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Health Guide Review: 3,5/5

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Mediterranean Diet Review

What is it?

The Mediterranean Diet is a diet plan for people looking for a heart healthy, plant heavy approach to dieting. It’s modeled after foods commonly eaten in Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain, and several other countries.

It was greatly inspired by traditional diets held by these countries from how they ate back in the 1940’s and 50’s. You can find many books and online resources that explain in detail how this diet works.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes and claims to provide the following:

  • Better overall health: Studies into people of these countries shows that they have lower cholesterol, less risk for heart attacks, lower risks for obesity, and much less issues with strokes. The only debate is whether this is because of diet, or due to lifestyle changes. 
  • Clear restrictions and limits: There are certain foods that you are meant to avoid altogether. Some foods mentioned can be eaten in moderation, but there are clear foods, which are more approved by this diet in others.   
  •  More of a plant based approach: The diet focuses in on eating much more nutrient dense plant based foods, as opposed to red meats, processed foods, sugary foods, and other forms of less wholesome choices.
  • Research into the lifestyle: There’s also a lot of data available showing the effects this diet can may have on human health.

Although this diet plan was introduced in 1975 by a husband and wife duo consisting of a chemist and biologist, it took until the 1990’s for there to be any support from the public. Now there’s a lot of information provided from those who live by this diet.

As you’ll see from this review, this diet has many unique features that some claims are beneficial for weight loss and overall health.  There are slightly different variations to this diet, as some spokespersons for the diet add that it’s important to have a certain balance of fats, protein, and carbohydrates.

 Foods Allowed by the Diet

 Several foods are recommended in specific amounts:

  • 1 to 3 servings of low fat dairy products.
  • 6 to 12 servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • 1 to 2 servings of meats, poultry and fish.
  • One glass of red wine a day.

These aren’t strict standards as you can avoid eating certain foods such as dairy and wine, but it’s advised to keep within the general guideline.

The diet also highly advises against the following:

  • Processed meats such as hot dogs, deli meats, and sausages.
  • Lots of red meat. You’re limited to just a certain portion size of red meats.
  • Refined oils.
  • Refined grains such as pasta and white bread.
  • Getting rid of forms of sugar including soft drinks, ice cream, table sugar, and artificial sugars. These types of foods are forbidden, as they’re not considered healthy.

To put it simply, it’s greatly advised to eat more fish, nuts, olive oil, red wine, low fat dairy, and fresh foods.  There’s also an emphasis on eating like certain countries such as Greece. It’s advised to eat family style, with meals being shared by a big group.

 How Does the Diet Work?

 By eating more wholesome foods that are found in the Mediterranean, this diet is meant to produce healthier benefits for overall health.

Some standards are set in terms of macronutrients and micronutrients:

  • Eating 25% to 35% of fats with only am maximum of 8% of saturated fats.
  • Not having any form of added sugar that’s not already found in fruit. Though fruit is also eaten sparingly.
  • Avoiding eating red meats almost entirely, as it can easily surpass the saturated fat limit. This also makes it so you have to avoid many forms of protein.

You can also find online lists of what foods are acceptable under this diet.

Certain foods that can be hard to avoid include eggs, sweets, full fat dairy, and artificial ingredients.

This is why it’s important to read the nutrition facts label to know what is added to your foods.

Pros 

  • The foods that are banned are often not good in high amounts. This includes sweets, processed foods, and heavy amounts of red meats.
  • Eating a plant rich diet is widely known as being a healthy solution for overall health and weight loss. It’s also possible to lose weight using this strategy.
  • Free guides and information is available online to show what it takes to properly prepare for this diet. Also, there are free support groups.
  • There are multiple ways to eat a Mediterranean Diet, as there are many countries in this region that eat different foods.
  • You’re allowed alcohol in the form of red wine, which is not often the case for most diets. In fact, a cup of red wine is advised a day. 

Cons 

  • You aren’t allowed to eat much red meat, eggs, or sweets in any form. For many eggs is a staple food, and sweets can be hard to avoid.
  • The science behind this diet is hard to interpret, as a plant based diet isn’t unique to just this diet. Many other diets feature the exact same foods.
  • Not all people can enjoy the foods in this list, such as dairy and wine. Also, for some eating high amounts of seafood may be hazardous as it’s known to contain levels of mercury and lead.
  • It’s possible to gain weight with the heavy fats required to keep up with this diet. For some, eating fats can be hard to do.
  • For some people it may be hard to get enough iron and calcium. This may cause deficiencies that require extra vitamin supplementation.

 Better Alternatives to the Diet

 There’s a reason why this diet is called the Mediterranean Diet, these types of foods are much cheaper in these countries.

Eating more red wine, fish, nuts, and oils can be expensive. It’s also not healthy for all people to drink more wine and to get an increase in fats. Not everybody is made to handle a sudden increase of fats, even if they come from healthy sources.

Since fats have more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrates, it’s possible to overeat and possibly gain weight. Furthermore, a study by the Cochrane Heart Group showed that those who partook in this diet had unreliable results:

“more trials are needed at look at the effects of the different participants”

 Essentially, the study couldn’t conclude whether or not it was their diet or lifestyle choices in terms of exercise and overall health that influence their better health.

For those that can’t afford to keep eating these foods, or those who don’t like seafood, better alternatives exist which are less restrictive.

 Another issue with a seafood heavy diet is the potential lack of nutrients and issues with contamination.  The FDA adds how seafood:

“contain traces of mercury”

 Their recommendations for a limit includes to:

“Eat up to 12 ounces a week”

 12 ounces is equal to about just 2 meals a week that contain seafood. The Mediterranean diet advises for people to eat daily servings of seafood. This greatly surpasses the advised limit set forth by the FDA. Since there are no other alternatives to this, it’s impossible to sustain this diet unless you know for a fact the fish you eat has low levels of mercury.

A major problem with this is that contamination with things like lead and mercury are real concerns. The Natural Resources Defense Council mentions that:

“You can’t see, smell or taste mercury contamination”

 They advise to avoid many fish strains such as king mackerel, ahi tuna, bigeye tuna, marlin, shark, swordfish, and others.  It’s also highly advise to avoid any and all seafood if pregnant, nursing, or if underage.  Though body weight also plays a major role in determining your daily limit of seafood.

For some, an alternative might be farm-raised fish. The major problem with this alternative is that color is often added to this. Also, a study published in Science Magazine showed that farm raised fish:

“may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption”

 These 2 issues in a lack of nutrients, possible contaminations, and unknown amounts can make it hard to sustain the Mediterranean Diet. This is because it greatly reduces the amounts of animal protein such as eggs, meat, and poultry.

In the United States and in other countries this style of dieting would not be affordable or safe to use. It greatly matters the quality of fish you eat, and whether or not you can afford paying for often-expensive groceries.

 Conclusion

 There’s a lot of talk about going back to the old way of eating. Diets like these emphasize an old way of living that was considered more of a necessity as opposed to a strict choice.

Each Mediterranean country has their own staple foods, which is why they had to eat the foods available to where they were situated. This is why seafood is common, countries like Greece and Italy surround the Mediterranean Sea where there’s plenty of fish.

Eating like this today is costly for most people living in the United States. In fact, many fish today are often farm raised which have fewer nutrients, and some that are wild caught are known to contain high levels of mercury.

This diet can be a healthy addition for some since it emphasizes a more plant based approach to dieting. However, there are better options that are not as expensive or liming to your food selection.

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