What Is Mediterranean Diet?
The traditional Mediterranean diet includes the healthy diet followed by people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, Greece, France, Spain, and several other countries in the 1960s. The Mediterranean diet proposed now is inspired by the traditional dietary pattern followed in these countries.
The modern Mediterranean diet is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as one of the healthy eating plans that can promote heart health and help prevent chronic disease. This diet is recognized as a healthy and sustainable dietary eating pattern by the World Health Organization.
The term “Mediterranean diet” is generic. There is no one standard Mediterranean diet. It differs in each country that lies on the borders of the Mediterranean Sea. There are some common factors in all the different eating styles that are considered typical of this diet.
This diet is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Dairy products, eggs, fish, and poultry are included in low to moderate amounts. Meals are mainly built around minimally processed plant-based foods. Healthy fats, including olive oil, fatty fish like mackerel, are also included. Red meat is not very common. A glass of red wine along with family and friends is also a common feature of this diet.
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
- Helps reduce the risk of heart disease
- May prevent Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline
- Helps with weight loss and maintenance
- Helps manage type 2 diabetes
- Benefits people with rheumatoid arthritis
- Helps reduce stress and related conditions
- Reduces inflammation
- Linked with a lower risk of premature death
Genetics and Mediterranean Diet Response
Genes can affect the way your body adapts to this diet. People with certain variants of the FTO gene respond differently to the Meditteranean diet and have more weight loss compared to normal.
The FTOgene carries instructions for the production of the Fat Mass and Obesity-Associated protein. Variations in this gene have been linked to obesity, diabetes.
rs9939609is an SNP in the FTO gene. Generally, carriers of the A allele have an increased risk of obesity and higher weight gain, and carriers of the TT genotype have a lower risk of obesity and weight gain. A study done with high cardiovascular risk subjects aged 55-80 reported that a 3-year intervention with the Mediterranean style diet resulted in individuals with the A allele having a lower body weight gain compared to those with the TT genotype.
Non-Genetic Factors That Influence Mediterranean Diet Response
A study done in the North American region of Canada analyzed the factors influencing the dietary response to a Mediterranean diet intervention mainly in women. Some of them include:
Having children: Women without children followed the dietary advice more closely when compared to women with children.
Shopping habits: Women who planned their food purchases in the beginning based on weekly discounts followed the dietary advice more closely.
High-risk populations, individuals at higher risk of heart diseases or other conditions were found to follow the diet better compared to healthy individuals.
Food preferences of other family members
Motivation: Attending a group session or talking to a nutritionist about following the diet can be useful.
There is no hard and fast rule with the Mediterranean diet. Various eating styles influence this diet. It basically includes minimally processed plant-based foods, a source of healthy fats, a reduced amount of red meat, and low amounts of added sugar.
Below is a list of what foods you can include as part of this diet and what to avoid. This is not an exhaustive list. There are several sources that give you a sample plan of the Mediterranean diet and walk you through it.
What to include
- Fish and seafood twice a week
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats like olive oil
- Herbs and spices to add flavor
- Moderate amounts of red wine instead of other liquor (This is not mandatory, people who suffer from alcoholism can avoid it.)
- More amount of fluids like water
What to avoid
- Beverages with added sugar
- Processed food, including processed meat
- Refined grains
- Refined oil that is a source of unhealthy fat
- Food items that are high-fat and high-sugar
Sample diet plan:
- The Mediterranean diet proposed now is inspired by the traditional dietary pattern followed by people in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is promoted as a healthy eating plan that can promote heart health and help prevent chronic disease.
- This diet is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, including moderate amounts of dairy products, fish, eggs, and poultry. The diet mainly includes minimally processed plant-based foods.
- This diet has several health benefits, including a lower risk of heart diseases, reduction in inflammation, better weight loss, and maintenance.
- Individuals with the A allele of SNP rs9939609 found in the FTO gene were found to have lower weight gain after a three-year intervention with the Mediterranean diet when compared to those with the TT genotype.
- Other factors that influence the dietary response include shopping habits, food preferences of other family members, motivations, and high-risk populations.
- There are various sources available with a sample plan to follow. Find out what suits you and your family the best, and you can try it out to understand the benefits of this diet.