Research continues to back up the saying “You are what you eat.” Following a healthful Mediterranean diet that’s loaded with fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, for instance, may even increase your odds of living longer. Not only will eating the Mediterranean way help you feel more energized and help you lose weight, it can also have a meaningful impact on reducing your risk of disease. Here, the top five health benefits of following a Mediterranean Diet.
#1 Lower blood pressure
Perhaps you’ve upgraded your bread from white to whole wheat, but there is a whole spectrum of other whole grains for you to explore, including corn, oatmeal, quinoa, millet, spelt, brown rice, and barley. And why exactly would you want to do that? Because whole grains contain an amino acid known as glutamic acid, which studies have linked to reduced blood pressure. They are also good sources of soluble fiber, which can bind with cholesterol and help sweep it out of the body. (Fiber also helps you feel fuller longer, making you less likely to overeat.) To add a sense of adventure in to your whole grain odyssey, make it a point to try just one new variety a week, adding only your favorites into your regular menu rotation.
#2 Reduced risk of colon cancer
How many servings of whole grains do you eat per day? A huge new study that involved nearly 2 million people found that boosting your intake of high-fiber whole grains, like brown rice, barley and wheat, reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. The second-leading cancer killer in the U.S., colorectal cancer claims the lives of more than 50,000 Americans each year. According to the study, eating three and a quarter ounces of whole grains a day was associated with about a 20 percent lower risk. But that’s not the only reason to choose high-fiber foods. Research shows that a diet filled with fiber-rich foods may also reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity — and, possibly, the overall risk of death. Fiber helps improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients, and it helps control the appetite by keeping you full for longer. The amount of fiber you should be getting each day depends upon your age and gender. Men 50 years of age and younger should consume at least 38 grams a day, while men over 50 should aim for at least 30 grams daily. Women 50 years of age and younger should consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day; those over 50 should aim for at least 21.
#3 Lower risk of age-related brain damage
Even though we associate brain damage with traumatic injuries like concussions and strokes, aging can also inflict its fair share of casualties. Kind of gives new meaning to the phrase “living dangerously,” doesn’t it? Luckily, eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet could help keep your gray matter intact. According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology, a Mediterranean diet, loaded with fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish and good fats like olive oil, is linked with better brain health and fewer age-related thinking problems.
#4 Better heart health
It’s true that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can help lower one’s risk of heart disease. But even if you’ve already been diagnosed with heart disease, that doesn’t mean you have nothing to gain. A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that Mediterranean-style diets can help prevent future cardiac events (like chest pains or heart attacks) in people who already have heart disease. People who ate the most vegetables, salads and nuts, in particular, lowered their risk of repeat heart trouble the most — compared with those who ate the least of these heart-healthy ingredients. The key players of a Mediterranean diet include: plenty of unprocessed plant-based foods, like vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains; herbs, spices and olive oil instead of salt and butter; fish; and nuts — and very little red or processed meat.
#5 Less risk of disease, in general
When was the last time you went a whole day without eating any processed food? If you’re like most Americans, you probably can’t remember. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer are among the top 10 killers of people in the U.S.—and they’re all linked to a diet of processed foods filled with fat, refined grains and sugar. To break the habit, try swapping out one processed food each day for something whole. The next week, aim for two a day —and continue until your diet looks more like it came from a farm than a factory.
If you need help getting started, check out Cleveland Clinic’s Go! Foods for You program. The online program can teach you how to eat right and help you look and feel better too.