Transition to a Mediterranean-style diet
In the 1960s, researchers started noticing that people living in areas that bordered the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece and southern Italy, had fewer deaths related to heart disease than people living in the United States or northern Europe. Years of research since have found pretty good evidence that the traditional Mediterranean way of eating has a lot to do with this heart-healthy trend.
Other studies have found that following a Mediterranean-style diet is also associated with a lower risk of developing cancer and dying of cancer, better management and prevention of type 2 diabetes, and a lower risk of dementia. In addition, the Mediterranean diet improves the number of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract (gut microbiome) and reduces inflammation in the body.
As a result, the Mediterranean diet is one of several healthy eating plans recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to promote health and prevent chronic disease.
While no single definition of the diet exists, the typical Mediterranean diet relies heavily on plant foods and follows these kinds of patterns:
- Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- Daily consumption of healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds and extra-virgin olive oil
- Weekly intake of fish, white meat poultry without the skin, legumes and eggs
- Limited amounts of whole-fat dairy products such as a tablespoon of butter a day, or an 8-ounce glass of whole milk
- Limited intake of red meat, equivalent to about 3 ounces (or the size of a deck of cards) a day
- A small amount of wine, which is 5 ounces a day for men or 3 ounces a day for women
Some simple substitutions can help you put the recommendations into practice.
- Swap out butter or margarine — Try olive oil for cooking or for dipping whole-wheat bread.
- Look for alternatives to red meat — Make a meatless meal, such as one based on legumes (think peas) or beans. Or substitute grilled or baked lean, skinless chicken breast or grilled or baked fish or shellfish, such as tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel or herring.
- Take a pass on full-fat dairy — Go for low-fat or nonfat milk, low-fat cheeses and low-fat or nonfat Greek or regular yogurt. You can also try milk alternatives, such as almond or oat milk.
- Get out of the habit of reaching for salt — Sprinkle herbs and spices first, which can eliminate or lessen the need to season with salt.
- Pass on white bread, white pasta or processed cereals — Instead, stock your kitchen with whole-grain breads, pasta and cereal.
- Resist pouring on cream-based sauces — Use olive oil- or tomato-based sauces.
- Avoid soda, diet soda or juice — Fill your glass with water, carbonated or mineral water, seltzer or unsweetened tea.
- Swap almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts for peanuts.
- Limit prepackaged, store-bought desserts, cookies and cakes — Go for homemade sweet treats. Don’t deprive yourself. Just remember to have everything in moderation.
Find more healthy lifestyle choices for increasing longevity in Live Younger Longer.