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Episode 115: The Mediterranean Diet: Where Science and Common Sense Meet

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Summary

I see people arguing over nutrition research all the time. This study says keto is the best, this study says paleo’s the best, this study says vegan’s the best. But here’s the thing, research and the experts behind it can be skewed, biased, and outdated. 

How many times have we proven old diets wrong that were once strongly supported by hundreds of studies (the era of ‘fat makes you fat’ comes to mind)?

Look at the fact that most researchers don’t want to use women to test their theories because our hormones ‘fuck up’ the data. 

And don’t forget to take into account if your control group is people on the Standard American Diet, any diet is going to look like a God-send with all the health markers they improve. 

This is why even when you try to educate yourself, trying to figure out what to eat to reach your goals can be frustrating, confusing, and overwhelming.

That’s why, while I make it my business to stay up-to-date on the newest findings, I also keep myself grounded in the real world.

And here’s what the real world shows us: 

  • Diets that aren’t sustainable aren’t good diets, even if the labs show health benefits. 
  • Too much of anything is not healthy: fat, protein, carbs, water, even sleep. It always comes back to balance.
  • The people who live the longest lives with the lowest rates of lifestyle diseases across the entire world have very similar habits: they eat a diet of mainly plants, some meat, minimally processed foods, and normal size portions. 

With all that being said, there's one diet that stands above the rest that fits both the research-backed category and the common-sense/real life category: the Mediterranean Diet. 

So we're taking this week to do a review on this way of eating that was rated by U.S. News & World Report as the #1 diet on its 2019 41 Best Diets Overall list, citing a “host of health benefits".

What is the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet isn't so much a strict 'diet' in the western sense of the word. It's an easily-adhered-to eating pattern based on the traditional diets of Crete, Greece, and southern Italy during the 50's and 60's.

It rose to popularity because of this area's low rates of disease and high life expectancy, even with limited access to health care.

What is signature to this diet is it not only emphasizes what to eat (mainly whole plants like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains, some fish, chicken, and eggs, limited dairy and red meat, and no added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils, or highly processed foods), but how to eat (with family and friends).

Another benefit of the Mediterranean diet: there is no counting! No counting calories, macros, points, glycemic index, nothing. Just listen to your body, eat when you're hungry, and stop when you're satisfied. 

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

  • "U.S. News & World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet No. 1 on its 2019 41 Best Diets Overall list, citing a “host of health benefits, including weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention and control.” -US News
  • "Those on the Mediterranean diet tend to have fewer protein plaque deposits associated with the development of Alzheimer's." -Neurology.org
  • "A meta-analysis of 20 randomized clinical trials published in January 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the Mediterranean diet improved blood sugar control more than low-carbohydrate, low-glycemic index, and high-protein diets, in those managing type 2 diabetes. (13) This finding suggests that a Mediterranean diet may be an effective way to help ward off type 2 diabetes–related health complications." - Every Day Health / The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  • "Cell damage through stress and inflammation that can lead to age-related diseases has been linked to a specific part of DNA called telomeres. These structures naturally shorten with age, and their length size can predict life expectancy and the risk of developing age-related diseases. Telomeres with long lengths are considered protective against chronic diseases and earlier death, whereas short lengths increase risk. Antioxidants can help combat cell stress and preserve telomere length, such as by eating foods that contain antioxidants like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains." -Harvard School of Public Health
  • Another Nurses’ Health Study following 10,670 women ages 57-61 observed the effect of dietary patterns on aging. Healthy aging was defined as living to 70 years or more, and having no chronic diseases (e.g., type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, lung disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer) or major declines in mental health, cognition, and physical function. The study found that the women who followed a Mediterranean-type eating pattern were 46% more likely to age healthfully. Increased intake of plant foods, whole grains, and fish; moderate alcohol intake; and low intake of red and processed meats were believed to contribute to this finding." -Harvard School of Public Health
  • "In one of the most successful weight loss trials to date, those assigned to the Mediterranean diet maintained weight loss over a period of six years." -Harvard School of Public Health
  • It's emphasis on anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods may help relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. -Every Day Health

How to make it a lifestyle.

Swaps:

  • Swap soda for water (add lemon if you need the flavor).
  • Swap refined pasta for brown rice, quinoa, spaghetti squash, or zoodles.
  • Swap steak for salmon.
  • Swap fries for roasted potatoes.
  • Swap canola/peanut/safflower/sunflower/vegetable oil for olive oil or avocado oil.
  • Swap fruit juice for actual fruit. 
  • Swap sugary cocktails for a small glass of red wine.
  • Swap calorie/point/macro counting for listening to your body.

How to build a mediterranean meal:

  • 1 palm of protein.
    • Fish, chicken (on occasion), greek yogurt (on occasion), or combine foods to make a full protein:
      • Nuts with whole grains
      • Seeds with whole grains
      • Whole grains with beans
  • 1 fist of veggies.
    • cucumber, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, onion, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, potatoes
  • 1 cupped handful of fruit, whole grains, or beans.
    • apples, bananas, pears, oranges, berries, grapes, dates, figs, melon, peaches
    • beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas 
    • oats, brown rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, corn
  • 1 thumb of fat.
    • walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, avocado, olive oil, olives
  • spice it up
    • garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, nutmeg, cinnamon, paprika, oregano, thyme

Daily habits:

  • Slow down at meals.
  • Schedule a weekly friends dinner or a nightly family dinner.
  • Get out in the sunlight.
  • Move your body: walk, hike, dance, swim, etc. 
  • Sleep 7-8 hours.
  • Make your plate as colorful as possible. 

Sample meals and snacks:

Breakfast: 

  • shake with fruit, veggies, collagen powder, and nuts
  • greek yogurt with berries, seeds, and a side of celery
  • omelette with 1 egg cooked in avocado oil, loads of veggies, side of fruit
  • sweet potato toast topped with avocado and smoked salmo

Lunch:

  • greek salad loaded with cucumber, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and chicken or fish
  • cauliflower rice tabbouli with chicken and fruit
  • beans and rice plate with roasted broccoli and cauliflower
  • tuna salad romaine boats with a side of brown rice and lentil soup

Dinner: 

  • salmon with rice and veggies
  • roasted chicken with mixed green salad and quinoa, fruit for dessert
  • spaghetti squash with tomato sauce, topped with chicken, side of salad with pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top 

Snacks:

  • hummus, bell peppers, and carrots dipped in hummus
  • fruit and a small handful of nuts or nut butter (no sugar added)
  • thin sliced raw beet with guacamole

Treats:

  • small glass of red wine
  • dark chocolate 
  • homemade sorbet made with fruit and a touch of honey or agave

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