Have you ever heard anything about the Mediterranean diet before?
I bet you did!
It is one of the most popular diets that is considered to be the healthiest diets by the American dietary guidelines and many more.
It is also recommended by the majority of doctors as a healthy way to improve your health and lose extra inches.
However, a lot of people in North America found that even though it promotes health and weight loss, it is not as efficient as some other diets in reaching certain health goals.
Because North American food industry has some specifics that includes adding hidden sugar to the healthy products or not labeling GMO foods or ingredients to name a few.
But this is the topic for another post.
Here we will talk about is the Mediterranean Diet? And how is it different from the Paleo diet?
What Is The Mediterranean Diet?
As you could probably guess, the origins of the Mediterranean diet come from the eating habits of people living in the Mediterranean region, which includes Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey.
Similar to the Paleo diet it promotes a healthy lifestyle and weight loss.
The Mediterranean diet is believed to be the healthiest diet for a couple of reason:
- It promotes a healthy lifestyle;
- It is a well-balanced diet that includes the balance between all macro- and micronutrients, such as protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals;
- It is a high-fiber diet that includes high consumption of vegetables and fruits;
- It is considered an ‘enjoyable’ diet as it does not eliminate any specific food groups but promotes a healthy balance between them;
- It allows having a glass of wine per day to complete the meal.
As you can see the Mediterranean diet looks like an easy diet to follow.
Even though it has been around for centuries, the real interest to it arises by the American biologist Ancel Keys and his wife chemist Margaret Keys in the Seven Countries Study published in 1970.
However, the version of the diet that we know today was presented by the Harvard University doctor Walter Willet in the mid-1990s (1).
What Are The Main Principles Of The Mediterranean Diet?
As it was mentioned before the Mediterranean diet is a well-balanced diet where all the food groups are presented.
The Mediterranean diet basics are very simple:
The Mediterranean diet encourages eating whole foods.
Whole foods are foods that consist of one ingredient provided by nature.
And because the Mediterranean diet is more of the way of eating in that region, it is hard to determine any specific foods that need to be incorporated into the diet.
However, in the studies, the diet is determined to be high in plant foods and low in animal foods.
The other main principles are to limit the consumption of fat. It promotes the consumption of monounsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil.
It also encourages eating fish and seafood at least twice a week.
Water is the main beverage in this diet. However, a glass of red wine is acceptable once per day with the main meal.
Coffee and tea are acceptable too.
The Mediterranean Diet promotes regular physical activity, enjoying life and sharing meals.
Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet may offer plenty of benefits that people from the Mediterranean area enjoyed for centuries.
The Harvard School of Public Health suggests that “Together with regular physical activity and not smoking, our analyses suggest that over 80% of coronary heart disease, 70% of stroke, and 90% of type 2 diabetes can be avoided by healthy food choices that are consistent with the traditional Mediterranean diet (2)”
Here are a few of the health benefits that the Mediterranean diet may offer:
1. Healthy and Delicious Food
We are all familiar with the Italian cuisine (and I am not talking only about the North-American version of pasta and pizza).
The Mediterranean diet offers not only plenty of plant-based foods but also locally caught fish and seafood.
Fish like anchovies, wild caught salmon, sardines are a central part of this diet.
On the other hand, the diet limits the consumption of animal products and by-products. It still cannot be considered as vegetarian through the consumption of meat is limited to once or twice a week.
Dessert is also important.
However, originally Mediterranean countries were not familiar with artificial ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives including food enhancers that make us addictive to certain foods.
Indeed, people from the Mediterranean region enjoy fruit or small quantity of homemade desserts with natural sweeteners like honey.
2. Help with the Weight Loss
This is definitely what a lot of us is looking for in any diet.
The Mediterranean diet promotes a healthy way of losing weight without deprivation and feeling hungry.
It is considered as a realistic diet where none of the main food groups is being excluded.
The advantage of this diet is that you could modify it based on your needs.
If you are looking for a weight loss this diet is flexible in reducing the carbohydrates intake and increasing the consumption of healthy fats and high-quality protein (mainly, fish and dairy products).
Another important note is that people from the Mediterranean region do a lot of sprouting, soaking and marinating. That is very important as it promotes a healthy gut.
3. Prevent Diabetes
As the diet limits natural sweeteners intake and excludes any artificial sweeteners it helps with insulin level control and therefore with chronic inflammation such as type 2 diabetes (3).
The natural balance of food that the diet promotes helps us burn fat naturally and use it as a source of energy.
It could also be considered as a low carbohydrates diet as it promotes the consumption of fruits and occasional homemade desserts. Soda and any artificially sweetened drinks are not popular in that region.
The typical meal plan for this diet consists of a balanced breakfast that is eaten one or two hours of waking up to start the day and balance the blood sugar level.
Later through the day, it promotes 3 healthy meals with plenty of fiber and vegetables.
People from the Mediterranean region typically eat big meals through the day and have a light supper in the evening.
As you can see there is a big difference with the North-American diet where we skip breakfast and leave big meals for the second part of the day.
4. Promote Heart Health
The traditional Mediterranean diet includes healthy fats like olive oil and Omega-3 foods.
The diet is rich in alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) that is presented in olive oil that can decrease the risk of cardiac death by 30% and sudden cardiac death by 45% (4).
Another research showed that consumption of extra virgin olive oil may decrease blood pressure by a significant amount (5).
Olive oil is also beneficial to keep arteries dilated and clear.
5. Prevent Cancer
The Mediterranean diet contains a balanced ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty assets and high amounts of fiber and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
All this play an important role as a biological mechanism for cancer prevention according to the European Journal of Cancer Prevention (6).
Many studies also show that olive oil might also be a natural cancer cure and might decrease the risk of colon and bowel cancers.
6. Improve Cognitive Health and Mood
Healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds, plenty of veggies and fruits are well-known to fight age-related cognitive decline.
Indeed, the Mediterranean diet can lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease (7).
Probiotic-containing foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut etc promote a healthy gut, which is related to the cognitive function, memory and mood disorders.
How Is The Mediterranean Diet Different From The Paleo Diet?
Both diets promote healthy lifestyles and weight loss.
The Mediterranean diet and the Paleo diet encourage eating whole foods provided by nature and eliminate all processed and refined foods.
They also eliminate sugar and artificial sweeteners consumption and lean towards natural sweeteners in very moderate amounts.
Even though there are certain similarities, there are much more differences between these two diets and here are some of them:
1. Goal Settings
As we all know the Paleo diet principles are very similar to the Mediterranean diet principles, namely:
- Eat whole foods
- Eliminate all processed and refined foods.
The key point of the Paleo diet is to eliminate foods causing inflammation in our body and allow our body to heal.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, does not set any specific health goals. It simply promotes a healthy lifestyle by offering a well-balanced diet.
2. Food List
The Mediterranean diet does not exclude any major food groups except for sugar and processed and refined foods. It limits the consumption of certain foods such as red meat.
The Paleo diet, on the other hand, eliminates food groups that cause inflammation in our body such as:
3. Alcohol consumption
The Mediterranean diet limits the alcohol consumption to one glass of red wine a day during the meal.
The Paleo diet completely eliminates alcohol consumption.
Which Diet Is Better?
It will all depend on your health goals.
The Paleo diet was designed to provide your gut with the healing environment by eliminating inflammatory foods.
Once the healing is reached previously eliminated foods could be introduced back.
However, we need to pay attention to how our body reacts to the food introduction. If we cannot tolerate certain foods, we would want to avoid having it in your diet.
The Mediterranean diet equips us with all necessary tools to start a healthy lifestyle without too many limitations. It promotes health and weight loss.
However, there is one thing that needs to be considered.
The Mediterranean diet principles were borrowed from the specific geographical region.
What it means is that people who live in that area have free access to the seafood, fresh veggies, and fruits, whole grains. GMO or steroids are not even known in these countries.
In North America, a lot of healthy foods we eat may contain GMO or hidden sugar. Even bread may contain hidden sugar that we might not even be aware of.
So even though the Mediterranean diet is truly a well-balanced diet, we still would have to consider all the specifics of the food industry at the place we live.