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Why The Mediterranean Diet Could Save Your Health

by Ben Ong October 13, 2017

What is The Mediterranean Diet? 

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, France, Greece, and Spain. 

A large fraction of Mediterranean cuisines is generally largely based on vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, cereal grains, olive oil, and fish.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet has been associated with good health, including a healthier heart. A 2013 study found that people following a Mediterranean diet had a 30% lower risk of heart disease and stroke

By adopting a more Mediterranean diet, all you need to do is consume;

  • Plenty of starchy foods such as bread and pasta
  • Large sums of fruit and vegetables
  • More fish
  • Less meat
  • Products made from vegetable and plant oils, such as olive oil

The Mediterranean diet is similar to the government’s healthy eating advice set out in the Eatwell Guide, which shows the foods needed for a balanced and healthy diet. The Eatwell Guide shows how much you should eat out of each food group.

This includes everything you eat throughout the day, including snacks. Try and stick to these guidelines as a start!

  • Base your meals on starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, rice or potatoes. Choose wholegrain varieties wherever you can. You can also eat potatoes with their skins on for more fiber.
  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day. 
  • Choose some lean protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, beans or pulses and other non-dairy sources.
  • Include some milk and dairy foods, such as cheese and yogurt. These are great sources of protein and calcium.
  • Have only a small amount of foods high in fat and/or sugar. (Or eat them less often).

It’s a good idea to try to get this balance right every day, but you don’t need to do it at every meal!


How does a Mediterranean diet help prostate cancer?


Recent studies have found a diet incorporating seeds, nuts, avocado, and an oil-based dressing could decrease the chances of death for men with prostate cancer.

Mediterranean diet

The 2.5 million men living in the U.S with prostate cancer may have to avoid the smell of those sausages and switch to a Mediterranean diet. 

Researchers have found the fat intake of 4,577 men with prostate cancer from 1986 to 2010, who swapped as little as 10 percent of their daily carbohydrates and animal fats, reduced their prostate cancer mortality risk by almost 30%, than those who didn’t.  

“Consumption of healthy oils and nuts increases plasma antioxidants and reduces insulin and inflammation, which may deter prostate cancer progression”. Lead author Erin L. Richman, ScD, a post-doctoral scholar in the UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.


Can a Tablespoon of Oil Really Help Your Prostate Health?


Opting for a tablespoon a day of an oil-based dressing can Mediterranean diethelp deter the chances of mortality with prostate cancer. 

Research has shown these dressings incorporated with the recommended daily oil intake showing a 13 percent lower risk of death from prostate cancer than individuals that did not change their diets. The research also found adding one ounce of nuts per day correlated to an 18 percent lower risk of prostate cancer mortality and an 11 percent reduced risk of death.

Although additional research needs to be conducted to validate the findings. Richman has stated, “Overall, our findings support counseling men with prostate cancer to follow a heart-healthy diet in which carbohydrate calories are replaced with unsaturated oils and nuts to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality”.


What Oil Would I Recommend?


Although there is a range of olive oils in the market, I would advise a high quality extra virgin olive oil. My reason for this is because extra-virgin olive oil is made from pure, cold-pressed olives. In contrast, regular olive oil is a blend, including both cold-pressed and processed oils.

In addition, extra-virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil and the highest-quality olive oil you can buy. There are very specific standards an oil has to meet, to be classed as ‘extra-virgin’. Due to the way extra-virgin olive oil is made, it retains a more true olive taste.

Therefore, it also has a lower level of oleic acid than other olive oil varieties. It also contains more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives.

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid


People of the Mediterranean incorporate high sums of seeds, nuts and olive oil and very little red meat in their diets.

Mediterranean dietNuts (tree nuts and peanuts) are nutrient dense foods with complex matrices rich in unsaturated fatty and other bioactive compounds. The bioactive compounds include high-quality vegetable protein, fiber, minerals, tocopherols, phytosterols, and phenolic This compounds. So what are these bioactive compounds, apart from being a mouthful to pronounce? Don’t worry, we’ll break it down for you!

Vegetable protein 

Vegetable protein offers a myriad of doctor approved heath benefits. These include lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease and decreased risk of cancer. 

Fiber

This has various benefits. By incorporating a diet high in fiber is able to help maintain bowel health, normalizing bowel movements, lowering cholesterol levels. It can also help to control blood sugar levels, aiding in achieving a healthy weight. Some studies have stated dietary fiber to be a prevention of colorectal cancer, yet, further research is needed to validate these findings.

Minerals

Minerals have an endless list of benefits for the human body.  Minerals are critical for the proper functioning of the body. Many minerals effectively boost health and aid in body metabolism, water balance and bone health. 

Tocopherols

This is an antioxidant and a form of Vitamin E typically derived from vegetable oils. Tocopherols also make up 96% of your skin’s natural antioxidant defense system.

Phytosterols

These compounds found in plants resemble cholesterol. The most well-known and scientifically proven benefit of phytosterols, is their ability to help lower cholesterol. Lower levels of cholesterol can lead to reduced risks for heart disease, stroke and heart attacks. They also consist of high anti-oxidant levels which some researchers believe are one way they may help protect against the development of cancer.

Phenol

Phenol is a toxic and corrosive compound often used in DNA extractions. However, a variety of organic compounds contain the same chemical group and structural features that distinguish phenol. Many of these other compounds provide numerous benefits for your health. Compounds in this class are collectively called phenols.  Studies have found some phenolic compounds are believed to be cancer chemo preventive.


How Does Olive Oil Provide Benefits To Prostate Cancer?


David Foster, a study co-author and professor of biological sciences at Hunter College has conducted studies which have found oleocanthal, a compound generally found in extra virgin olive oil, has proven lethal to cancer cells due to being able to penetrate their lysosomes (the part of the cell that stores and recycles waste). 

Foster also states “Lysosomal membranes are larger and more fragile in cancer cells than in healthy cells, making those cells vulnerable to any compound that can rupture this barrier”, who also notes they use roughly the amount of oleocanthal found in a sixth of a cup (about 50 millilitres) of high-quality oleocanthal-rich oil from Corfu, Greece. “

It isn’t that much,” Foster adds. “It’s certainly an amount you can ingest in one day.”


Why Legumes Are Beneficial?


First off, let’s establish what legumes are? Well, the legume family consists of plants that produce a pod with seeds inside. Mediterranean diet

In this article, we use the term “legumes” to describe the seeds of these plants.

The common edible legumes include lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans, soybeans and peanuts. The different types vary greatly in nutrition, appearance, taste and use.


Legumes and The Mediterranean Diet

Legumes are full of protein and fiber, but most of their calories come from carbohydrates. As they are starchy it is easy to make them part of your meals in place of pasta, rice or potatoes.

A study of 10,000 men and women showed that eating a single serving of lentils or chickpeas per week dramatically reduced the risk of heart disease. 

The cool thing is that the more you eat, the lower your risk. The research showed that having legumes four or more times per week reduced the risk of heart disease by 22%. Twenty two percent! That’s huge!

Further studies found pasta meals which include legumes leading to lower post-meal blood glucose levels than the pasta alone. This means that snacking on legumes can help you be more satisfied, and it appears to be true especially when you have them for a snack. 


Mediterranean Diet vs Low-Fat Diet


Mediterranean diet

In the UK and US, people consume around 1 litre of olive oil per person per year on average. This isn’t much compared to the Greeks, Italians and Spanish who drink more than 13 litres per person. Olive oil, with its high calories and mixed saturated and unsaturated fats, was once assumed by many doctors to be dreadfully unhealthy.

But health surveys of European populations kept finding that southern Europeans lived longer and had less heart disease despite higher fat intakes. It turns out olive oil was being the prime reason for this.

The Research

Over a decade ago extensive research was conducted in Spain amongst 7,500 mildly overweight men and women in their 60s, who were at risk of heart disease and diabetes. 

They were randomly allocated to two diets for five years – one was a low-fat diet recommended by doctors in most western countries and the other a high fat Mediterranean diet supplemented with either extra olive oil or nuts.

The research which was gathered and named the “PREDIMED” study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013. The findings conclusively showed that the Mediterranean diet group had a third less heart disease, diabetes and stroke than the low-fat group. They also lost a little weight and had less memory loss. 

The most recent results showed that it also reduced the chances of breast cancer, among a small number of women. So what’s the conclusion? Stock up on loads of high quality extra virgin olive oil! Don’t worry we’ve made a list of some of the best extra virgin olive oils on the market!


Low Meat Intake vs High Meat Intake


Mediterranean dietAs the Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruit, peas and beans (legumes) and grains. It also contains a fair amount of chicken and fish and a smaller sum of red meat. Most of the fat from the Mediterranean diet is unsaturated and comes from olive oil and nuts. Having a small amount of red wine has been shown to increase the health benefits.

In combination with moderate exercise and no smoking, the Mediterranean Diet offers a scientifically researched, affordable, balanced and health-promoting lifestyle choice. But the real question here is, why is low red meat intake better than high red meat intake?

The Research

A study had concluded how vegetarians, pescetarians, and 1 day/week meat eaters a non-significantly decreased risk of colorectal cancer compared to 6-7 day/week meat consumers, mainly due to differences in the dietary pattern other than meat intake. 

The table below conveys the percentage of cancer cases between vegetarian, pescetarian and men who have meat consumption 1 day, 2-5 days and 6-7 days a week. The figures indicate the percentage of vegetarians was lowest in rectal cancer cases while the proportion of 6-7 day/week meat consumers was highest in this group. 

Therefore, supporting the idea of a low meat intake diet and an adoption of the Mediterranean diet. 


FAQs!


How is the Mediterranean diet healthy?

Believe it or not, some have considered it as the world’s healthiest diet! The Mediterranean Diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil. It features fish and poultry, which are more lean sources of protein—over red meat, which contains more saturated fat. Although red wine is consumed regularly, it is with moderate amounts.

Who discovered the Mediterranean diet?

Dr. Ancel Keys discovered the Mediterranean Diet. He worked at the School of Public Health of the University of Minnesota, and published in 1970 the results of an important study developed in seven countries. This was also where he analyzed the role of the diet in the cardiovascular diseases, establishing the bases of what would be later the Mediterranean Diet.

Why choose the Mediterranean diet?

A diet high in fresh plant foods and healthy fats seems to be the winning combination for longevity. Monounsaturated fat, the type found in olive oil and some nuts, is the main fat source in the Mediterranean diet.

How to follow the Mediterranean Diet?

– Eat- Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.

– Eat in Moderation – Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.

– Eat Only Rarely – Red meat.

– Don’t Eat – Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.


A Few Easy Mediterranean Recipes


Oh and don’t forget, if you’re following a Paleo or Keto diet, then this won’t apply to you.

Mediterranean diet

 

Mediterranean diet

 

Mediterranean diet