Reaping the Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is considered to be the healthiest diet since the 1990’s when Walter Willett of Harvard University described the health benefits of the diet. While the Mediterranean diet normally conjures up the cuisine of Greece and Italy whenever this region of the world is mentioned, other Mediterranean nations include Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria. Olive oil is a major staple of the diet which has been known since ancient times to benefit the external and internal parts of the body. This oil is gaining popularity as a cooking oil here in the United States but it can be used in recipes, and even taken raw internally for health benefits. Olive oil contains vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D, K, and iron, all of which are necessary for the functioning of vital organs in a person’s body. An important function of olive oil is that it lowers animal cholesterol that is usually found in fast food. With the fast paced lifestyles of so many Americans, being able to eat a home-cooked meal three times a day can be a challenge, thus the habit of dining out at fast food restaurants. Also, olive oil helps keep the body’s waste disposal system in good working condition, and the oil contains antioxidants that will help guard the body against cancer.

Basil is a Mediterranean herb that is a perfect seasoning for tomatoes and chicken. This herb contains vitamins A, K, manganese, magnesium, and antioxidants. Basil acts as a natural blood thinner so if you are on a blood-thinning prescription medication, it is not recommended to use basil in your cooking.

Oregano is almost always used in tomato sauce and like basil, is a delicious seasoning. Oregano has vitamins A, C, calcium, manganese, and iron. This herb also contains fiber which is important for the digestive system. An antiseptic can be made from oregano that can be used either internally or externally. Oregano has anti-bacterial properties which help boost the immune system.

Garlic has long been known for its medicinal properties. When included in one’s diet, garlic wards off colds, flus, and strengthens the body’s immune system. Garlic contains two properties that increase in potency when the garlic is either chopped or pressed: allicin, and diallyl sulphides. While the allicin remains active when the garlic is not thoroughly cooked in a recipe, the diallyl sulphides remain even when the garlic is fully cooked. For the best benefits, if your recipe calls for garlic, add the chopped or pressed garlic to the recipe at the very end. Allicin is an antibiotic while the diallyl sulphides are good for heart and cardiovascular health.

Whole grain foods contain more fiber, protein, carbohydrates, and iron. They also aid in weight loss because refined grains, like white bread, have no nutritional value and contain empty calories that put on weight but do not benefit your body on the whole. Some examples of whole grain cereals are Cheerios, Grape Nuts, and Kashi. Whole grain garlic bread, pasta, and bagels are also part of the Mediterranean diet.

Other foods popular in the Mediterranean diet include legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables. Legumes provide protein while the fruits and vegetables provide vitamins necessary for the body. Tomatoes, long popular in Italian cooking, contain lycopene, potassium, vitamins A and C, and is an antioxidant in lowering a number of different cancers. Peppers, especially bell peppers, are very high in antioxidants, and come in many different colors: green, yellow, red, and orange. Peppers are also high in vitamin C and B6, two vitamins good for the body’s immune system, and for the body’s metabolism, respectively.

Compared to other popular diets, the Mediterranean diet provides a balance of protein and carbohydrates that the human body requires to operate efficiently throughout the day. A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet like the Atkins diet does not provide enough carbohydrates at the start of the diet if one starts on a weight loss plan of diet change and exercise; exercise burns carbohydrates and those carbohydrates have to be replaced in the body. Conversely, a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet can have as many negative effects, especially if a young person is on such a diet. Protein is necessary for body growth, healthy hair, skin, and nails, and muscle development. It is not an accident that body builders increase their protein intake before their exercise routine. Because the Mediterranean diet is low in red meat, it has an overall healthier benefit to the body’s vital organs.

Some great ideas to start off your Mediterranean diet:

Breakfast:

whole grain cereal, either cold or hot

whole grain bagel with olive oil slathered on it

orange juice

tomato juice

Lunch:

chicken cacciatore

a Greek salad with radicchio

Italian wedding soup

Supper:

Fried calamari

lasagna

sliced tomatoes cooked with basil and garlic over whole grain pasta

whole grain garlic bread

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