The health benefits of a Mediterranean diet include improved cardiovascular function, lower cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. It’s also conducive to maintaining a healthy weight.
The Mediterranean Food Pyramid
The Mediterranean food pyramid differs from the version taught in American school systems. One reason for this is that Mediterranean cuisine places a greater emphasis on legumes and vegetables rather than starchy carbohydrates.
The base of the food pyramid includes items that should be incorporated into every meal:
• herbs and spices
• whole grains.
The next level up on the pyramid features fish and seafood, which are to be consumed at least once or twice a week. Seafoods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and other minerals your body needs to function properly and maintain a healthy weight.
Poultry, eggs, yogurt and cheese are the next tier in the Mediterranean pyramid, and are often eaten by people in the region on a daily or weekly basis.
Restrictions and Limitations
The top of the pyramid is comprised of red meats and sweets, and should be consumed sparingly if at all. Traditional Mediterranean diets usually incorporate red meat only once or twice a month. Butter is rarely used, and olive oil is often the substitute.
Red wine is favored as the alcohol of choice in many Mediterranean cultures, as it contains antioxidants and resveratrol that help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Wine consumption in the region is generally limited to two glasses a day at most for men and one for women.
Good Fat vs. Bad Fat
Healthy fats, such as those found in seafoods, are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which contain linolenic acid, a beneficial type of omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides, improve cardiovascular health and help moderate blood pressure.
Fish is eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean diet. Cooking in the region also makes use of other staples rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including avocados, flax seeds and certain olive oils.
Types of “bad” fats include saturated fat and trans fats. These fats can be found in processed foods, junk foods and sweets, and should be avoided. Healthier Mediterranean dessert alternatives include currant cookies, phyllo apple pie and Turkish pumpkin pastries.
To start seeing the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, prepare some of your own traditional Sardinian and Sicilian dishes.