A person drizzles olive oil over a Mediterranean salad

Greeking Out: Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

It seems like a million different fad diets are always circling around in pop culture, but how do you know whether they’re actually healthy? One such meal plan, the Mediterranean diet, has scientific proof backing it. It may all be Greek to you now, but after discovering some of this diet’s benefits, you might just be ready to commit.

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet focuses on foods eaten regularly in cities around the Mediterranean Sea. It incorporates a lot of fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and natural oils, a moderate amount of fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, and red wine, and small amounts of red meat. The diet does not include processed foods or items with added sugar.

Why Is the Mediterranean Diet Healthy?

Many of the foods central to the Mediterranean diet are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and it lacks many foods that contain large amounts of saturated and trans fats. Both types of unsaturated fats increase your levels of HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, and lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, while trans and saturated fats can raise your LDL cholesterol. Stored cholesterol might lead to blockages in the arteries, which can cause heart attacks and strokes.

That’s not all this diet can do for you, though! It’s normal to lose neurons and neural connections as you grow older. However, scientists in Scotland studied the effects of a Mediterranean diet on the neurological health of 70-year-olds for three years, and the results showed that those who adhered to a strict Mediterranean diet retained more neurons and neural connections than those who followed other meal plans.

How Do I Follow the Mediterranean Diet?

So you’ve decided the benefits of the Mediterranean diet sound appealing, but you’re confused on how to begin. We can help! Create shopping lists before going to the grocery store to avoid buying unnecessary snacks, and try to stick to the perimeter of the store (it’s where they keep all of the fresh foods). You can find a variety of tasty, Mediterranean diet-friendly recipes online. In fact, here’s one of our favorites:

Mediterranean Tuna and Chickpea Salad
Serves 2

Salad Ingredients

4 cups of spinach
1 5-ounce can of white albacore tuna, drained
1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup of halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 red onion, sliced
1/2 cup of chopped celery
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Ground black pepper to taste

Dressing Ingredients

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons of lemon juice (about 1 lemon)

Mix all ingredients together, and serve.

If you’re interested in altering your diet to live a healthier lifestyle, schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician. We can help you tailor a menu to fit your health needs, as well as help you find ways to incorporate it into your everyday life. If you have a pre-existing cardiovascular condition, ask your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group cardiologist if this is a safe option for you before drastically changing your diet.

Sources:
Healthline | Mediterranean Diet 101: A Meal Plan and Beginner's Guide
American Heart Association | Mediterranean Diet
American Academy of Neurology | MEDITERRANEAN DIET MAY HAVE LASTING EFFECTS ON BRAIN HEALTH
NCBI | Mediterranean-type diet and brain structural change from 73 to 76 years in a Scottish cohort
Heart Foundation | Healthy fat choices
NIH | Cerebral Atrophy Information Page