There is a reason why Europeans located around the Mediterranean live as long as they do. France, Spain, Italy and Greece are among the countries with the longest life expectancy in the world (particularly compared with the US, which ranks 38th). Lifestyle plays a major part in how healthy we remain as we age, and following a Mediterranean diet can help you remain healthy and active well into your senior years.
The "Mediterranean Diet" is not a diet in the weight loss sense, but rather a way of eating and living that reflects the lifestyle of the countries around the Mediterranean as they were in the mid-20th century. In his Seven Countries Study, Ancel Keys, a researcher who studied the association between diet and health, found that the traditional diet of cultures located around the Mediterranean was associated with lower rates of heart disease and cancer and the people there enjoyed greater longevity.
Keys had found an association between blood cholesterol and heart disease, believing that saturated fat was the cause. His conclusions have since been questioned due to the results of more recent studies that show that saturated fat is not associated with coronary heart disease, and in fact, some studies have found that increased intake of saturated fat in the diet can lower the risk of heart disease.
Nevertheless, the basic tenets of the diet are sound and are still considered to be good advice for those looking to improve their health. The Mediterranean Diet follows these basic guidelines as to what you should eat:
- High amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables – These provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants that keep your cells from being damaged by free radicals
- Low amounts of red meat – Meat is included in minimal amounts when eaten at all
- Low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry – Fresh seafood is a staple of life around the Mediterranean and provides essential fatty acids that help preserve cognitive ability into old age
- No processed foods – Refined foods such as white flour and sugar are rarely eaten, instead being substituted by whole grains and natural sugars such as those in fruit
- Fewer than four eggs a week
- Sugary desserts only a few times a week
- Low to moderate intake of milk products (such as cheese and yogurt)
- Wine in moderation, particularly taken during meals
- Olive oil is the predominant fat used, along with other mono- and polyunsaturated fats
- Little saturated fat
The Mediterranean Diet can essentially be summed up as the practice of removing processed foods from the diet, and eating fresh, whole foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, and adding fish and poultry in reasonable amounts, along with the occasional glass of wine. As diets go, it's not one that is unpleasant to follow!