The Basics of a Mediterranean-Style Diet
The food most of us eat is killing us. The Western diet, laden with sugary processed foods and red meats, is one of the top reasons the American life span had declined in recent years. This type of diet raises our risk for overall death as well death from heart disease and cancer.
But there’s good news if you’re still eating a Western-style diet: Switching to a Mediterranean-style diet, which involves adding legumes, fruit, vegetables and whole grains to your meals while swapping red meats for lean protein rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish, can extend your health span and life span.
Of course, you’ll reap more benefits from this style the younger you begin. But you can still live longer even if you change your diet late in life.
For example, revamping your dietary habits at age 20 can add more than a decade to your life span. Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet at age 60 can increase your life by eight years. And improving your diet at 80 can mean an extra three years.
You don’t even have to go all in to reap the rewards. Studies show that people who blended a Western diet with Mediterranean-influenced eating still added years to their lives.
What foods are in a Mediterranean diet?
There is no official Mediterranean diet prescription – various cultures around the Mediterranean Sea have different approaches but, in general, meals are built around leafy greens, vegetables, beans and whole grains. These are staples of the daily diet.
The diet also consists of lean proteins like chicken. But it’s eaten in moderation as are yogurt, eggs and cheese. And by moderation, we mean a few times a week.
Fish — especially lean varieties that are good sources of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids – are also eaten several times a week. Examples include salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod and tuna.
Meals are prepared with olive oil instead of butter and seasoned with herbs and spices, not iodized salt. Nuts and seeds also are common ingredients
Sweet foods are not off the diet. However, they come from fruits not sugary confections.
Lastly, the diet severely limits processed foods, added sugar and refined white flour products like flour, rice and bread. Red meat is eaten sparely.
Other advantages of Adopting a Mediterranean Lifestyle
The broader Mediterranean lifestyle can also contribute to longevity. Meals are shared, so you can benefit from socializing. Physical activity is prized, and so are activities that minimize stress.
If you’re struggling to make a change to your diet, talk to your primary care doctor. They can help you or connect you with a dietitian.