The Mediterranean diet is famous for preventing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. However, its combination of nutrient-dense foods has also been shown to improve gut health and overall wellbeing, according to Dr. Hee-Jung Song, an associate professor in the Nutrition and Food Science Department at the University of Maryland.
“The Mediterranean diet is the number one healthy diet,” said Song. It currently holds the spots for Best Diets Overall, Best Plant-Based Diets, Easiest Diets to Follow and Best Diabetes Diets, according to US News.
The well-balanced diet primarily consists of plant-based foods including wholegrains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and nuts, said Song. It emphasizes the importance of limiting saturated fats, sugar and red-meat consumption, but encourages seafood as a source of protein a few times a week.
Many people begin dieting to lose weight, but the Mediterranean diet wasn’t designed with this in mind. The diet combines the principles of Mediterranean regions, such as Greece and Italy, according to Dr. Song. Their foods are rich in minerals and antioxidants, and not to mention, absolutely delicious.
Cardiologist Gary Gabelman said to Health Matters that the Mediterranean diet is a “way of life,” Many diets are temporary and suggest heavy calorie restriction and narrow food selection. The Mediterranean diet, however, allows flexibility and is relatively easy to follow.
“If we only focus on calories, we miss all those health-beneficial micronutrients,” said Song. The Mediterranean approach is concentrated on selecting nutrient-dense foods, otherwise known as foods that are high in nutrients but relatively low in fats, Song continued.
Meals should be colorful and full of diverse flavors and textures. Imagine a plate filled with ruby-red salmon, bright green broccoli, flavorful couscous, all topped with delectable spices. The Mediterranean diet inspires people to have fun in the kitchen and actually encourages moderate amounts of red wine, according to Everyday Health.
Ariel Koff, a public health science major at UMD, has been on the diet for nearly two years and gets excited when trying new Mediterranean based recipes. She has seen significant changes in her health and wellbeing and has since “felt more energized, overall cleaner, and mentally more positive. I find that my diet has a huge impact on my physical well-being too, allowing me to workout and feel good throughout the day,” said Koff.
The Centers For Disease Control says that heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, due to obesity, poor diet and diabetes. The Mediterranean diet serves as a “powerful weapon” against high rates of heart disease, according to CookingLight. The healthy lifestyle promoted in this diet, improves digestive health and weight management. CookingLight said that studies have shown how the Mediterranean diet can also affect long-term brain health. The emerging research demonstrates a connection between the gut and the brain.
Before going on the diet, sophomore criminology and criminal justice, and African American studies double major Chaviva Nicholas said her “skin wasn’t great” and she “didn’t feel clean.” But after making the switch, Nicholas noticed how the Mediterranean diet impacts her gut.
Fruits and vegetables make up the majority of the Mediterranean diet, but it also values healthy fats. It substitutes fish for red meat, olive oil for butter, and whole grains for refined grains. Instead of consuming large amounts of processed cheeses, aim to eat strong-flavored cheeses like Feta in moderation. Indulge in ice cream and cookies on special occasions, and snack on figs and watermelon to satisfy the sugar cravings.
“The foods I eat are easier to digest and allow me to enjoy making healthier recipes or exploring new foods,” said Nicholas.