Stacey Frattinger, RD, CHFS, Certified Integrative Health Coach, currently resides in Sparks, NV. She owns a virtual health coaching and nutrition counseling practice, mainly focusing on one-on-one, individualized whole body wellness practices.
The Mediterranean diet consists of fresh, minimally processed foods that are mostly plant-based and rich in monounsaturated fats. Meals are made from a variety of ingredients including olive oil, grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes, fish, and shellfish. Part of what sets this diet apart from others is the encouragement to eat your meals in the company of others to enhance the enjoyment of the eating experience and take full pleasure in your meals. You are also encouraged to eat slowly, savoring the taste and texture of your food. The basic eating pattern includes eating generous amounts of fruits and vegetables daily. Healthy fats, including olive oil and canola oil, are encouraged as part of the cooking process, with herbs and spices to accompany these oils to enhance flavor while reducing one’s salt intake. You are encouraged to limit your red meat consumption, while incorporating fish or shellfish at least twice a week. Red wine, in moderation, is an appropriate component of the diet. Physical activity is encouraged.
The Mediterranean diet originated in the Mediterranean basin, otherwise known as “the cradle of society”. This dietary approach has evolved over the last 5,000 years. The foundation of the diet is based upon a pure respect for living, environmentally and religiously with a focus on seasonal foods, supporting local products, and carrying out traditions when gathering around the table. This particular way of eating has been the subject of intensive research for more than 50 years, after Ancel Keys, PhD, a professor from the University of Minnesota, took an interest in studying the health benefits that result from following this lifestyle. Since Keys’ first observation decades ago, hundreds of studies have continued to document an array of health benefits linked with the traditional Mediterranean diet. These health benefits include: an increased life span, maintenance of a healthy weight, improved brain function, reduced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, reduced cancer risk, lower rates of diabetes, lower rates of heart disease, and lower levels of blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.
Because this is considered more of a lifestyle rather than a diet, you do not have to count calories, adhere to specific carbohydrate counts, or stick to a particular serving size at your meals and snacks, which increases compliance. On the other hand, if you are not willing to change your lifestyle and incorporate more whole, clean foods in place of processed, pre-packaged foods, or add in consistent physical activity, this may not be the best plan for you.
This diet does include higher cost items such as red wine and olive oil, and if you choose to incorporate these items most days of the week, plan to spend more money at the grocery store. Good quality staples often have a higher price tag.
You may find yourself spending more time in the kitchen, preparing meals and experimenting with new recipes, but you absolutely will be able to make appropriate choices when eating out, as most restaurants now offer “heart healthy” or “low fat” dishes that would be considered acceptable. Plan to take a closer look at your schedule to accommodate sessions at the gym or fit in brisk walks throughout the day, devoting more time during your day to intentional movement and physical activity.
There are no safety issues or concerns associated with the diet as whole; however, the addition of alcohol to the plan could certainly be cause for concern when taking both prescription and non-prescription drugs, or driving after a meal eaten out.
Dietitians and medical health professionals agree that this diet is safe and healthy for all age groups, from kids to seniors. The need for red wine consumption as part of this plan could certainly stir some debate among health professionals, so it is best to monitor your red wine consumption as too much of anything will not help your waistline nor improve your health.
Benefits: This high fiber diet will help to boost your fruit and vegetable intake, which may improve or satiety or the feeling of fullness between meals. In addition, you have the potential to get in more omega-3 fatty acids through an increase in your fatty fish consumption, which can improve your brain health, lower your risk of depression, and reduce your rate of cardiac disease. You will have plenty of diversity among your meals and snacks, so boredom will not occur easily unless you tend to repeat many of your meals and snacks by choice. This plan is also a bit unique in that it encourages “mindful” eating through properly chewing food, slowing down at meals.
Downsides: If you are looking to lose weight, this plan may not be as effective as others, particularly for those that are carbohydrate sensitive or enjoy large portion sizes. In addition, you may find the Mediterranean diet to be a bit more difficult if you live alone or have any extremely busy schedule.
The Bottom Line: If you are interested in improving your heart health, and possibly lose weight as you drink red wine in the company of others every once in a while, this might be the plan for you. Just be ready to invest some energy in the kitchen, and then take the time to sit down and savor each bite!