 edition of Annals of Clinical and Transitional Neurology shows that extra-virgin olive oil protects against memory loss, preserves the ability to learn and reduces conditions associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This is important because USA Today reported in 2013 that 5 million American had Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to rise to 14 million by 2050
Additionally, The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine reported in a September 2015 article that women who followed a Mediterranean diet had a 68% lower risk of breast cancer after 4.8 years compared to women who followed a low-fat diet.
Need more reasons to give the Mediterranean Diet a shot? Research indicates that it can positively impact heart health and fight diabetes. Five research papers analyzed data from the PREDIMED study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013 created awareness the diet could substantially reduce cardiovascular disease as well as decrease the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
So, what do you have to lose? Why not give the Mediterranean Diet a try? There are more recipes and cookbooks out there than you realize. A simple search on Google of Mediterranean Diet Recipes produced 1.7 Million results! Making the switch to the Mediterranean Diet is what is called a “no brainer”. If nothing else, it appears this diet is certainly better than a normal Western diet or even a low-fat diet and it tastes great!