Among the thousands of diet options that line the shelves at Barnes and Noble, few are as effective (and none are as ancient) as the Mediterranean Diet.
Birthed in Old Testament times along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, this is how people have eaten in that part of the world for thousands of years. It is heavy in vegetables, fruits, healthy oils, nuts, legumes, and fish, with a smattering of meat, cultured dairy (yogurts and such), wine, and a few select grains. It has almost no sugar, no refined carbs, and no artificial ingredients.
Basically, if it wasn’t available to the Apostle Paul, you won’t find it in the Mediterranean Diet. As a result, it’s very healthy. There’s a reason people in that part of the world live long, vibrant lives well into their 90s and up over 100 years. It’s the food.
More Than Eating
But it’s more than just the food: the Mediterranean Diet is not so much a diet as a lifestyle. As we discovered last week, part of what makes it so robust and life-giving is how it fits into the larger picture of a person’s life:
- Mediterranean meals are typically served family-style, in large groups, where there is social interaction going on.
- The climate is similar to ours here in Southwest Florida, so many of their meals are enjoyed outdoors, in the fresh air and sunshine.
- People enjoyed their meals while reclining on floor mats or low couches. Many murals of the ancient Greeks and Romans depict people enjoying meals on the floor, picnic-style. That posture is actually better for digestion than sitting upright in a chair, but that’s a topic for another time.
Fighting or Treating Disease
This week, I want to continue to build on the previous two weeks of our series on the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. It’s all leading up to our next Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner on Thursday, March 8 at my office behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road. Our guest that night will be Juliana Sagitta of Mediterranean Meals, and I promise it will be an engaging night with great food and great information about this powerful way of life.
One of the key benefits of healthy eating is that you are less prone to disease and better able to combat diseases that have already taken root in your life. That is part of what makes the Mediterranean Diet so powerful: it emphasizes the foods that promote wellness and minimizes the foods that promote disease.
Do you know what cancer’s favorite food is? Sugar!
Processed, refined white sugar and its various derivatives are a product of the Industrial Age, and they didn’t come into popularity as a food additive until the 1920s. Sugar is a toxic plague over the earth, and everywhere it has insinuated itself into other cultures, it has brought disease and death. I’m not just talking about tooth decay; I’m talking about cancer, diabetes, heart disease, meant health issues, and more. It is many times more addictive than cocaine and lights up more of the brain’s pleasure centers. And it’s totally legal.
But one place you won’t find it is in the Mediterranean Diet. If it appears there at all, it is maybe a teaspoonful as a coffee or tea sweetener, not the toxic levels we see in American food.
Removing sugar from your diet to any degree is a win, but decreasing sugar AND increasing the presence of plant foods in your daily routine is a sure-fire way to starve-out cancer cells. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants that protect your DNA from free radical damage–which is the first step toward tumor growth–and cooling off areas of inflammation throughout your body. Plus, I’m starting to see more research about the cancer-fighting benefits of pure organic olive oil, in addition to its healthy balance of fatty acids.
Speaking of olive oil, one of the big draws of the Mediterranean Diet is the heart-healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in olive oil, avocado, and nut fats.
After decades of fake news about the dangers of fat, the truth is finally being told that fat is not only good for you, it’s essential for your brain, heart, muscles, and overall wellness. Sugar is the culprit behind coronary and vascular diseases, not fat. Your body is supposed to burn fat for fuel, leaving you slimmer, with healthy, properly dilated blood vessels. The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to decrease blood pressure, hypertension, and the risk of stroke and heart attack.
The good fats make all the difference. It’s worth noting that you cannot substitute vegetable oil, corn oil, canola oil, or any of the popular cooking oils you find in the grocery store. Even if you serve them cold (which is not what they are marketed for), they just don’t have the heart-healthy qualities of olive, avocado, and nut oils, which are staples of the Mediterranean Diet.
Life and Death
If you have been diagnosed with any type of coronary condition, do what your doctor tells you, but then start moving your diet toward the Mediterranean. If you can’t do that, at least stop eating sugary, processed, packaged, or deep-fried foods. I know some people would rather die than give up their favorite snacks, but that is literally the choice you are making if you’ve been diagnosed as high risk for a heart attack, stroke, or heart disease and continue eating junk food.
You might consider seeing a counselor, because that is a suicidal tendency. I’m not being flippant or crass about that. If you don’t care enough about your life to change the way you eat so you can avoid premature death, something is very wrong.
Tell me: what is the difference between a sugar addict who won’t give up the habit to save his life and a meth addict who won’t give up the habit to save his life?
Steering people away from preventable deaths is a big deal to me.
When I read that up to one out of every three Americans is either diabetic or pre-diabetic (meaning they have the body profile that will likely lead to diabetes), it is overwhelming to me. I can’t get the word out fast enough to get all these people turned around from catastrophe. I feel like I am bailing out the Titanic with a milk jug.
Let’s save a few today.
I like the way Dr. Josh Axe puts it:
“One reason the Mediterranean diet might be so beneficial for preventing diabetes is because it controls excess insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels, makes us gain weight and keeps the weight packed on despite us dieting.
By regulating blood sugar levels with a balance of whole foods — containing healthy fatty acids, quality sources of protein and some carbohydrates that are low in sugar — the body burns fat more efficiently and has more energy too. A low-sugar diet with plenty of fresh produce and fats is a natural diabetes cure.
According to the American Heart Association, the Mediterranean diet is higher in fat than the standard American diet, yet lower in saturated fat. It’s usually roughly a ratio of 40 percent complex carbohydrates, 30 percent to 40 percent healthy fats and 20 percent to 30 percent quality protein foods. Because this balance is somewhat ideal in terms of keeping weight gain and hunger under control, it’s a good way for the body to remain in hormonal homeostasis, so someone’s insulin levels are normalized. As a byproduct, it also means someone’s mood is more likely to stay positive and relaxed, energy levels up, and physical activity easier.”
Now, there is a carbohydrate-heavy version of the Mediterranean Diet, where breads and pastas are an important staple. But if you have trouble stabilizing your blood sugar levels (and as a result, bounce from craving to crashing), I want to steer you toward a the carb-light version of the diet, where you minimize the breads and pastas in favor of salads, nuts, and avocados.
One of the fundamental benefits of a carb-light, fat-rich and protein-rich diet is that it manages the hunger hormones, grehlin and leptin, so you can feel satisfied longer between meals, not feeling hungry or craving sugar as intensely (or at all).
When you can naturally shut down those cravings, you don’t feel the need to snack on junk. That takes you off the hamster wheel of craving and crashing. That reduces your sugar intake. That takes the strain off your pancreas, heart, and liver. It will also help you lose weight faster.
Oh yeah, that.
Do you want to know what else it manages? Your moods. Say goodbye to your “hangry” episodes, where you are so hungry you get grouchy. The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes whole-grain breads, which are far more satisfying than the white paste we eat here in America. That keeps your blood sugar balanced longer (especially look for sprouted grains in your bread products).
Plus, the Mediterranean Diet makes room for a moderate amount of red meat a few times a week. Red meat is one of the very few sources of Vitamin B12, a great mood stabilizer.
Not everyone needs to take the low-carb path, and not everyone wants red meat in their diet. The better your understand your body’s unique chemistry, the more targeted you can be with your diet plan. Another benefit of the Mediterranean Diet is that it has some room to be flexible. I’ll let Mrs. Sagitta tell you more about that when she’s here on March 8.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Ten years ago, we weren’t talking about Alzheimer’s Disease like we are today. Some of that is due to greater awareness of these cognitive diseases, but I believe the Standard American Diet is creating new cases every day.
American processed food has unleashed a flood of toxins, preservatives, flavorings, and other chemicals that are slowly damaging our nervous systems. One of the most scandalous is aspartame, which is usually packaged as the sweetener NutraSweet®. Studies have shown that it can damage the optic nerve (the connection from your eyeball to your brain). It may also contribute to the deterioration of the myelin coating on your nerve strands, which can lead to multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases.
Once again referencing Dr. Axe:
“Healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, plus plenty of anti-inflammatory veggies and fruits, are known to fight age-related cognitive decline. These help counter the harmful effects of exposure to toxicity, free radicals, inflammation-causing poor diets or food allergies, which can all contribute to impaired brain function. This is one reason why adherence to the Mediterranean diet is linked with lower rates of Alzheimer’s.”
This just goes back to my original point that we need to move away from processed foods and give our bodies the natural foods that come directly from the earth.
Join Us And Learn More
If you really want a powerful download of insights into how the Mediterranean Diet can improve your health on so many levels, I invite you to the next Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner on March 8 with Julianna Sagitta. I believe it will change the way you eat from now on – and you will LOVE IT!
RSVP on my Facebook page right now to secure your seat.
I look forward to seeing you there.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas