5 Healthy Options to a Mediterranean Diet

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

February 15, 2019

One of the first things I recommend to all of my new patients is that they transition into a Mediterranean way of eating. But not everyone is sold on the idea.

Many of my first-time patients fall into this category. These are the people who come to me because they are sick, tired and run down.

The biggest problem I find with most of these patients is that they honestly think they’re already eating a relatively wholesome diet. They’re convinced that sugar free beverages, whole wheat breads and cereals, reduced-salt foods and low-fat dairy are good for them. No wonder they don’t feel good!

Next are the dieters. This is a small group of patients who don’t really want to change the way they eat. They just want a quick fix… a way to instantly drop 20 or 30 pounds for a special event… then go back to their regular way of eating.

Last but not least are those patients who have seen the wonderful results that another healthy dietary pattern has had for someone else.

They report that a DASH, pescatarian or MIND diet cured an ailing friend or family member of heart disease, dementia, diabetes or any number of other health concerns. So that’s what they want to eat.

And I’m all for it!

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The truth is that, while I personally prefer the Mediterranean way of eating, there are a number of healthy eating styles that can…

  • Protect your cardiovascular system to lessen risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Support brain function and cognitive abilities
  • Aid in weight loss
  • Help shield against cancer
  • Promote healthy glucose and insulin signaling
  • Boost energy levels
  • Make it possible to live a longer lifetime in good health.

But let’s be very clear on this.

Each and every one of these styles of eating is largely plant-based. And while most of them do allow small amounts of red meat and/or animal protein, none of them encourage packaged or processed foods.

So whichever one you choose, some major changes may be in order on your part.

But if you want to live a long and healthy life, any one of them will be well worth the effort.

Why do I lean so heavily
Toward a Mediterranean Style Diet?

The main reason I lean so heavily toward the Mediterranean diet is due to the abundance of healthy fats, nuts, herbs and legumes these people eat. When you “Westernize” this pattern of eating, many of these important aspects of Mediterranean eating tend to become lost in translation.

But when you do it right, it includes an extremely wide variety of plant-based foods. A lot of fish (low on the predator pyramid) and nuts. Plenty of olive oil. Moderate red wine intake.

And like most of the other eating patterns below, it involves very little red meat… and virtually no packaged, processed, sugary or refined foods.

A pescatarian diet is another plant-based way to eat. But it doesn’t allow eating any red meat or poultry. Instead, the primary source of animal protein comes from seafood such as fish, shrimp, clams, lobster and – in some cases – eggs.

Eating like this can be just as effective as a Mediterranean style diet, particularly if you include Mediterranean staples like olive oil, nuts and legumes in your dishes.

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The DASH diet is promoted quite heavily here in the U.S. This stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension.

Like other healthy dietary patterns, it emphasizes fruit and vegetable intake. However, it also encourages eating six to eight servings a day of whole wheat foods like bagels, bread, cereal, rice and pasta. I’m not crazy about that part. (I’ll talk more about the wheat/gluten/glyphosate conundrum in a later issue.)

Still, it recommends replacing red meat with poultry or fish and is low in dairy, salt and added sugars. So while it’s not my top choice, it is a big step ahead of a standard Western diet.

The MIND diet is actually an extremely happy medium of Western and Mediterranean cuisine. It’s a combination of the DASH and Mediterranean style diet that is designed to reduce the rate of mental decline and protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

The key here is that it encourages eating brain-healthy foods like berries, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fish, beans and olive oil that support brain health. At the same time it discourages the consumption of red meat, butter/margarine, cheese and sweets. So it is pretty high on my list.

The flexitarian diet isn’t quite as clear cut. It’s a “semi-vegetarian” way of eating that supports getting most of your proteins from plant sources. But it also allows you to eat foods like fish, meats, eggs and other animal products to round out your protein needs when needed.

Last but not least is the planetary health diet. If you’re environmentally conscious, you should be aware that the planetary health diet falls into the same category as flexitarian. It recommends eating more fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods, but getting the majority of your protein intake from legumes and nuts. However meat, poultry, fish and eggs are not entirely off limits.

All of these diets are pretty consistent with the traditional eating patterns of our ancestors. And they definitely had it right!

It’s estimated that eating a healthy plant-based diet that is low in animal products, sugars, salt and processed/packaged foods could potentially prevent 11 million deaths each year. This amounts to preventing somewhere between 19% and 24% of total deaths among adults.

So my prescription for you today is to select one of these healthy eating patterns and get started on it. You can even mix and match them (I particularly recommend adding Mediterranean elements to whichever you choose). It could just save your life!

SOURCES:

Estruch R, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med. 2013 Apr 4;368(14):1279-90.

Toledo E, et al. Mediterranean Diet and Invasive Breast Cancer Risk Among Women at High Cardiovascular Risk in the PREDIMED Trial: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Nov;175(11):1752-60.

Babio N, et al. Mediterranean diets and metabolic syndrome status in the PREDIMED randomized trial. CMAJ, October 2014.

Mediterranean Diet May Have Lasting Effects on Brain Health. Press Release. American Academy of Neurology. Jan 2017.

Dinu M, et al. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Nov 22;57(17):3640-3649.

Fields H, et al. Is Meat Killing Us? J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2016 May 1;116(5):296-300.

Onvani S, et al. Dietary approach to stop hypertension (DASH): diet components may be related to lower prevalence of different kinds of cancer: A review on the related documents. J Res Med Sci. 2015 Jul;20(7):707-13.

Shirani F, et al. Effects of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on some risk for developing type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis on controlled clinical trials. Nutrition. 2013 Jul-Aug;29(7-8):939-47.

Iestra JA, et al. Effect size estimates of lifestyle and dietary changes on all-cause mortality in coronary artery disease patients: a systematic review. Circulation. 2005 Aug 9;112(6):924-34.

Morris MC, et al. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Sep; 11(9): 1015–1022.

Derbyshire EJ, et al. Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Front Nutr. 2016; 3: 55.

Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems – Food Planet Health. Summary Report of the EAT-Lancet Commission.

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