Why is the Mediterranean diet beneficial to your health?
When trying to understand what the Mediterranean diet does for your health,
just remember that "it's what inside that counts." The nutrients and
phytonutrients in the foods, beverages, herbs, and seasonings are responsible
for the health benefits. These nutrients have benefits ranging from
anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antithrombic, and
There are six essential nutrients in our diet: carbohydrates, protein, fat,
water, vitamins, and minerals. They are essential because they are needed for
your body to function optimally. When you are deficient in any of these, there
are negative health consequences. You also need the correct balance of these
nutrients for ideal weight and health. The Mediterranean diet gets this right
with a high amount of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and high-fiber
sources of carbohydrates while it is low in processed foods.
Along with the essential nutrients are phytonutrients (also called
phytochemicals). These are not considered essential because there is no
deficiency if we don't have them in our diet. But they are very beneficial
because having them in our diet enhances our health and helps fight diseases.
Phytonutrients are found in plant foods and are there to protect the plants from
germs, fungi, bugs, and other threats. There are over 25,000 phytonutrients and
possibly more to be discovered. This is the reason you want to eat foods to get
these instead of taking them in the form of a supplement. The Mediterranean diet
is full of phytonutrients.
So, what does the Mediterranean diet have that other diets don't? Here are
the sources of some of the health benefits:
There are two essential fatty acids in our diet; omega-3 (n-3) and omega-6
(n-6). Human beings' diets originally evolved with an equal ratio of n-3 to n-6.
That means we consumed an equal amount of each. Over the years, the amount of n-6
in our diets went up to about 20 times the amount of n-3 that we consume. This
is important to know because the benefits of n-3 are clear, and many people
choose to take a supplement without realizing that not all essential fatty acids
work the same or are needed from a supplement.
The research on the benefits of n-3 fatty acids has shown that it can help
protect against inflammation, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer,
arthritis, depression, insulin resistance, obesity, and aging. The Mediterranean
diet is high in n-3 food sources. These include salmon, anchovy, sardines,
bluefish, herring, mackerel, mullet, sturgeon, and tuna.
Olives and olive oil
The phytonutrients found in olives and olive oil, known as phenolic
antioxidants, are linked to neuroprotective effects against cerebral ischemia,
spinal cord injury, Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease,
sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, aging, and peripheral neuropathy. Black olives
and extra virgin olive oil have the highest content and need to be used in
moderation to control the calories that you are getting from them.
Well-known legumes include green beans, peas, peanuts, soybeans, dry beans,
chickpeas, lentils, alfalfa, clover, and broad beans. The majority of legumes
contain phytonutrients that are linked to health benefits protecting against
numerous diseases or disorders, including coronary heart disease, diabetes,
blood pressure, and inflammation.
Many people know how good garlic tastes but don't realize how good it is for
you. The phytonutrient found in garlic, allicin, has turned out be helpful in
acting as an antioxidant, an antimicrobial, for anticancer properties, and as a
protectant against cardiovascular disease.
These flower buds from a shrub are used in the popular dishes chicken piccata,
spaghetti puttanesca, and eggplant caponata. Few people realize the numerous
health benefits of these little buds. Research has linked them to having
antimicrobial, anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory,
anti-diabetic, anti-atherosclerosis, and antiviral properties.
This list goes on and on with all of the herbs, spices, and fresh foods that
are consumed in the Mediterranean region. Getting to know the cuisine from the
region can give you more ideas on what you can change in your diet.