Why Mediterranean Diet Is Good for Your Heart and Brain

Mediterranean diet

Mediterranean dietRecently, several scientific studies extolled the virtues of consuming a Mediterranean diet.  Apparently the heart and brain health of subjects who ate Mediterranean diet significantly improved as compared to those who consumed usual diet.

Just to quote a few examples, in 2013 a Spanish study entitled PREDIMED followed up a group comprising those who took the Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, and compared them with those who took usual diet for a period of about five years.  Those in the study group suffered less cardiovascular adverse events than in the other group.

There have been similar studies done in 2014 which looked at the association between the diet and the incidence of diabetes, peripheral vascular disease and even renal diseases, and concluded that the diet reduced the occurrence of these conditions.

For those of you who are unaware, the Mediterranean countries are those that lie around the periphery of the Mediterranean Sea, which is a vast body of water between Europe, North Africa and southwestern Asia.  Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Cyprus, Lebanon, Spain, Croatia, Greece and Malta are a few of the 21 countries that ring the sea.  The sea is strategically located – connecting many lands and bodies of water, including the Atlantic Ocean – and is blessed with salubrious weather and a rich marine biodiversity. It is home to as many as 700 species of fish, sponges, corals and areas of oil and natural gas.  Shark, goby, eel, mackerel, sea bass, sea bream, mullet and sprat are some of the marine species found in its waters.

Mediterranean ingredients

If one looks at the list of ingredients used in the cuisine of the Mediterranean countries – many of these ingredients were also included in some of the scientific studies – it would be clear as to why the diet is increasingly being recognised as a healthier option.  As pointed out by Anthony Komaroff, the Editor-in-Chief of Harvard Health Publications, in the PREDIMED study volunteers were given the following dietary advice:

  • olive oil: use abundantly for cooking and dressing dishes
  • vegetables: at least two to three servings
  • fruits: at least two to three daily servings
  • beans: three or more weekly servings
  • fish or seafood: three or more weekly servings
  • nuts or seeds: at least one serving a week
  • choose poultry instead of red meats or processed meats
  • cook at least twice a week with tomato, garlic, and onion
  • moderate alcohol intake (for those who drink alcohol)
  • eat as desired: nuts, eggs, fish or seafood, low-fat cheese, chocolate (only black chocolate, with more than 50% cocoa), and whole-grain cereals
  • limit or eliminate: cream, butter, red meat, sugared beverages, pastries, bakery products (such as cakes, donuts, or cookies), sweets and desserts, potato chips and crisps, cured or fatty cheeses

It should be evident from the above list that the emphasis is on including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet, which help reduce inflammation and the risk of cardiac and brain diseases.  These can be found in a variety of foodstuffs such as seafood, nuts, olive oil and some fruits and vegetables.

 So, should we give up on our rotis, dal-chaval, masala dosas, dhoklas and rosogollas, and instead consume mackerel, tuna, beans, olives and dark chocolate by the bucketful?  Hardly.  By all means keep your usual diet – for nothing other than the ‘ghar ka khana’ would do for any self-respecting Indian – but attempt to include at least a few of the items from the list above on a daily basis.

Mediterranean diet is inclusive, not exclusive

The ingredients used in the Mediterranean diet could be easily incorporated in Indian cuisines – with a little bit of culinary experimentation – without having to compromise on taste or satisfaction.  On the other hand, perhaps you could opt to have a full Mediterranean meal every Sunday; the recipe for many dishes from the cuisines of the Mediterranean countries is easily available online.  Also, if you are a strict vegetarian, the health benefits accrued from the diet could be obtained from purely vegetarian sources as well.

The good thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it is largely a diet of abundance that asks you to include healthy items, rather than a restrictive diet that advises you to exclude certain items or worse, go on ‘crash diets’.  The key word is ‘balance’, and it is important to get the right amount of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in your daily diet: I have touched upon this in my other article on heart health.  Besides, regular exercise, cutting down on alcohol intake and stopping smoking are some of the other measures that you would have to follow in addition to incorporating Mediterranean ingredients in your diet for lasting good health.

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