Chronic inflammation is triggered by diet, stress, lack of sleep, and more. The Mediterranean Diet is a proven method to help bring down inflammation. Here, we provide information on how to begin!
How I Found The Mediterranean Diet
Have you been curious about the Mediterranean Diet? I knew almost nothing about it until 2018 my brother-in-law died of a sudden heart attack. Fearful for my husband’s health, he went to a Cardiologist and got a full workup. Thankfully my husband Steve is very healthy and has no known risk factors, but it got us thinking about preventing cardiovascular disease. This fascinating diet and lifestyle appealed to me instantly. It’s so delicious and plant-forward, and it makes sense when you learn about it. So, if you are considering starting a Mediterranean Diet, you have come to the right place!
How Did the Mediterranean Diet Begin?
Ansel Keys, an American Physiologist, wanted to know why men were dropping dead from heart attacks in the 1950s. A colleague told Keys that Neapolitan men rarely suffered from heart attacks and invited him to Italy. Ansel Keys brought researchers from all over the world to study the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The Seven Countries Study originated from this groundbreaking research. The seven countries in the study were Italy, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Finland, Italy, and Greece. Known for the infamous Seven Countries Study included, Corfu in Greece, Dalmatia in Croatia, and Montegiorgio in Italy. (Davis, 2015) The data collection spanned over decades and continues to this day. Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou, Professor of Nutrition and Biochemistry at the Athens School of Public Health, said: “The Seven Countries study turned out to be one of the most celebrated studies in modern epidemiology.” (Jenkins, 2009) The follow-up period to the study lasted more than ten years and showed that closely following the Mediterranean diet had lower overall mortality from all causes. (Jenkins, 2009)
Protective Effects of the Mediterranean Diet
Moein Askarpour and his fellow researchers stated that the “Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension) diets” have long been associated with lower oxidative stress and inflammation levels. The antioxidants in berries and the vitamin E in olive oil, green leafy vegetables, and nuts could ease migraines by protecting the brain from oxidative stress. Additionally, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may benefit Migraine by lowering inflammation in the brain.” (Askarpour, 2020). According to Miami Cardiologist Dr. Michael Ozner, “food is the single most important factor influencing overall health.” The Mediterranean Diet is comprised of fresh farm-to-table meals centered around a variety of vegetables. In his book Heart Attack Proof, he compares the processed food in the Western Diet to the Mediterranean Diet by using the analogy that eating processed food is like putting diesel fuel in a gasoline-powered engine. (Ozner, 2012)
Health Benefits of Eating Mediterranean
Although the countries in the Seven Countries Study all have somewhat different eating patterns, the unifying components of the Mediterranean Diet are the daily emphasis on fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils, whole grains, seafood, low-fat dairy, and olive oil. Meat and sweets are eaten occasionally, and wine is drunk with meals in moderation. (Davison, 2016)
The Harvard School of Public Health and http://www.Oldways.com, a website devoted to inspiring good health, created a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. When you look at the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, you can see that vegetarian food makes up the bulk of the Mediterranean diet. At each meal, small portions of meat or fish are paired with three or more vegetables and grains. Plants, grains, and beans play the starring role. (Oldways, n.d.)
This pyramid paved the way for the Mediterranean Diet’s popularity in the United States. The Mediterranean Diet epitomizes the ‘slow food movement. Food is savored and prepared from scratch instead of meals from fast food chains and convenience items. You can learn more about the origins of the Mediterranean Diet at Oldways
How to Start a Mediterranean Diet
These foods provide a framework to start a Mediterranean Diet:
- Healthy fats: Fresh or flash-frozen wild fish, seeds, and olive oil.
- Vegetables: Eat lots of vegetables like dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, squashes, and more. Also, pumpkin, butternut, and spaghetti squash. Potatoes and sweet potatoes.
- Fruits: Berries, pears, apples, mangoes, and peaches.
- Whole grains: Gluten Free Oats, Quinoa, and Brown rice.
- Dairy: Non-aged cheese such as ricotta and cottage cheese. Also, Mozzarella and Crème Fraiche.
- Beans: Cannellini and garbanzo beans.
- Lean proteins: Chicken, turkey, eggs, and fresh seafood.
- Herbs and spices: Both fresh and dried herbs
- Fresh Wild Fish rather than farmed fish.
Recipes to Get You Started on the Mediterranean Diet
Here are seven excellent tips from America’s Test Kitchen Mediterranean Diet Cookbook (2016).
This incredible, award-winning cookbook is a must-have in your library:
- Rethink Your Plate: Make vegetables the stars. Pick a couple of vegetable side dishes and build your meal around them. My husband uses leeks, shallots, and lots of garlic to add layers of flavor to our recipes.
- Moderation is Key: Moderate your intake. Portion sizes are smaller in the Mediterranean.
- Eat What is Fresh and in Season: If there is a Farmer’s Market nearby, this could be a fabulous resource for inspiration. Another option is having fresh produce delivered from local farms. We love Farm Fresh to You.
- Eat Beans and Whole Grains: Wild rice, oats, Gluten-Free whole grain pasta, etc., are rich in nutrients and can be served with fresh herbs and sauteed vegetables.
- Eat More Fish and Less Red Meat: Fish plays a central role in the Mediterranean Diet. Baked, roasted, sauteed, or grilled fish can act as a main dish or an appetizer. If you are new to eating fish, halibut is white and flaky and known as ‘the fisherman’s fish. It’s my husband’s favorite. Aim for at least two servings of fish a week.
- Serve Fruit for Dessert: Make sweets an occasional indulgence. Think berries or a bowl of fresh melon.
- Embrace Variety: America’s Test Kitchen says: “Balance and variety are the hallmarks of Mediterranean meals, so try to serve an array of dishes with different tastes, textures, and temperatures”. (America’s Test Kitchen, 2016)
Askarpour, M., Yarizadeh, H., Sheikhi, A. et al. Associations between adherence to MIND diet and severity, duration and frequency of migraine headaches among migraine patients. BMC Res Notes 13, 341 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13104-020-05181-4
*Davis, C., Bryan, J., Hodgson, J., & Murphy, K., (2015) Definition of the Mediterranean Diet: Nutrients: A Literature Review Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition, and Activity, University of South Australia.
Davison, J. (2021) The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook., America’s Test Kitchen., Brookline, MA.: America’s Test Kitchen.
Esselstyn, C. M.D., (2007) Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease., New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books
Houston, M. M.D., (2012) What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Heart Disease.,New York, NY.: Hachette Book Group
Jain, P. & Aggarwal, K.K.&Zhang, P.Y., Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease (2015) European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. Department of Medicine, MGIMS, Wardha, India Senior Physician and Cardiologist, Moolchand Med City, New Delhi, India., Department of Cardiology, Xuzhou Central Hospital, Xuzhou, Jiangsu, China
Jenkins, N., (2009) The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health.,New York, N. Y. : Bantam Dell
Oldways (n.d.) Retrieved from: https://oldwayspt.org/traditional-diets/mediterranean-diet
Ozner, M. M.D., (2014) The Complete Mediterranean Diet: Everything You Need to Know to Lose Weight and Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease., Dallas, Tx., Benbella Books