All those research about the amazing health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and the Mediterranean lifestyle that the Mediterranean people practice (most are available online) leads to one inevitable conclusion – this is the kind of diet that we need to adapt and cultivate.
But it also begs the question, how does it affect the human body? And do all the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet really just come from the dishes it recommends? Or is there something more going on here that we don’t know yet?
How our Body Functions and Why it Needs Nutrients in Order to Function Properly
Our cells are responsible for carrying out specific tasks to help our bodies to perform their necessary functions, and in order for our cells to successfully carry out their tasks they need nutrients which are found in the food we eat. Here is an excerpt from a popular textbook that describes briefly yet in detail how food helps in the human body’s physical functions.
“Nutrients are the nourishing substances in food that are essential for the growth, development and maintenance of body functions. Essential meaning that if a nutrient is not present, aspects of function and therefore human health decline. When nutrient intake does not regularly meet the nutrient needs dictated by the cell activity, the metabolic processes slow down or even stop.”
– Perspectives in Nutrition, Wardlow and Insel
From a technical perspective, we can say that nutrients are biological computer programs that instruct our bodies how to function properly. Not to be confused with the function of DNA, food just basically helps our organs and other parts of our bodies to function the way they should, while DNA instructs our cells to determine how tall we should be, the color of our eyes, hair, etc. In a way, one could argue that food is the required daily information tool for the body to streamline its processes.
This revolutionizes our thinking about food and the nutrients they contain, because now it goes beyond calories or grams, good foods or bad foods. This also changes how we view food and forces us to rethink our food preference, we then choose to include more food choices rather than exclude them based on preconceived notions. Regarding the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, this is actually one of its main principles – being inclusive when it comes to food.
It also shifts our view of food from being an adversary to a friend, and (food) as a means to enhance our over health and well-being by having a balanced diet to reduce disease and maintain bodily functions. You can look up for some of the best health benefits of the Mediterranean diet online on prominent websites and you’ll see that it’s almost like the miracle cure that people are searching for, for a long time.
What is the Connection Between Food and Disease?
America is facing significant health problems as a society, especially in the last 2 decades.
- Among the developed nations in the world, the United States is in the 9th place when it comes to life expectancy (it’s a good thing to know we’re still in the top 10).
- Our workforce has seen more and more absenteeism and reduced productivity due largely, in fact, of people suffering from chronic health problems that include depression.
- About 78% of all healthcare expenses in the U.S. are primarily dedicated to treating chronic illnesses.
Based on their collective research work for the last decade, researchers are now convinced that there is a relation between chronic diseases and diet. Previously, scientists though that diseases such as type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers were caused by a single gene mutation; however, new discoveries in their research suggest otherwise and it has more to do with a network of biological dysfunction than with a person’s genetic makeup. And according to these experts the food we consume plays an important role in the development of those dysfunction. The imbalance diet causes an imbalance of nutrients and thus a domino effect ensues that causes these dysfunction (Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2004).
Alternatively, the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet prevents and even reverses all these chronic illnesses mentioned above.
According to Europe’s largest nutritional organization, Nutrition Society, they will have to make laboratory tests in order to determine how individual and probably multiple nutrients interacts and affects the functions of the human body, which may help them prevent the onset of these diseases. Functional Medicine is a dynamic approach to assessing, preventing, and treating complex and chronic diseases using nutrition. This branch of healthcare science has been actively conducting research on the nutrition’s role in a person’s health and well-being.
The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet can help prevent chronic illnesses and prolong the lives of people who follow it.
The Functional Medicine Perspective
One of the purposes of Functional Medicine is looking at how diet impacts health and physical function. Functional Medicine practitioners determined that by looking at multiple systems, such as the digestive system, the immune system, and the detoxification system, may help identify the role of nutrition in chronic disease, due to the interconnectedness of these systems. For example, if a person has issues with immunity, then it could have something to do with faulty digestion because 80% of the immune system is contained in the gastrointestinal system.
According to the findings of scientists who work in Functional Medicine, too often chronic diseases is preceded by a period of declining health in one or more of the body’s systems. For this reason, clinical practitioners in this field are actively seeking ways to identify early the symptoms that can help them pinpoint the underlying dysfunction that could lead to chronic illness and offer better medical treatment.
Functional Medicine has determined that by simply changing the diet plan of patients with declining health can prevent and even reverse their condition. The Mediterranean diet is number one on their list of healthy diets and there have been people who claims that their health has improved by following this diet. They are, in fact, enjoying the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. It’s cost effective and non-invasion intervention and you’re just simply allowing what your body is supposed to be doing, which is take in the necessary nutrients to restore bodily functions. I would go as far as say that the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet proves that it is the natural Functional Medicine that scientists are talking about. We may have to wait for news from the researchers if there’s any other diet that can compare to it, or even come close to it. Until then, enjoy Mediterranean diet recipes!
How the Human Body Acquires the Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
What is our Immune System?
If you know about the theory of evolution, then you know that we, the more evolved multicellular organisms on this planet, evolved from single-celled microbes. Today, however, we almost have nothing in common with these tiny creatures and if they get inside our bodies, they can be potentially harmful. But the truth is that we are actually exposed to them on a daily basis and it’s only our immune system that keeps them in check, so they won’t cause us any problems.
Our immune system helps protect us from harmful microbes and even certain diseases, all this thanks to it being a network of intricate stages and pathways in the body. It identifies foreign pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites and immediately acts to destroy them.
Humans possess two types of immunity: innate and adaptive.
The first line of defense is called innate immunity (a layer of protective barriers), which helps defends us from unwanted pathogens that will constantly try to enter our bodies. These barriers include:
- Skin (keeps most of the pathogens from entering our body)
- Mucus (traps pathogens)
- Stomach acid (destroys pathogens)
- Enzymes in our sweat and tears that help create anti-bacterial compounds
- Immune system cells (attacks all foreign cells entering the body)
Adaptive or acquired immunity (can also be called active immunity) is something like an advanced system that learns to recognize a pathogen. Some of the cells and organs in our bodies help regulate it including the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. These cells and organs are like the body’s antibodies’ manufacturing plan, because they produce antibodies of immune cells (including different types of white blood cells) that are specific to that harmful substance, and then attack and destroy it. The best thing about our immune system is that it doesn’t forget the foreign substances that enter our bodies, no, in fact, it remembers all of them and it immediately dispatches antibodies that are specifically made for each foreign substance; and even more impressive is it becomes more efficient at doing it as time goes by.
Once you’ve enjoyed the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, you will notice that you have a better immune system and will rarely experience any health problems.
Other Conditions that Trigger an Immune Response
Our bodies consider antigens as foreign and harmful, which causes the immune cells to respond accordingly. Grass pollen, dust, food components, and pet hair are known as allergens and they’re also one of the many types of allergens. Antigens can cause a hyper-reactive response in which too many white cells are released. The immune system response to antigens varies from person to person. For instance, a person may have a strong allergic reaction to mold that triggers symptoms of wheezing and coughing, but another person may experience no reaction whatsoever.
While inflammation can be discomforting sometimes, it is actually an important, normal step in the body’s innate immune response. Each time healthy cells and tissue are attacked by pathogens, mast cells (a type of immune cell) is deployed and fights these pathogens by releasing proteins called histamines, which cause inflammation. Pain, swelling, and a release of fluids to help flush out the pathogens are among the signs to observe when you’re having inflammation. The histamines also signals the organs to release more white blood cells to counteract pathogens until they are completely destroyed. But there’s a down side to inflammation too! If your tissues experiences inflammation longer than they should, it could cause tissue damage and create an imbalanced immune system response.
For some people, they have hyper-active immune response which actually becomes an autoimmune disorder and is partly hereditary. Examples of autoimmune disorders include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes, and they tend to become destructive and attack healthy cells instead of foreign antigens.
Immunodeficiency disorders are most likely genetic or acquired and they can particularly be problematic, because they can depress or completely disable the immune system, leaving the person who has them virtually defenseless against pathogens or antigens. Acquired forms are more common and include AIDS and cancers like leukemia and multiple myeloma. The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet appears to support the microbiota and reduction in inflammatory markers and oxidative stress and, therefore, a number of the modifiable risk factors associated with autoimmune disease.
What Factors can Depress our Immune System?
- Older age: Genetic replication experiences aberration due to free radicals and other factors, meaning the replicated gene or genes may no longer be as good as the original gene(s). When this happens our cells age, and then our organs malfunction, our immune system also becomes less and less efficient than when we were younger. For example, immune-related organs like the thymus or bone marrow produce less immune cells needed to fight off infections. In some cases, aging has been linked to micronutrient deficiencies, which can have a devastating impact on a declining immune function.
- Environmental toxins (smoke and other particles contributing to air pollution, excessive alcohol): These substances are considered “disruptors” to our immune system, as they can impair or suppress the normal activity of immune cells.
- Excess weight: Scientists think that low-grade chronic inflammation is what’s causing obesity. Adipocytokines – a hormone produced from fat tissue can promote inflammatory processes. While there’s still no conclusive evidence, researchers think that obesity might be an independent risk factor for the influenza virus, the rationale behind this conclusion is that T-cells (a type of white blood cell) sometimes suffers impaired malfunction, which causes obesity.
- Poor diet: The production and activity of immune cells and antibodies is not a perfect system and can be disrupted by malnutrition and poor diet that lacks one or more nutrients.
- Chronic diseases: Autoimmune and immunodeficiency disorders are also problematic for the immune system, because they not only attack but could also potentially disable immune cells.
- Chronic mental stress: In order for the immune system to kick in and protect our bodies, it requires inflammation to trigger it. Stress stifles the immune cells by releasing hormones like cortisol, which suppresses inflammation (it also halts the production of white blood cells.
- Lack of sleep and rest: Did you know that even sleeping is a part of the immune system? Our bodies release a type of cytokine peptides during sleep that also fights infection. As you can see sleeping and resting is very important for our health and now you know why.
It’s funny to think that the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet can really help prevent all of the above factors from destabilizing your immune system.
Recommended Reading: Best Mediterranean Diet Recipes for Thanksgiving
Does an Immune-Boosting Diet Exist?
Consuming the right amount of calories and nutrients is necessary for the health and function of all cells (including the immune cells). We have multiple diet plans these days and all of them promise better health for those who will adhere to them, but so far only the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet shows a lot of promise. It enhances the body’s functions, immune system and provides sufficient nutrients for the body to not only survive but thrive through life. The micronutrients in the food we eat play a crucial role in each stage of the body’s immune system, and the Mediterranean diet has all of these micronutrients to supplement them. Vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein (including the amino acid glutamine) are examples of nutrients that have been identified as critical for the growth and function of immune cells. They are found in a variety of plant and animal foods/ Just about every recipe in the Mediterranean diet have these nutrients in them and in rich quantities too!
Most diets lack in or are really low in nutrients and to some extent even limited, especially those processed foods which can affect a healthy immune system negatively. It is also believed that a As an example, the Western diet is characterized by rich in refined sugar and red meat and rarely includes fruits and vegetables can destabilize the function of good bacteria in our intestines, which can result in the chronic inflammation of the gut, and associated suppressed immunity. Among the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet includes immune system-boosting nutrients.
The microbiome is an internal metropolis of trillions of microorganisms or microbes that live in our bodies, mostly in the intestines. Upon learning that the microbiome plays a key role in immune function, scientists immediately delve into the research of this area of biology intensely. Interestingly, the gut is actually like the industrial equivalent of a mass production plant where the production of antimicrobial proteins and immune activity is occurring. Your diet will determine what types of microbes will inhabit your intestines. A high-fiber plant-rich diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes encourages microbes that benefit us to grow and remain in our gut for as long as the prior conditions are met. Some of these microbes help break down fibers into short chain fatty acids, which studies show, are able to stimulate immune cell activity. Microbes tend to use these fibers as a food source; hence they are sometimes called prebiotics. Therefore, a diet containing probiotic and prebiotic foods such as the Mediterranean diet may be beneficial to your health and well-being. When combined and work as a fusion of some sort, probiotic and prebiotic foods provides incredible health benefits because the former contains live helpful bacteria and the latter contain fiber and oligosaccharides that feed and maintain healthy colonies of those bacteria.
Probiotic foods include kefir, yogurt with live active cultures, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, and miso, which are found in most Mediterranean and Japanese foods.
Prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, bananas, and seaweed, which mostly make up some of the ingredients of Mediterranean diet recipes. However, a more general rule is to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains for dietary prebiotics. How peculiar! These foods are exactly what the Mediterranean diet is all about. Are you paying attention on how the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet will boost your immune system and overall health and wellness?
The Metabolic Process and Distribution of Nutrients in the Human Body
The carbohydrates from the food you eat are broken down during digestion and turned into glucose. The cells absorb glucose molecules with the help of insulin and use them for energy. Sometimes you don’t consume carbohydrates or not eat anything at all for extended periods of time. Naturally the cells won’t get any glucose, but our body has a way to compensate for such events and your system automatically turns to fat or protein for energy. This is why you need to have a balanced diet, so you can get all of the necessary nutrients to supplement your body’s needs. Among the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet is that it’s high in energy and nutrients, which is practically the answer to the questions that this article is asking.
Tissue Growth and Repair
Nutrients do more than just keep bodily functions in correct precision; they’re also vital to tissue growth and repair. Collagen, which is a type of protein, is the building blocks of skin cells and vitamin C is the nutrient needed to create it. Collagen is the protein that helps heal/repair damaged skin tissue when you sustain an injury. B vitamin complex such as pyridoxine, biotin and niacin, are responsible for breaking down complex protein compounds into simpler forms called amino acids. These smaller amino acid molecules stack on top of one another to create tissues, including muscle tissue. While iron is not directly involved in creating new tissues, it does play an important part of their creation, because iron delivers the oxygen through the bloodstream to all parts of the body to keep it functioning and grow. With just about every known nutrient present in the Mediterranean diet, it’s hard to not acknowledge that the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet is also key to tissue growth and repair.
Other nutrients need to work in tandem to help build your body with strong bones and teeth. Calcium is what your skeletal system is primarily made of, and consequently is also the most abundant mineral in your body. But your body cannot absorb calcium directly and you need vitamin D to help your body do that. Additionally, calcium works alongside phosphorous to create bone structure (foods high in calcium are also recommended in the Mediterranean diet that’s why the health benefits of the Mediterranean almost satisfies all of the requirements of the human body in order to function properly). In adults aged 20 and older, average daily intakes of copper from food are 1,400 mcg (micrograms) for men and 1,100 mcg for women, but consuming copper in lesser amounts than what is recommended could cause your bone mass to degenerate and increase your risk of osteoporosis.
Digestion, on the other hand, requires a variety of nutrients to make it work smoothly. According to Lewis County, New York, zinc is found to be a structural part of more than 200 digestive enzymes, which makes it an important mineral to add to your diet. The function of these enzymes is to break down food in your stomach in order for your small intestines to absorb the much needed vitamins and minerals in them. The food you eat not only contains nutrients, but energy too! And Riboflavin, pantothenic acid and other B vitamins work together to extract it from them, and then redistribute it all over your body for you to survive. They aid in metabolizing carbohydrates into glucose and can get fuel from fat and protein if needed. Inversely, fiber, which is a variety of complex carbohydrate, cannot be broken down by the stomach enzymes, instead it travels through your gut intact, cleanses it by keeping your bowels moving and pushing out waste.
If food is mostly responsible for the state of our health, then shouldn’t we rush to get the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet as much as we possibly can? Well, you can decide on that on your own based on what you’ve read here today; however, we here at Avalon Pockets highly recommend that you switch from your usual, unhealthy diet into the superfood called Mediterranean diet.