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Mediterranean Diet: A Pathway to Optimal Health

A Model for Good Health -Mediterranean Diet 

Mediterranean Diet  When the heart disease rate in the United States was skyrocketing during the early 1960s, people in Greece had some of the lowest heart disease rates in the world. But the most remarkable fact about this is that they were enjoying this robust good health even though their diet racked up nearly 40% of its calories from fat plus they generally washed down their meals with a glass or two of wine.

Scientists searched the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and they discovered that it was not only the Greece people who were living longer but also in neighboring nations like France, Italy, and Spain. These folks were onto something, but what?

Mediterranean DietHere is what Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in Stanford, California has to say about it: “For one thing, the traditional Mediterranean diet includes a lot of vegetables and legumes, along with fruits, fresh whole-grain bread, dates, and nuts. Meats like lamb and chicken are consumed infrequently and in small portions, and the main source of fat in the diet is monounsaturated fat from olives and olive oil, rather than the saturated fat from animal foods. In addition, physical activity is a big part of their daily routine”, he adds.

But just how healthy is the traditional Mediterranean diet? In one study French researchers looked at 600 men who recently had a heart attack. They put half of the men on a traditional Mediterranean diet and half of them on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet that people with heart disease are typically told to follow. Those who followed the traditional Mediterranean diet had a 70% lower rate of recurrent heart problems than those following the prudent low-fat diet.

Other studies showed similar results. When researchers examined the diets and disease rates of people in seven different countries, they found that, while heart disease accounts for 46% of deaths of middle-aged men in America, only 4% of men on Creta, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, had similar problems. The death rate from all causes in Crete during this 15-year study was lower than that of the other countries

In 2006, researchers reviewed 35 experimental studies of the Mediterranean diet and found that the diet had a positive effect on cholesterol and insulin resistance. Researchers also found that the diet also lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome, heart attack and heart disease, and the risk of cancer in obese patients and patients who have had a heart attack.

low-fat dietOne study found that, in addition to the health benefits. people find it easier to stick to a Mediterranean diet compared with a low-fat diet. A group of 772 older adults in Spain who had diabetes or three or more risk factors for heart disease were assigned to one of three groups. Two groups followed a Mediterranean diet, and the third followed a low-fat diet. In addition to the Mediterranean diet contributing to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels after three months, it also made it easier for the study participants to maintain the diet, researchers say.

The Fat Factor The most important factor in the Mediterranean diet is that it uses fat from olive oil, with a total fat intake of 25 to 35 percent of total calories. Even though people in Mediterranean countries eat as much fat as we do (or more), they eat relatively little meat. Red meat is eaten only a few times a month, while fish and poultry are eaten every week.

This means that they consume only minuscule amounts of artery-clogging saturated fat. “The big difference comes from limiting saturated fat and replacing it with monounsaturated fat, like olive oil,” Dr. Gardner says. Besides olive oil being a monounsaturated fat, it also contains antioxidant compounds that help prevent chemical changes in the body that can cause the dangerous low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol to stick to the lining of artery walls. Sweet desserts made with sugar and saturated fat are consumed no more than a few times a week.

Mediterranean Diet-nutsThe second-most common source of fats in the Mediterranean diet is nuts and seeds. Nuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, which the body converts to the same kind of heart-healthy fats we find in fish ( which is also part of the Mediterranean diet). Studies have proved that people who eat the most of these fatty acids are the ones least likely to get heart disease.

The fish that people in the Mediterranean eat contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce clotting and inflammation in the arteries, thus significantly reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association reports that epidemiological and clinical trials have shown that cardiovascular disease incidence decreases when people consume omega-3 fatty acids, especially when it comes from fish and plant foods as opposed to supplements.

Physical activity People in Mediterranean countries also take plenty of exercises, in the form of walking, hard physical labor, and generally staying active. So even though they take a lot of calories from fat, they’re usually able to keep their weight under control.

Five-a-Day Protection The folks at the American Heart Association would be delighted if they could get us to eat the five servings (or more) of fruits and vegetables that people in the Mediterranean region eat every day. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes seasonally fresh and locally grown fruits and vegetables over highly processed foods that don’t contain as many micronutrients and antioxidants. Studies have shown that people who eat the most fruit and vegetables have fewer problems with heart disease. Presumably, this is due to the antioxidant vitamins and healing compounds in these foods.

heart diseaseIn addition, fruits, vegetables, and beans, which are another Mediterranean staple, are among the best sources of folate, a B vitamin that may work hard in the fight against heart disease, says D. Gardner. Folate helps decrease levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. There is a link between too much homocysteine and heart disease. Research has shown that healthy people who have high levels of homocysteine have about 14 times more chance of having heart disease

High Fiber On top of all that, the Mediterranean diet is extremely high in fiber. High-fiber foods not only help to keep your weight down by filling you up without a lot of fat and calories, but they also help block the absorption of certain fats and cholesterol. This means that some of these harmful substances are flushed away before they can make it into the bloodstream. How powerful the effects of fiber are shown in a study of nearly 44,000 men, aged between 40 and 75, who added just 10 grams of fiber a day to their diet decreased their risk of heart disease by almost 30 percent.

A Drink for Good Health Another factor that contributes to a healthy heart is the fact that wine, especially red wine, is also included in a typical Mediterranean diet. Whine contains compounds called phenols that help prevent LDL cholesterol from sticking to artery walls. It also keeps platelets in the blood from sticking together and causing clots. “In moderation, wine can be a nice addition to a healthy diet,” says Robert M. Russell, MD, director and senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

Mediterranean Diet 3Final Thoughts Although the Mediterranean diet is most renowned for its role in helping to keep the heart healthy, it also appears to reduce the risks of other health threats, among them cancer of the breast and colon. Studies show that compared with women elsewhere in the world, women in some Mediterranean countries have half the risk (or less) of getting breast cancer. This could be due to their low intake of saturated fat and high intake of monounsaturated fats, fruits, and vegetables.

Indeed, Italian researchers have found that people in the Mediterranean region who follow the traditional diet – that is, those who eat lots of fruits and vegetables and not much fat and protein – are less likely to get cancer than those who eat more modern, less-healthful diets.

“The message here is simple,” says Dr. Christopher Gardner. “For optimal health, choose a plant-based diet, which is naturally high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, and low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium.”

-Thanks for your insight Adrian Joele.


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Going Green: A Guide to Vegetarian Diets

Vegetarian Diets

Chefs started to experiment with cooking without meat back in the day. But the meals were often tasteless. But nowadays after experiencing this for more than a quarter of a century, cooks are combining fruits, vegetable grains, and legumes in exciting new ways. The tastes are so good that even large restaurants are now offering meatless meals.

Healing Power of Vegetarian Diets 2As a result, more than 30 million Americans, including one in three teens, have tried vegetarian meals, according to the American Dietetic Association. They like the health benefits and how good the food tastes. Vegetarian diets have changed, but one thing stayed the same: a plant-based diet, which is low in saturated fat, high in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and a powerful array of protective chemicals.

This is the ultimate prescription for a longer and healthier life, according to Virginia Messina, MPH, R.D. a dietitian in Port Townsend, Washington, and co-author of The Vegetarian Way.

Research results have shown that vegetarians have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, type two diabetes, and obesity than people who eat meat. According to British researchers, vegetarians have a 20% lower risk of fatal heart disease and a 40% lower risk of cancer.

Healing Power of Vegetarian DietsOther studies found more positive facts. Fifty years ago, a large study of 27,530 Seventh-Day Adventists, whose religion advocates a vegetarian diet, provided the first scientific link between vegetarian diets and better health. Researchers were amazed to discover that among the vegetarian Adventists, the death rate from cancer was 50 to 70% lower than among other Americans. Since then, study after study has confirmed the benefits of vegetarian eating.

In Asia, where people eat little or no meat, diseases such as heart disease, breast cancer, and diabetes, are far less common than in the United States.

Naturally Lean

Something that makes vegetarian meals so healthy is that they don’t have all the saturated fat and cholesterol that comes from meat. While most Americans get about 36% of their total calories from fat, vegetarians get less, usually between 30% and 34%. And most of the fat they get is the healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated type – and not the dangerous saturated fat that comes from animal foods.

In one study, researchers put 500 people on a vegetarian diet. After twelve days, cholesterol levels had dropped an average of 11%.

Besides the fact that vegetarian meals don’t contain saturated fat which makes vegetarian meals so healthy, they also contain “good” fats. According to studies, both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, and many other plant foods, can lower the level of cholesterol when they’re used to replace saturated fat in the diet.

And the omega-3 fatty acids found in some plant foods, such as walnuts and flaxseed, can further protect against heart disease by helping to keep artery walls flexible and supporting the electrical “system” within the heart that regulates a healthy heartbeat.

Healing Power of Vegetarian Diets 9The Power of Plants

Doctors in the United States have been pleading with Americans for years to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, the same foods that vegetarians eat in abundance. Most plant foods are loaded with antioxidants, like beta-carotene and vitamin C and E. They are essential to protect you against diseases.

Also, plant foods contain an abundance of phytonutrients, which are natural plant compounds that have been shown to lower the risk of cataracts, heart disease, and many other serious problems.

In another study, researchers found that people who got the most carotenoids, the plant pigment that is found in dark green and deep orange, yellow, and red fruits and vegetables, had half the risk of developing macular degeneration (the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in older adults) as people getting less.

Vegetarian diets cut the risk of breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate cancer in several studies. The magic ingredients include several cancer-fighting phytochemicals. The naturally lower levels of saturated fat in most vegetarian diets (except those that rely heavily on cheese) avoid a problem that is connected with meat-rich diets: High-saturated fat diets seem to promote the production of a form of estrogen called estradiol, which is linked to breast cancer.

A study showed that women who ate the most animal fats had a one-third higher risk of breast cancer than those who ate the least.

Another study found that vegetarians have higher levels of “natural killer cells” – special white blood cells that attack cancer cells – in their bloodstreams.

Healing Power of Vegetarian Diets 11But even if you took all the nutrients out of plant foods, the vegetarian diet would still have an edge, because of all the dietary fiber it contains. The average American gets only 12-15 grams of fiber per day, while vegetarians are getting as much as three times that amount.

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of getting enough dietary fiber. because it isn’t absorbed by the body, fiber passes through the digestive tract, adding bulk to stools and helping them to move more quickly. This does more than prevent constipation. The more quickly stools and any harmful substances they contain move through the colon, the less likely they are to do cellular damage that could lead to cancer. Washing is essential.

Also, one type of fiber called soluble fiber forms a gel in the intestine that helps to prevent fat and cholesterol from passing through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. In a study of more than 43,000 men, for example, researchers found that those who added just 10 grams of fiber a day to their diets – about 25% of the amount vegetarians get each day – decreased their risk of heart disease by almost 30%.

Vegetarian diets also guard against other health issues, like kidney stones, gallstones, and asthma. Because high-protein diets with much meat prompt your body to excrete more calcium, oxalate, and uric acid – which are the main building blocks of kidney stones. Diets with a lot of meat increase the chance of getting gallstones in women and could threaten bone density by promoting the excretion of calcium.

In a Swedish study of 24 women and men, vegetable-based meals cut the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

Balance is the Key

A vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients your body needs, including protein. This is even true for strict vegetarians, who may avoid eggs, milk, and other animal foods altogether. The proteins in meat are complete, which means they contain all the amino acids your body needs.

Healing Power of Vegetarian Diet 4The proteins in legumes and grains, however, may be low in one or more of the amino acids, but because legumes and grains contain some amino acids, eating a variety of these foods throughout the day will provide the proper balance.

However, vegetarians have the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which the body needs to make red blood cells. It’s only found in animal foods. People who don’t get enough vitamin B12 feel weak and tired.

You can get plenty of vitamin B12 by eating foods that are fortified with this nutrient, such as fortified cereals, or/and you can take B12 supplements.

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