There are at least 100 different kinds of diets in the USA alone, but the Mediterranean diet seems to lead the way to a healthy lifestyle compared to other diet plans.
If you’re planning to try out some healthy diets to turn over a new leaf in your life, then it is most likely that you’re able to get hundreds of options on Google. The results often shows you a range of choices including keto, flexerarian, DASH, and even intermittent fasting, but it also creates an unnecessary problem of choosing which one will benefit you best.
But the truth is that most of these diet plans do not work for all people and that’s why fitness coach and dietitians advice their clients to choose a diet plan based on their needs. One that works for your lifestyle, promotes good health, is feasible to stick to long-term, and supports listening to your body. Choose a diet plan that makes it pleasurable for you to eat, one that includes all food groups yet gives you the maximum health benefits from them, and preferably a diet that also includes your cultural foods.
Interestingly, there is in fact, a diet plan that works for everybody among other diet plans and it’s called the Mediterranean diet. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) highly recommends it and the USDA guidelines was created based on this diet pattern. The best thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it’s not a “temporary fix” kind of diet, oh no, you can turn it into a Mediterranean lifestyle too!
Still not convinced? How about if I tell you that there are around 300 people in Sardinia, Italy who are 100 years old (some are older) that are alive and some can still climb hilltops?
If you say “unbelievable,” then I’d say that’s an understatement because you’d have to see it to believe it! That’s the incredible power of the Mediterranean diet and it is in a league of its own compared to other diet plans.
The Mediterranean Diet in a Nutshell
A Mediterranean-style diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, heart-healthy olive oil, nuts, seeds and lean protein (including lots of fish and beans). Since the end of WWII there have been numerous scientific studies that links this diet pattern to lowering blood pressure and protects against chronic diseases ranging from cancer to stroke. The primary reason why this diet is highly revered by health experts is due to its little-to-no restrictions on food groups and emphasizes on whole, unprocessed foods that are nutrient-rich and mostly free of sugar, sodium and harmful fats.
How Does it Compare to Other Diet Plans?
While there certainly are diet plans that are similar to the Mediterranean diet, the fact that it is an inclusive type of diet means that there is no definite Mediterranean diet. And all that is clear is that its core emphasis encourages people to consume 60% vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts, 30% proteins and carbohydrates and 10% healthy fats. It’s basically a win-win situation for you if you adhere to it and it beats all other diet plans when it comes to health benefits.
A Skeptical Assessment
In the early 1950s scientists noticed a pattern in the diet of the people living around the Mediterranean Sea. They organized it and called it Mediterranean diet. What was commonly included in the typical plate of southern Greeks and Italians are vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, poultry, olive oil, and dairy products such as yogurt and feta cheese. These are very healthy food choices, but their diet further emphasized eating less of butter and red meat made it even better!
Compared to other diet plans, the Mediterranean diet have the most scientific research done on it and the results keep surprising scientists and health experts. It’s like the demigod Achilles, except it doesn’t have a weakness, or at the very least, scientists will have yet to find one that will affect our health negatively (aside from consuming certain foods like olive oils and fats beyond what’s recommended). And not only that, this diet pattern also reduces the risks of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and total mortality rates.
But scientists also discovered something else…it is beyond the diet itself, in fact, without it this diet plan wouldn’t have as much impact as other diet plans do. They noticed that the people in the Mediterranean Basin live a kind of lifestyle that makes them more mobile than most of us and they’re generally happy when they socialize, especially during meal times. Scientists call this way of life the Mediterranean lifestyle.
My analysis on the Mediterranean diet is that it is ideal for any person to follow for 3 good reasons:
- Practicality: the availability of ingredients and the time it takes to prepare Mediterranean recipes makes it relatively easy to adjust to this diet plan.
- Flexibility: it doesn’t prevent you from eating a wide range of food groups, it just emphasizes that you eat them in moderation. And as for the processed foods and foods that have no health benefits, well, the Mediterranean diet strongly advises against those.
- Science: backed by decades-long scientifically proven health benefits compared to other diet plans.
The Mediterranean diet has similarities to several more extreme diets and can be thought of as a sensible compromise in place of more radical diets. For instance, this diet can be equated to a semi vegetarian diet, because it doesn’t exclude fish and chicken (eaten twice a week) and even red meat (eaten once or twice a month). In the same vein, the Mediterranean diet is also similar to a paleo diet, but it doesn’t prohibit food groups that were developed after the Paleolithic era, such as pasta, wine, reduced-fat dairy and whole grains. This means that a person who adheres to the Mediterranean diet gets to enjoy more food varieties without sacrificing their appetite and is also the reason why more people love this kind of diet than other diet plans.
Is it Easy to Follow?
This diet can be adopted for household or restaurant settings, as it barely restricts any food groups and even ones that are looked down upon (i.e. red meat and processed foods) are still optional choices for the person who absolutely feels the need to consume such food products (with added caution or moderation when consuming them). Still it will require you to reject the traditional American diet, because the American diet comprises of almost all food groups that the Mediterranean diet recommends you eat less of.
You can get protein from fish, chicken, beans/legumes, nuts and some dairy products. As for healthy fats you can also get them from olive oil, fatty fish and nuts. Contrary to common misconceptions, the Mediterranean diet actually includes some carbohydrates in its food groups, except that they don’t only contain carbs but fibers too! Foods like vegetables, beans/legumes and whole grains are rich in both carbs and fibers. This is what separates the Mediterranean diet from other diet plans.
Is there a Possibility that the Mediterranean Diet can Become Unhealthy?
It is difficult to make this diet unhealthy; however, if you stop adhering to the strict principles of moderation and consume certain foods in excess, then yeah, it can become unhealthy. But why would you want to do that in the first place? You intended to lead a healthy lifestyle when you switched to this diet plan, so why ruin it? The best thing for you to do is to discipline yourself in adhering to the rules of this diet plan in order to reap its amazing benefits.
You could also proactively reduce carbohydrate intake, which will foster weight loss and less chronic disease compared to the standard Mediterranean diet. Skip or trade high-carb foods like bread and pasta for whole wheat or whole grain foods to improve the diet plan further.
Recommended Reading: SirtFood – Mediterranean Diet on Steroids?
To highlight the Mediterranean diet’s health benefits, we need to compare it to other diet plans that some people claim rivals it in terms of weight loss and the amount of nutrients a person can get from following it. Below are some of the diet plans that many consider to be on par with the Mediterranean diet.
- General nutrition: The flexitarian diet is actually a portmanteau word for “flexible” and “vegetarian” diet and in this diet you are allowed to consume various food groups that’s considered vegetarian, except for animal proteins. It is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, emphasizing lots of produce, whole grains, and healthy oils.
- Health benefits: Studies show that the flexitarian diet can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as other chronic disease prevention benefits due to the balanced nature of this diet.
- Sustainability: It’s also easy to adapt to this diet and it has long-term benefits unlike other diet plans. For those who enjoy consuming animal products, the transition can be difficult; however, this diet plan can effectively guide you on how to give up animal products completely.
- Weight loss: Studies also reveal that diet plans like the flexitarian diet gives its followers a good BMI or body weight.
- General nutrition: By comparison, the keto diet has 75% more fat than the Mediterranean diet, which only has around 35% to 40%, due to high olive oil and nut consumption. Another disadvantage the keto diet has is that it severely limits carbohydrates, which means no consuming of whole foods (e.g. grains, legumes, and most fruits). Unfortunately, these severe restrictions will make it difficult for its followers to get proper nutrition from this diet.
- Health benefits: Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the keto diet is that it’s very good for helping people with epilepsy, but studies have yet to show it having other health benefits. Pregnant women and people who have type 1 diabetes should not follow this diet, as it can be very risky. A 2020 study published in Nutrients warns of the potential for vascular disease and other adverse health outcomes.
- Sustainability: If you plan to adhere to the keto diet for long-term, then you might find it difficult because it is far more restrictive compared to other diet plans.
- Weight loss: There have been multiple studies citing the ketogenic diet as a good diet for people who want to lose weight. According to one study, it showed that those under the keto diet lost 4 pounds more than those on a regular low-fat diet. However, only a few studies that look into the long-term benefits of this diet.
- General nutrition: DASH diet which is the acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension emphasizes on the consumption of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and portion-controlled lean protein. In fact, this diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, except that it places greater emphasis on low-fat dairy and protein. It also imposes limitations on sodium consumption.
- Health benefits: There are studies that show how DASH diet can lower blood pressure and removes LDL cholesterol from the body.
- Sustainability: It is also easy to follow this diet on a longterm basis just like the Mediterranean diet. However, the strict rules of food planning in order to meet specific nutrient requirements and sodium restrictions can be challenging and put off those people who are not highly motivated.
- Weight loss: According to a 2016 article published in Obesity Reviews, the DASH diet has effectively helped people lose weight and improve their BMI (body mass index). If one were to also focus on reducing their caloric intake, while following the DASH diet, then they will achieve greater results.
Personally, I highly recommend the Mediterranean diet to anyone who seeks to lead a healthy life. All the science agrees with it, it’s also practical and flexible to put into practice, and its defining features are does not contradict reason and logic. Perhaps its only weakness is its flexibility, as it gives the follower a wide range of freedom when it comes to the inclusion of food groups that makes it difficult to make this diet consistently healthy. But as long as you stick to the core foods of this diet, which include whole grains, beans/legumes, fruits and fibrous vegetables, you will be able to live an optimally healthy lifestyle. It goes without saying that it is indeed better to follow the core principles of the Mediterranean diet than focusing on food inclusion.
I think the Mediterranean diet trumps all other diet patterns. Some diet plans though do get close enough in terms of their health benefits.