Secrets of the Mediterranean Diet and Why Spanish Women Live so Long

Spanish beach with words Spain and footAlthough we are now able to diagnose far more cancer cases sooner rather than later, there can be no doubt that the number of people getting cancer worldwide is definitely on the rise.

With over 22 million new cancer cases each year, a problem that needs to be tackled head-on by those in power. 1

Unfortunately, we live in a world that finds greater satisfaction in making money through selling harmful food, tobacco and alcohol products. Our politicians, for the most part, are self-serving, our corporations are more interested in pleasing stockholders than preventing an ecological disaster and our health systems are under an increasing strain with many close to breaking point.

Waiting times have increased dramatically, as well as cases of misdiagnosis, which is no doubt a result of doctors and other health professionals being put under so much pressure due to budget cuts.

And, although we may vote or protest in order to put things right, there are no guarantees that change will come. You could also wait in hope that a cure for cancer is found, but do you really think that will happen?

We all know that the cancer industry is worth billions of dollars. Is it likely that pharmaceutical companies will find a silver bullet and put themselves out of business?

But what does this all have to do with the Mediterranean style diet and the longevity secrets of Spanish women?

The point is that although there are many things in life we cannot change, there are many that we can.

Ultimately, it’s down to YOU to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases. After all, nobody makes you eat at McDonald’s, nobody makes you light that cigarette and nobody makes you drink to excess. The choice is yours and yours alone. Your health blueprint today, in most cases, is a direct result of the lifestyle choices you made previously.

Recent studies have suggested that as many as 30-40% of cancer incidences are completely avoidable and within our control. This means that around 5 million people each year can avoid cancer if they choose too!

In many cases, a simple shift in the way we live and the diets we eat can be the difference between a long healthy life or entering our twilight years under constant medical supervision and a dependency on drugs. Drugs, which in themselves, often only compound the problem and offer a whole new set of risk factors in the process.

But we are not just talking about cancer here?

There are many other serious and life-threatening chronic diseases that are on the rise, the vast majority of which once again is mostly down to our own lifestyle choices. These include cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia.

So What Do Spanish Women Know That We Don’t?

According to a 2014 longevity report from the World Health Organisation, the women of Spain are the second-longest living in the world, beaten only by the Japanese. 2

But why is that? What is the secret to their robust health and longevity?

Is it that Spanish and other Mediterranean folk know something we do not?

Although I am not personally a fan of faddy diets, there is one that really is gaining ground, particularly when it comes to preventing many of life’s most serious diseases.

The Mediterranean diet is not so much a rigid diet, but more a lifestyle or a preventative measure that you can take. It’s also not exclusive to Spain as it also applies to other Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy who enjoy a similar way of life.

There is plenty of research that suggests that a Mediterranean lifestyle can help reduce the risk of the following chronic conditions:-

  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia/Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinsons
  • High Blood Pressure

Let’s take a look at the key ingredients of this healthy way of life.

Sunshine – Vitamin D

One thing that Spain and other Mediterranean countries have in common is that they enjoy an abundance of sunshine. Spain, for instance, has over 325 days of sunshine each year.

The sun, of course, is a huge source of Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) and just 20 minutes exposure per day can produce up to 25,000 IU. Considering that the recommended minimum daily intake by the Vitamin D Council is around 5,000 IU per day, it’s easy to see why getting vitamin D from the sun is the quickest and most efficient option.

Vitamin D3 is also processed around 500 times faster than D2 making it the clear winner.

Vitamin D may also be obtained via food sources (D2), but only in small amounts.

There have been many studies on Vitamin D deficiency and its relation to cancer and there is strong evidence to suggest that those who are deficient in Vitamin D have a much higher risk of contracting prostate, ovarian, colon and breast cancers. 3

Vitamin D is also important when it comes to building strong bones and teeth as it helps the body to absorb calcium.

If you live in the northern hemisphere or are unable to get sufficient sun exposure, you can of course still use supplementation to make sure you are getting adequate levels of Vitamin D.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Something else that is consistent with the Mediterranean diet is that many of the foods are a rich source of omega 3 essential fatty acids.

Omega 3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA (from oily fish) and ALA (from plant-based foods) are vital to normal body function including building cell membranes in the brain, preventing blood clotting and regulating cholesterol triglyceride levels.

Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely versatile and have been shown to prevent diseases such as heart disease, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, cancer and Crohn’s disease. They are also incredibly beneficial when it comes to brain function with strong evidence to suggest that adequate levels can help prevent ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and improve memory and cognitive function.

But remember, the human body is unable to manufacture omega 3 on its own. It can only be sourced from the foods that we eat.

The best source of omega 3 fatty acids is from animal sources such as fatty fish, for instance, salmon or tuna. Krill oil is also highly recommended as a source of EPA and DHA omega 3.

Plant-based omega 3 (ALA) is perfectly fine but does not have the same beneficial impact on our bodies as animal-based omega 3.

Think of omega 3 fatty acids like a high-quality engine oil. Protecting the engine parts and increasing overall performance and efficiency.

Supplementation is fine if you are unable to get sufficient amounts via your diet.

Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts and Whole Grains

Traditionally, the Mediterranean menu will comprise of dishes that are rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. For example, tomatoes are a staple ingredient in the Med and are a great source of the carotenoid lycopene, which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer. 5

As a snack, why not ditch chocolate and opt for a much healthier option; nuts.

Nuts, such as walnuts, Brazil Nuts, and almonds are rich in beneficial and healthy fats which can help to give our bodies the correct balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Brazil Nuts and walnuts are high in the mineral selenium which according to Dr. E.J Crary is the most potent broad-spectrum anti-cancer agent that has yet been discovered.

You can read more about selenium in our previous article –

Whole grains are another important consideration as they contain far more beneficial nutrients including fiber and B vitamins, which are removed from highly processed white-flour style foods.

Add Herbs and Spices

Although herbs and spices are used in many of the Mediterranean culinary delights, there is also a wealth of research to show that many of them also offer excellent health benefits.

Think Oregano, Garlic, Rosemary, Parsley, Saffron, Cinnamon and Ginger. These and many others are used abundantly in Mediterranean dishes and are jam-packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Many herbs and spices go a long way in helping to reduce inflammation in the body, help reduce blood glucose levels in diabetics and also help give your immune system an added boost.

Olive oil as used in the Mediterranean DietHealthy Fats

Another added bonus of adopting a Mediterranean style diet is that healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are encouraged as opposed to harmful saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans fats).

Virgin and Extra Virgin olive oils are used extensively in Mediterranean style dishes and salads and not only contain many antioxidants, but also help to lower LDL cholesterol levels.

You won’t usually see Mediterranean people smothering their bread with butter or margarine. A more common approach is to dip the bread into healthier olive oils or a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Have Some Red Wine

Do you like to drink wine?

Although there is no clinical proof of the health benefits of red wine (other than in lab mice), it has long been suggested that in moderation, red wine can actually be very beneficial to your heart.

Red wine contains flavonoids and a powerful polyphenol called Resveratrol. It’s widely believed that a regular intake of Resveratrol can not only help to prevent blood clots but also help reduce bad LDL cholesterol and prevent damage to the hearts blood vessels.

social-eatingSocial Eating

But even though phytonutrients, minerals and other super ingredients of the Mediterranean diet are key in living a long and healthy life, there is one aspect that may be the most beneficial of all; Social Eating.

If you have ever come here to Spain or visited another Mediterranean country you will notice that it’s very common for people to eat together, especially outside in the warm sunshine.

In 2010, Plos Medicine published the results of their landmark study, which suggested that eating socially with friends and family can reduce mortality rates by an astonishing 50%. 6

It’s a well-known fact, that having fun and laughter is a great way of reducing the stress hormone cortisol, helping us to minimize the risk of heart disease and increase memory function.

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