As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I am often asked “what is the best diet?”  The answer I give really depends on what your overall goal might be for your health.  Is your goal to lose weight, manage diabetes, decrease risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, hypertension, or stroke?  I got this question from a friend of mine last fall who had been diagnosed with an inflammatory disease that affects the spine called Ankylosing spondylitis.  When we talked about his inflammatory markers (CRP), glucose and lipid levels, my response back to him was you need an anti-inflammatory diet, like a Mediterranean style of eating.

I will say not everyone listens to me when I give out my nutrition recommendations, but he did! He and his wife adopted the Mediterranean way of eating and lifestyle and after 4-5 months, his inflammatory markers went to zero and his lipid levels went to normal range.  He said his rheumatologist was so surprised he asked him what he was doing and just to keep it up!  He had also incorporated stretching twice a day, yoga, and other lengthening and strengthening exercises into his daily routine.  He made the choice last fall to take action and adopt some real lifestyle and dietary changes.

So many times, it is taking the first step to change behaviors that can be the most difficult. Setting intention and goals, determining WHY you want or need to make changes and then enlist the support you need to make it happen. That is what my friend did, and he has seen improvements in his health without having to add lifelong medications to slow the disease progression. This brings me to a couple of my favorite quotes: One by Hippocrates “Let food be they medicine, and medicine be thy food.” or “The food you eat can be the safest form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” by Anne Wigmore.

Interest in the Mediterranean Diet

Interest in the diet began in the 1950s when it was noted that heart disease was not as common in Mediterranean countries as it was in the U.S. Since then, numerous studies have confirmed that the Mediterranean diet helps prevent heart disease and stroke. Many of the foods we eat in our typical Western diet such as high fat dairy like cheese, red meat, sugar, and saturated fats, contribute to overall inflammation in our bodies that adversely affect our health.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that’s based on the traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. This style of eating can play a big role in preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. There is some evidence that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may help the body remove excess cholesterol from arteries and keep blood vessels open.

Plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices, are the foundation of the diet. Olive oil is the main source of added fat.

Fish, seafood, dairy, and poultry are included in moderation. Red meat and sweets are eaten only occasionally.

Healthy fats instead of unhealthy ones

Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (or “bad”) cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat.

Fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats help fight inflammation in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure.

What about wine?

Wine is often associated with the Mediterranean diet. It can be included but only in moderation. While alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease, it has other health risks.

The Mediterranean way

Interested in trying the Mediterranean diet? Get started with these tips:

  • Build meals around vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week.
  • Use olive oil instead of butter in preparing food.
  • Enhance flavors with herbs and spices
  • Fruit should be served as dessert
  • Moderate quantities of low-fat dairy, preferably fermented dairy or minimally processed cheese like Feta, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Ricotta, Greek Yogurt
  • Moderate amount of chicken
  • Red meat should be consumed very rarely, on special occasions.
  • Limit added sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats.

Living the Mediterranean way also means being physically active and sharing meals with loved ones. Savor the flavor of your foods and spend time engaging in the meal.

If you are interested in receiving more information, please call (641) 332-3802 to schedule your appointment.

Carol Laughery, RDN, LDN, RN, BSN