How Does a Mediterranean Diet Work

How Does a Mediterranean Diet Work

Decades ago, medical researchers noticed something interesting about people in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea: they tended to have better heart health and die less often from coronary disease. One of the obvious things to examine was their lifestyle—specifically, how they ate. Traditional Mediterranean cuisines employ a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of whole grains, and some nuts. Red wine in moderate amounts is also a part of the Mediterranean way of eating.

People who follow this way of eating consume less red meat, more fish, and more monounsaturated fats, like olive oil. According to Dr. Samia Mora of Harvard Medical School , studies have shown that over time, eating a Mediterranean diet can protect against a first heart attack or stroke as well as or better than statin medications and even more so than low-dose aspirin therapy. The diet helps with weight loss and may provide benefits to patients with insulin resistance. It reduces inflammation, which when chronic, contributes to a host of health problems, including heart disease.

It’s important to note that at the time the Mediterranean diet appeared on the scene as a possible contributor to a healthier life, cultural factors may also have played a part in the overall well-being of people who traditionally eat this way. They tended to get more exercise and shared meals with others in a communal and familial way. These social and other lifestyle factors might contribute to how a Mediterranean diet works. Sadly, as Mediterranean countries adopt more Westernized habits, like fast and fried foods, sugary drinks, highly processed foods, and simple carbohydrates like white flour, the benefits of the traditional diet fade. Obesity has increased with fast and processed foods on the scene, with an uptick in more sedentary lifestyles.

Diagnosis of pre-diabetes and full-blown type 2 diabetes is on the rise across the US. In New York City, our big city life, with its stresses and fast pace, creates challenges to adopting and maintaining a lifestyle featuring whole, healthy foods prepared at home. It’s hard to make the time to get some fresh air and exercise, and gym memberships are expensive. If you’re experiencing weight gain, or having trouble losing weight, see your doctor for a checkup. Before you adopt any major lifestyle changes, your physician will help you determine your current condition and what steps might be advisable. If your doctor discovers abnormalities in your blood sugar levels, you will likely receive a recommendation to see an endocrinologist —a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the system that produces and regulates hormones in the body. You may also hear recommendations for changes in your habits. Your doctor may explain in more detail how the Mediterranean diet works, and if it might work for you.

Philip Rabito, MD

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