A nutritionist reveals the missing piece of the Mediterranean diet

of many The fad diets we’ve been plagued with, one of the most enduring is also a balanced, science-backed diet. The Mediterranean diet, so named because of the cuisines associated with the countries surrounding the sea, encourages high-fat, low-carb, low-processing foods.

The diet features whole grains, abundant fruits and vegetables, olive oil as the main cooking fat, and protein mostly from fish and legumes. But part of the diet’s success may come from a specific X factor, something that cannot be measured or tested in a clinical setting.

Where did the Mediterranean diet come from?

The Mediterranean diet can be said to have existed since humans lived and ate around the Mediterranean. When and how it became a popular diet for the rest of the world is another story.

In 1958, American physiologist Ansel Keyes launched Seven countries study. Keys aims to find a relationship between diet and the prevalence of coronary heart disease in seven countries with dissimilar lifestyles and diets: Greece, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Japan and Finland. An important link he sought was how dietary fat affects cholesterol levels. It found that participants from Japan, Greece and Italy had the lowest rate of not only coronary heart disease but all-cause mortality. Oddly enough, the Japanese participants were on a low-fat diet, but the Mediterranean groups (Greece and Italy) had a high-fat diet. In particular, the diet was effective in older adults who did not smoke, exercise regularly, and drink alcohol in moderation.

Beginning in the 1960s, what we now know as the Mediterranean Diet began.

What makes a Mediterranean diet healthy?

While the term “healthy” is relative, the pillars of this diet come from its focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, moderate consumption of alcohol, and avoidance of ultra-processed foods and sugars. The diet is high in monounsaturated fats, which most people call “healthy” fats, is rich in fiber, and has a low glycemic index.

In May 2022, an article was published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition directly Comparison between the keto diet and the Mediterranean diet. In this study, 40 participants with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes spent 12 weeks on a Mediterranean diet and 12 weeks on a keto diet. One of the study authors, Christopher GardnerA Stanford nutrition researcher noted that during both diets, participants lost significant amounts of weight, had better control over their glucose levels, and had lower triglycerides (a value that reflects blood fat content), although a portion of Keto even have lower triglycerides. On the other hand, keto seems to raise LDL cholesterol.

The follow up he found was interesting. Twelve weeks after both trial diets ended, Gardner and his team checked to see which of the participants’ diet habits stuck to. Most of them were eating a Mediterranean diet, which he believes is because the keto diet is more restrictive.

Is there more to the Mediterranean diet than food?

As interesting as this comparison is, Gardner thinks there’s something missing from the discussion about why the Mediterranean diet works, and it has nothing to do with food.

Gardner recalls a publication called Nutrition Action Healthletter from the Center for Science and Public Interest. He remembers about 20 years ago, when trendy diets were at their height, that the Healthletter cover story about the diet came out.

They said, ‘The Mediterranean isn’t just a diet – it’s a lifestyle,'” he says. The cover, says inversetriggered Western European behaviors–walking for hours every day, eating a huge lunch, taking three-hour naps, meeting friends late at night for a light dinner and a glass of red wine.

The idea is that in addition to the food you eat, it is The way you eat and live. This picture of the Mediterranean diet is not just about enjoying the food but about life itself. There is no need to restrict or prohibit certain foods, and eating is an enjoyable group practice. The glowing health benefits stem from the diet itself, as well as from living a low-stress life.

However, Gardner notes that things like joy are hard to define. As such, it is difficult to test multiple factors associated with life satisfaction with the way one tracks multiple macros in a diet.

But there is some support for a healthier diet than the food itself. This idea comes from what is now known as blue areas, or societies around the world where people live as long as possible and are healthier. Gardner remembers from the data that centenarians from the blue zones have two big things in common: a comfortable, physically active lifestyle—and beans. Beans are high in protein, fiber, and low in fat, and they seem to make sense, and they can be easily tracked. Even physical activity is easy to track. But it can be difficult to measure relative levels of relaxation and life satisfaction because they affect an individual’s diet.

“I can’t really randomize you to be at peace with yourself and nature,” Gardner says.

Why does it still exist?

According to Gardner, the key to this diet’s survival is simple: “It tastes good.”

There is no need to sacrifice carbs or fats. It’s flexible and inclusive, Gardner notes because the Mediterranean diet can include Greek, French, Italian, Turkish, and Middle Eastern foods.

As of 2018, nutrition researchers are still researching the science behind the Mediterranean diet. In 2013, the start A study (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) has been published, looking at the effects of the Mediterranean diet in more than 7,400 people. They found an inverse relationship between the diet and risk of cardiovascular disease, as did Keys, and compared it to a group assigned a low-fat diet.

in 2018, the researchers modified their study after withdrawing PREDIMED, although Gardner still considered the original paper to be legitimate and influential. Moreover, the reissued paper reached the same conclusions.

While it may be a fad diet, the benefits of the Mediterranean diet lie in its uninhibited nature and the value that it is not only possible to live a healthy life while enjoying food, but it is in fact complementary.

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