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What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

What is the Mediterranean Diet? Find out if Mediterranean Diet can help you to lose weight.

The Mediterranean diet is not just a diet it is a lifestyle, culture, and tradition.

In fact, what it is and how it works it is not possible to say it only on the basis of the foods on which it is based.

We must also include everything that is around the food including slow eating, the choice of local products, freshness, active lifestyle, small portions, and sustainability.

In the big world of diets, it is one of the most studied for now and has the most supporting scientific literature, certainly an aspect to consider.

More than making you lose weight or gain mass the Mediterranean diet is a diet that makes you feel good!

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What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

More than a slimming diet the Mediterranean diet represents a food model born of cultural and biological evolution.

It has been made available mainly in the areas bordering the Mediterranean a unique and particular set of food sources making these areas among those with greater biodiversity in the world.

The validity of the Mediterranean diet is demonstrated for the most part by the results of the very famous study better known as the “ Seven Countries Study ”.

This is a very large epidemiological study initiated in the 1950s that involved seven nations from four regions of the Earth and examined the relationships between lifestyle, diet, and cardiovascular events.

In this study, nutrients are identified that are the basis of the Mediterranean diet, such as unsaturated and fatty acids, dietary fibers, and numerous compounds with antioxidant activity, mostly of vegetable origin.

These seem to be the reason why such a diet is effective for the prevention of numerous pathologies and in particular for dyslipidemias and heart diseases.

Today, the Mediterranean diet is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

How Does It Work?

The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the traditional diet typical of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, Greece, Spain, and Morocco.

The term ” diet ” comes from Greek and it means ” lifestyle “, in its general conception, the Mediterranean diet fully follows this definition as it does not represent only a set of indications on the diet to be followed.

It’s a real lifestyle adopted by those populations studied by Keys, which consists of an active daily life, sometimes frequent fasting, and consumption of food, translated into calories, decidedly contained and balanced.

And this last thing is important the Mediterranean diet is a balanced diet.

In its purest and most ancient meaning, the Mediterranean diet consists of a diet essentially composed of fresh, local, and seasonal products.

The performance of a moderate but regular and constant physical activity, and an absolute variety from the point of view of the choice of food and the respect for traditions that make it unique of its kind.

Since the various countries bordering the Mediterranean have very different cultures we can say that there is no single Mediterranean diet which although different from each other are united by the presence of a set of common characteristics.

Benefits And Advantages Of The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is good for health and those who are very adherent to it and for long periods of time have a lower risk of mortality and chronic diseases.

The chances of meeting these pathologies are reduced:

  • Cardiovascular diseases,
  • Coronary heart disease,
  • Myocardial infarction,
  • Cancer,
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, dementia, cognitive decline),
  • Diabetes.

As for the inflammatory markers reduced thanks to the Mediterranean, still further supporting evidence is needed.

All advantages are both due to the choice of food for quantity and quality, but also related to the physical activity that is at the base of the pyramid.

More or less everyone has an idea of ​​what it means to “eat well” to feel good, even if in fact this awareness is not always reflected.

The principles of the Mediterranean diet to which its benefits are due are precisely these, “which are known” for one reason or another, are not always followed:

  • Moderate and constant exercise (ideally every day)
  • 50% carbohydrates, but local products, wholemeal, and with a large quantity of fruit and vegetables
  • Yes to natural foods and no to industrial and excessively processed foods
  • Periods of fasting or semi-fasting
  • Good quantity of lipids but many unsaturated and few saturated

The Pyramid Of The Mediterranean Diet

The Pyramid Of The Mediterranean Diet

At the base of the food pyramid, the most important foods or categories of foods are listed and therefore must be used in a habitual way at the top.

There are those foods that must be limited or strongly reduced and that should only rarely be included in the diet.

This graph was subsequently reevaluated in 2005 with major changes.

In the new food pyramid at the base, whole grains rich in fiber are placed.

The distinction between foods rich in carbohydrates is no longer based on the classification into simple and complex carbohydrates but on the fiber content.

The arrangement of lipids is also changed while in the previous version of the pyramid all the lipids were placed towards the apex.

In the new one, only the saturated fats maintain this position, while those of vegetable origin is placed at the base in anticipation of consumption daily.

A good basic model from which to start planning one’s diet and refined cereals, industrial foods in general and red meats are those foods that we should avoid in the everyday diet and limit only in moderate quantities.

At the base, however, we find the foods that we will consume daily and that will constitute the most used sources.

As for fish, poultry, eggs, and ” foods rich in calcium ” which are basically dairy products even if in controlled and moderate quantities, they will still represent our diet.

It is important to note that the Mediterranean diet still represents a general and flexible lifestyle since it is designed to be followed by the entire world population: women, men, children, adults, the elderly.

Therefore, it does not indicate the precise quantities of a single serving or even a rigid quantity of the number of servings.

According to the graph elaborated in 2005 by Linda University, eggs can be consumed from 0 to 2 per day, this means that, basically, there can be populations or individuals who can choose to consume 2 throughout the week, 4, 6, as well as 14.

The same thing is true for chicken or fish it is not true that the Mediterranean diet must necessarily be a vegetarian diet or heavily limit the consumption of protein foods of animal origin, as it is not even true that it should be a low-fat diet.

Essentially, it simply tries to maintain a balanced nutrient ratio by reducing the consumption of processed foods, added sugars, and saturated fats.

In fact, ice cream, biscuits, sweets, are all foods “not allowed “or” to be consumed in moderation “, as well as red meat, with particular reference to processed meats.

In 2011 the Mediterranean Diet Foundation presented a new food pyramid during the VIII International Congress on the Mediterranean Diet, held in Barcelona.

This new pyramid is based on the results of the most recent studies concerning the preventive role of the Mediterranean diet against different types of chronic diseases.

This new pyramid was also conceived as a rather general food model within its categories of foods and not specific foods as in the previous graphs, only the number of portions is recommended and not the quantity of the single portion.

I summarize the dietary rules, in the most schematic way possible:

  1. The base of the pyramid are all those foods that should be consumed in every main meal and it is perfectly fine to consume 1 portion of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and extra virgin olive oil.
  2. At the center of the pyramid there are foods that can be eaten every day there are herbs and spices to season, and dairy products, lean as possible to avoid excessive intake of saturated fat.
  3. At the top of the pyramid, we find foods that should be consumed on a weekly basis which is why we find vegetables, fish, white meat, and eggs as well as potatoes and processed meat. 
mediterranean meal

Once again at first glance, it might seem like a diet that heavily limits the consumption of animal products. However, this is not the case.

Considering also the flexibility of the recommended portions, ideally, you could consume products of animal origin, varying between sources, every day safely:

  • Dairy products also every day.
  • Meat that overall you can also consume for 3 days a week.
  • Fish that can be limited to 3 weekly servings but you can also get to 5 or 6.
  • 2-4 eggs per week.

Even if there is no defined limit of eggs per day, consuming too many eggs is not the ideal choice, from the point of view of food variety.

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Weekly portions of some food categories in the Mediterranean Diet
Weekly portions of some food categories in the Mediterranean Diet

Instead, let’s see indications similar to the current guidelines on red meats, processed ones, and sweets.

Limit them drastically but not necessarily eliminate them totally, following the principle of “once in a while it does nothing”.

Ideally, especially if we talk about the concept of the Mediterranean diet, those products can be consumed on holidays, with some wine.

Mediterranean Diet What To Eat?

Mediterranean Diet What To Eat?

Those who follow a Mediterranean diet must generally have an intake of about 55% of the kcal deriving from carbohydrates.

They must be consumed preferring local products, whole grains, and a large quantity of fruit and vegetables.

The number of daily meals is not rigid, even if in the common view, a Mediterranean diet follows at least the observation of the 3 daily meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The Mediterranean diet pushes a lot on the consumption of natural foods, to be preferred over industrial and excessively processed foods or with added preservatives.

For this reason, too, the diet must inevitably vary according to the season.

Mediterranean diet is also based on a diet that is quite rich in fat, so much so that it is recommended to take 25-30% of total calories.

 The latest scientific studies have shown that a low-fat diet is certainly not the best way to control cardiovascular risk, weight, and health in general.

We must also consider the type of fats to be taken in particular we can simplify by saying that we prefer unsaturated fats over saturated fats.

The former is found mainly in dried fruit and vegetable oils, while the latter is in foods of animal origin.

There are exceptions such as coconut oil which contains a very high amount of saturated fat, comparable or sometimes higher, to butter or red meat.

The Mediterranean diet is mainly based on the consumption of extra virgin olive oil, which is a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids that scientific research shows is increasingly important for health maintenance.

Tocopherols (Vitamin E) and other compounds with powerful antioxidant activity, which have beneficial effects on the control of aging, on the prevention of chronic and degenerative diseases.

Example Of A Balanced Mediterranean Diet Menu

The best way to start the Mediterranean diet is to pass even gradually from a Western diet that is composed mostly of foods rich in sugars, saturated and trans fats into a diet that favors the intake of fruit and vegetables.

After this step, following a Mediterranean diet is not difficult at all because the rest comes automatically with a greater intake of fruit and vegetables and the partial or complete reduction of excessively processed products.

Vegetable products are the richest in fiber and some very important micronutrients for our state of health.

The scientific observation suggests that only by implementing the greatest intake of vegetables can the overall nutritional state improve.

A good way is to learn to accompany in all meals the other foods with a large portion of vegetables, varying the choice of foods as much as possible, and to use mainly fresh and dried fruit as a break-hunger snack.

Breakfast

Traditionally a Mediterranean diet includes breakfast.

Although this is a meal exactly like all the others and there are no endocrine and metabolic reasons that suggest that it is good to do it or bad to abolish it, in the Mediterranean diet it is one of the main meals.

A common belief is that breakfast must necessarily be sweet, and typically takes on the characteristics of a hyperglycemic meal too often rich in sugar and low in proteins and unsaturated fats.

This is why the stereotype of breakfast consisting of croissants and cappuccinos, rusks with industrial jams or milk, and cereals covered with chocolate is born.

It is good to know, however, that it is possible to follow even salty or more protein diets, and this does not exactly recall the Mediterranean diet, certainly does not deny it.

Breakfasts with milk, eggs, yogurt, fresh and dried fruit are absolutely healthy breakfasts that guarantee a good supply of nutrients.

The Mediterranean diet was successful in the past because it involved the intake of local and lightly processed foods, so a sweet breakfast is fine but at least we try to use quality jams, fruit juices without added sugars.

Sweet Breakfast

  • Oat porridge
  • Low-fat yogurt with no added sugar
  • Dried fruit
  • 1-2 fruits

Protein Breakfast

  • Egg
  • Greek yogurt
  • Dried fruit
  • 1-2 fruits

Lunch

  • Source of cereals (rice, pasta, bread, quinoa)
  • Meat / fish / legumes
  • 1 serving of vegetables
  • Extra virgin olive oil as a raw condiment

Dinner

In a self-respecting Mediterranean diet, there is no strict rule on what to eat for dinner.

Since both breakfast and lunch are high-carbohydrate meals, you opt for a complete meal consisting of a protein source such as meat, fish, dairy products, or eggs, and by using extra virgin olive oil and a portion of vegetables.

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No one forbids you to also include a carbohydrate source, which can be represented either by traditional cereals or by high-quality alternative sources, such as potatoes or legumes.

  • Potatoes
  • Meat / fish / eggs / dairy products
  • 1 serving of vegetables
  • Extra virgin olive oil as a condiment

The quantities are not specified first of all because you have to adapt the diet to your energy and nutritional needs.

The Mediterranean diet is quite flexible and is based on the choice of portions according to the common sense of each of us.

This is one of the reasons why many people claim that the Mediterranean diet does not work or is not good nutrition typically these people have a poor choice of food sources and do not have good control of their eating behavior.

Low-Calorie Mediterranean Diet

Low-Calorie Mediterranean Diet

The reason why many athletes and many people who aim to lose weight do not look favorably on the Mediterranean diet is that it was not born and has never had the characteristics of a classic weight loss diet.

Many people confuse the true Mediterranean diet with a totally unbalanced diet in favor of carbohydrates, a food choice that takes little account of the quality and origin of the food, and therefore a high intake of refined cereals and products.

Well, this is not the Mediterranean diet, and it is not enough to eat pasta, bread, and pizza to follow a Mediterranean diet.

Very often these diets are unhealthy and promote weight gain, but simply those who follow such diets are not following any Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet for weight loss exists, and it is the one that simply takes into account a reduction in the total quantities of the most energy-dense foods in favor of fruit and vegetables.

This feature is a necessary condition for any weight loss diet, since establishing an energy deficit is essential if you want to lose weight.

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How Many Pounds Can You Lose With The Mediterranean Diet?

As you have come to understand it is not enough to follow one diet rather than another with the hope of losing weight automatically it is often the idea behind those who want to lose weight but without eating less.

In fact, switching from one diet to another without tangible results is not science fiction.

Even if you go on a diet for a month and actually lose a few pounds, but then go back to your pre-diet habits and weight can you really say it worked?

It is desirable that the weight loss is maintained, otherwise, there is the risk, in reality, more and more frequent, of continuing to accumulate the same weight.

Losing pounds, therefore, depends on you, not on the diet a concept that is also valid for the Mediterranean lifestyle diet.

From a physiological weight loss, it is recommended to lose 0.5-1% of your body weight per week. You read that right, a week!

Mediterranean Diet, Gym And Bodybuilding

For athletes, more than for sedentary people having energy is important there is the energy demand required by training to be satisfied.

Regardless of the goal (lose weight, gain mass, lift more), how effectively do you think a training session is if you enter the gym without strength? Certainly less than if I had been full of energy.

It is advisable for an athlete to follow a healthy and balanced diet and you need all four macronutrients from carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water.

It is good to evaluate on a case-by-case basis what is the best approach, depending on the person.

If the subject has as its goal of being healthy by eating and training well without who knows what performance purpose, a Mediterranean diet can be fine as it will provide with a good portion of carbohydrates to rely on for energy.

If, on the other hand, the subject has certain aesthetic or performance goals then an extra focus on energy and macronutrient needs is needed.

Just think about the nutritional modifications of a bodybuilder, in which there are multiple phases, each with its own ranges of nutrients: for example, the highest protein quota in the definition phase to support the maintenance of lean mass.

Conclusion On The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet establishes a whole series of habits, food and otherwise not too difficult to follow and balanced which certainly lead to a major advantage, not just health.

The advice is to adhere as much as possible and without forgetting the active lifestyle, which remains a fundamental part if you really want to make use of the title of ” True Mediterranean LifeStyle “.

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