The Mediterranean way of living and eating has long been considered one of the healthiest around. A diet plan arose in the USA in the 1980s calling itself ‘The Mediterranean Diet’>[i] – based on the foods of the Mediterranean regions around Spain, Italy, and Greece, it claimed to have significant benefits for overall health, in particular heart health, weight control, and cancer prevention. Different aspects of healthy living affect various risk factors for disease, and the Mediterranean diet hits all the right spots, and vastly improves one of the most significant risk factors for nearly all cancers – obesity[ii]. It’s estimated that 30-40% of cancers can be avoided by lifestyle changes – eating well, staying active, avoiding tobacco use, and alcohol excess[iii]
Is The Mediterranean Diet For You?
While patent diet plans might make their founders money, there’s no real reason to pay someone to tell you how to eat a traditional healthy diet. Put simply, the diet of the people of the Mediterranean is healthy – with significantly lower rates for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer than countries with fat and carbohydrate-heavy Westernized diets. So why is the Mediterranean diet so healthy? With medical evidence changing all the time and so much information on the internet and elsewhere, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the current best advice for health and make the most informed choices you can about your healthy living practices[iv].
It’s no coincidence that the healthy diet plans now recommended by health authorities around the world look so familiar – the World Health Organization’s guidelines for healthy eating[v] very closely follows the Mediterranean plan. And remember, the World Health Organization recommendations are global – they are obliged to recommend a healthy eating plan that could benefit people in areas of poverty and malnutrition as well as those inclined toward obesity.
Obesity-linked metabolic syndrome in normal-weight people[vi] is also closely linked with poor diet, high alcohol intake, and a low level of activity – precisely the risk factors avoided by following a Mediterranean-style lifestyle and diet.
Do you follow the Budwig Diet? If so, you will be interested to know whether or not you should include olive oil in your diet. Watch this video:
More Than A Diet – The Mediterranean Way Of Life
Healthy food has a massive impact on a person’s risk for many diseases and health conditions. But it’s not just the food that keeps the people of the Mediterranean healthy – it’s the lifestyle.
Socializing and social eating is linked to good health[vii] – it’s both the cause and effect of a healthy lifestyle. People who come together to cook and eat are naturally going to create fresh, beautiful foods, and are more likely to stick to regular mealtimes and snack less in between. People who eat in family groups tend to eat a wider variety of food, but also to eat food that’s good for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest.
The people who live around the Mediterranean sea are also incredibly fortunate in that they have some of the most beautiful weather and environments in the world – with warm seas, fresh local produce, and incredible landscapes. The cities of the Mediterranean countries are supportive, healthy, and take pride in their local heritage and cuisine. You’re never too far away from open countryside, fruit farms and olive groves, and incredible coastlines. It’s the perfect place to stay active, to eat well, and stay healthy. There is a strong cultural tradition of close family and friendship groups, which all contribute to the longevity of the people in the area.
Sun, Sand And Vitamin D
The climate in the Mediterranean is overall sunny and warmer than more Northerly parts of Europe. Vitamin D is primarily made by our bodies when our skin is exposed to sunlight – there is a direct link between lower vitamin D levels and living in places with less natural sunlight. People with darker skin tones and those who routinely cover much of their skin maybe even more at risk, especially in cloudier climes. Vitamin D is also linked to reduced cancer risk[viii], and maintaining healthy levels of Vitamin D is incredibly important – but much easier for those of us lucky enough to have a life in the sunshine. Note that the balance must be met between getting enough exposure to sunlight for proper vitamin D levels and the excessive sun damage associated with skin cancer, especially – but not only – in people with paler skin.
What Should I Eat On The Mediterranean Diet?
It’s simple, and in most places, it’s a very cost-effective way of living. With the emphasis on lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, with nuts, seeds, pulses, and legumes – combining mainly plant-based healthy fats with proteins[ix]. With less meat and dairy than the usual American diet, and a larger intake of oily fish and seafood. Eating the right amount of starchy carbohydrates, especially whole grain and wholemeal products, is another keystone of the Mediterranean diet.
- Fruit and vegetables – are so abundant and varied to appreciate all their nutritional properties in a nutshell fully. You can get nearly all the vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy diet from a diverse and colorful variety of fruit and vegetables. Fruit and veggies contain a considerable amount of fiber – both insoluble – the ‘bulk’ that keeps the bowels and digestive system active and healthy – and soluble – the fiber that breaks down entirely in the body but still acts as an essential part of a healthy digestive system. Besides, fruits and veggies help to improve blood cholesterol levels, blood sugar control, and insulin production and response[x]. Don’t forget the dark green leafy vegetables for calcium and iron.
- Nuts and seeds – are great sources of protein as well as excellent vegetable sources of essential fatty acids – in particular, omega 3, which is a great ‘superfood’ fatty acid, and especially crucial for heart health[xi]. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil, walnuts, and…
- Oily fish – another great source of the Omega fatty acids, as well as excellent lean protein[xii].
- Legumes – different types of beans and protein-rich pulses like lentils are excellent sources of protein, iron, fiber, and other nutrients.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
As mentioned, what’s great about 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 incredibly 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. However, we must keep in mind that 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 oily fish, for instance, salmon or tuna.
NOTE: The Budwig diet, which is a vegetarian diet, and our cancer patients are not encouraged to eat any fish. Flaxseed oil and Cottage Cheese or Quark is a good source of Omega 3.
Watch this video for more information:
The healthy and delicious foods you can eat when following a Mediterranean-style diet are varied, colorful, and delicious. They can improve your health, both short- and long-term.
The Budwig Center recommends a cancer-fighting diet that closely follows the tenets of the Mediterranean-style diet, and one of the keystones of our therapy is to help you eat more healthily, improving your health now and in the future.
[ii] Kerr, J., Anderson, C. and Lippman, S.M., 2017. Physical activity, sedentary behaviour, diet, and cancer: an update and emerging new evidence. The Lancet Oncology, 18(8), pp.e457-e471.
[iii] Donaldson, M.S. Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet.Nutr J3, 19 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-3-19
[iv] Mayne, S., Playdon, M. & Rock, C. Diet, nutrition, and cancer: past, present and future.Nat Rev Clin Oncol13, 504–515 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrclinonc.2016.24
[vi] St-Onge, M.P., Janssen, I. and Heymsfield, S.B., 2004. Metabolic syndrome in normal-weight Americans: new definition of the metabolically obese, normal-weight individual. Diabetes care, 27(9), pp.2222-2228.
[vii] Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B. and Layton, J.B., 2010. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS med, 7(7), p.e1000316.
[viii] Krishnan, A.V., Trump, D.L., Johnson, C.S. and Feldman, D., 2012. The role of vitamin D in cancer prevention and treatment. Rheumatic Disease Clinics, 38(1), pp.161-178.
[x] Thompson, S.V., Hannon, B.A., An, R. and Holscher, H.D., 2017. Effects of isolated soluble fiber supplementation on body weight, glycemia, and insulinemia in adults with overweight and obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 106(6), pp.1514-1528.