Diets come and diets go. In the last few years, both the Paleo and Ketogenic diets have been the biggest trends — and I personally think they have a lot of benefits. I have eaten paleo/keto quite a bit myself, and there’s a lot to be said for reducing carbs, sugar, and refined foods from our diets.
But overall, the Mediterranean Diet might be the healthiest for you in the long term. According to a U.S. News and World Report ranking of the 41 best diets of all time, the tried-and-true Mediterranean diet was named number one.
How the diets stacked up
A panel of health experts examined and ranked 41 popular eating plans, concluding that the Mediterranean diet is the most universally beneficial for long-term health. The Paleo and Keto diets were way down the list in the 30s; and in case you’re wondering about other types of diets, Weight Watchers came in fourth, vegetarian as 11th, and vegan as 20th. I’ve always personally felt that eating strict vegan is not all that healthy, for a variety of reasons. Many of the vegans I know eat a whole lot of crap such as chips and other processed, empty-carb-filler foods; and a whole lot of vegan meat and dairy substitute products are highly processed.
Personally, I’ve been vegetarian at times and generally avoid more meat than most people. At the moment, I am a pescatarian, which means I eat seafood but not meat such as poultry, pork, or red meat.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the Mediterranean Diet. Why is it so good for you? Because it’s loaded with whole foods and heart-healthy things like olives and olive oil, and foods high in omega-3s and healthy fats such as fish, nuts, grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies. Oh, and red wine!
One of my favorite cookbooks, and the only one that stays out on my kitchen counter all the time because I use it so often, is The Mediterranean Table: Simple Recipes for Healthy Living on the Mediterranean Diet.
Just check out some of the ways that people who live in the Mediterranean area are generally some of the healthiest and longest-living in the world: relaxing meals with family and friends (hint: they don’t eat on the go or in front of the TV); lots of outdoor activity; they walk a lot more; and eat more home-cooked cuisine based on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and seafood. Oh, yeah, and that red wine!
The introduction of this book shares some pretty amazing and convincing facts about how great this way of living is:
In the Seven Countries Study of the 1950s, scientists analyzed the food and lifestyle habits of people in Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, Finland, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States. It was the first major study of the effect of diet on human health and concluded that the traditional Mediterranean way of eating — a largely plant-based diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber, monounsaturated fat, and omega-3 fatty acids — could help to lower cholesterol, reduce risk of coronary heart disease, and improve longevity.
In subsequent decades, scientists continued to research the Mediterranean diet and have added even more to its list of benefits, demonstrating that this way of eating can also reduce the risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, and arthritis.
It’s also a really delicious way to eat, and it’s about enjoyment — NOT deprivation.
Ikaria: A place where age is just a number
Check out the Greek island of Ikaria, which has one of the highest life expectancies of anywhere in the world. The New York Times calls it the “island where people forget to die.” Centenarians (people who are 100 or older) are not at all uncommon there, and the citizens of Ikaria boast incredibly low rates of cancer, heart disease, depression, and dementia. In 2009, the University of Athens conducted research known as the Ikaria Study, comparing people living in what is known as “blue zones” (where people live longer and remain active well into old age).
What they found was that certain behaviors were common to ALL of the blue zones studied, which included Ikaria as well as Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (California), and Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica). The people in all of these places had some shared lifestyle habits:
- emphasis on family coherence
- avoidance of smoking
- eating a plant-based diet
- engaging in moderate physical activity every day
- remaining engaged socially and in their communities
A few other benefits to this way of eating include:
1. It’s good for your gut. One study found that people who follow the Mediterranean diet had a higher population of good bacteria in their microbiome, compared to those who ate a traditional Western diet. Researchers noted an increase in eating plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and legumes upped the good bacteria by 7 percent!
2. It slows down the aging process. Thanks to all the anti-inflammatory foods like olive oil, leafy greens, and nuts, a Mediterranean diet protects the body against oxidative stress and inflammation—both keys for slowing down the aging process. And that’s good news for your entire body—especially your brain.
3. It has special benefits for post-menopausal women. Get this: The Mediterranean diet has even been linked to positively impacting muscle mass in bone health in post-menopausal women. Again, the main reason is the increased intake of plant-based foods and decreased meat consumption that’s core to the eating plan.