Almost everyone knows that the Standard American Diet (also known as SAD) isn’t the best choice for your health. Copious amounts of research has shown that the diet that the majority of Americans eat can contribute to a number of chronic health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and more. The SAD consists of a high amount of animal fats, a high amount of saturated and hydrogenated fats, it is low in fiber, high in processed foods, low in complex carbohydrates, and low in plant-based foods. Those who eat according to the SAD tend to eat a lot of fast food, have a breakfast that is not nutritious, and snack on foods that are calorie dense (meaning the food has a lot of calories and not a lot of nutrients).
In response to the rising incidence of chronic health conditions in America, a number of lifestyle diets have been gaining in popularity, and some proponents are quite loud about their particular brand of nutrition being the absolute best for everyone. If only it were that easy. Nutrition is complicated, and one diet can’t – and will never be - the sole solution for every person on the planet.
With so much confusing information about nutrition in the media, what should you eat for optimal health? The truth is that this answer will be different for each person; however, there are some types of diets that are healthier than others. Any other lifestyle diet tends to be better than the SAD. The Mediterranean diet is one way of eating that has been shown time and again to be beneficial for preventing chronic illnesses. Here are 12 reasons you may want to align your nutritional choices with this lifestyle diet.
10 Stress-Free And Fun Cooking
Part of the Mediterranean diet guidelines is to reduce the amount of salt you take in, and to use herbs and spices instead. The addition of herbs and spices to your meal instead of salt means that your blood pressure will remain normal (or even lower, if you have high blood pressure), and it also means a lot of fun with new tastes in the kitchen.
Try new flavors of spices, from mild ones such as Italian seasoning, to ones with more heat, such as cayenne pepper. Cooking with spices can be a great experience for the senses – from smelling them, to looking at their sometimes vibrant colors, to tasting the delicious new flavors as they enhance each dish.
9 It’s Not Expensive
Because the Mediterranean diet focuses on non-processed, whole foods, and does not promote the adoption of supplements that aren’t prescribed, it is a fairly inexpensive way to eat, in comparison with the Standard American Diet and fad diets. The Mediterranean diet focuses on a few things that can help lower your grocery bill:
Base the majority of your diet on vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes (such as beans), seeds, nuts, herbs, and spices. If you buy your beans dried, you can save a ton of money. Buying dried legumes means being able to make full meals for pennies. Vegetables and fruit, when purchased in-season, are much cheaper than processed alternatives. You can easily grow herbs yourself at home for very little money, and if you learn to save seed, you can grow it for free year after year. And finally, for your whole grains, you can make your own bread in about 5 minutes and for less than .50 a loaf.
Reduce your intake of red meat. If you’ve bought red meat recently, you know it’s not cheap. Whereas the Mediterranean diet focuses on eating more fish, and fish isn’t always cheap, if you buy it in bulk, you can often get it at a better price than red meat. The Mediterranean diet also encourages the consumption of poultry, which tends to be less expensive than beef. Finally, if money is really tight, canned fish can still be a beneficial addition to your diet, and it incurs a lower cost than the fresh variety.
8 It’s Easy To Adopt
Chances are, unless you’re a die-hard fan of the Standard American Diet and fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you’re already eating most of the foods suggested in the Mediterranean diet. All you have to do now is increase your intake of those healthy foods and decrease your intake of processed ones.
The best part of this diet is that it’s not ultra-restrictive – you can still partake in your favorite treats in moderation, and there are no prohibited foods. This means that going for dinner at a friend’s house or going out to a restaurant with a group will not create awkward moments of “I can’t eat this” or “I can’t eat that.” Simply eat healthy most of the time, and still allow yourself the occasional treat.
7 It’s Delicious
Unlike fad diets that promote the prohibition of several foods, the Mediterranean diet focuses instead on including several delicious and good-for-you items. You get to eat lots of vegetables and fruits, legumes, and nuts… and you don’t have to give up bread! The focus however, is on whole grains, rather than processed ones.
It is a diet that focuses on whole, unprocessed foods, and encourages variety in your daily menu plan. Instead of telling you all the things you’re prohibited from eating, it tells you what to eat for better heart health.
6 Keep The Old Ticker Healthy
The biggest benefit of the Mediterranean diet is that it’s correlated to a lower incidence of heart disease. And since heart disease is the number 1 killer of women in the U.S., any diet that can prevent heart disease is a worthwhile pursuit. A diet high in unhealthy fats and highly processed foods has been shown to promote heart disease. In the Mediterranean diet, these less-than-healthy items are replaced by healthier fat, whole-foods. This doesn’t mean you never get to have fat again; it just means you concentrate on lowering the unhealthy fat content of your diet and ensuring that the fats you do consume are the healthier kind. For example, you can replace butter with olive oil.
5 Keep The Old Thinker Healthy
The Mediterranean diet includes the consumption of fish at least twice per week. Fish consumption has been shown to improve brain function and even prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Certain types of fish, especially sardines, salmon, mackerel, and fresh tuna, are high in the healthy Omega-3 fats EPA & DHA. Both of these fats are important for brain and vision development. These fats are also correlated with the decrease in development of diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. So eating a Mediterranean diet is not only delicious, but can help your brain and nervous system stay in tiptop shape.
4 Decrease Your Risk Of Cancer
The Standard American Diet has been shown again and again to be related to the development of several types of cancer. The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, has been shown again and again to be beneficial in lowering this risk. Since there is still no cure for cancer, doing whatever you can to prevent the disease is probably a good idea. Adopting the Mediterranean diet does not mean you won’t get cancer, but it does lower your risk for several types of this disease.
3 You Can Still Eat Fat!
The Mediterranean diet isn’t a “low fat” diet. It’s instead a diet that encourages healthier fats. Those who eat the Mediterranean way get healthy doses of Omega-3 fatty acids from the fish, olive oil, and nuts they consume. These fatty acids help to reduce LDL cholesterol (the “bad” type), lower triglycerides, and decrease blood clotting. These fats are also associated with a lower risk of sudden heart attacks and they help keep your blood pressure at normal levels, among other benefits. The Mediterranean diet is about lowering levels of saturated fats, trying to eliminate hydrogenated fats, and focusing on consuming healthier, unsaturated fats. You can find these healthy fats in olive oil, fatty fish, and some nuts.
2 Snacking Is Allowed – And Encouraged!
Whereas many fad diets will encourage you to eat very little and to avoid snacks, the Mediterranean diet encourages you to eat healthy snacks such as vegetables or fruit in between meals. Adding vegetable snacks to your day means you’ll be getting more fiber, which has many health benefits, in addition to keeping you full for longer. To make the most of your snacking, make sure to include a source of carbohydrates, a source of fat, and a source of protein in each snack. An example of this might be apples (carbohydrate) with peanut butter (protein and fat).
1 Bring On The Wine!
What girl doesn’t like a diet that encourages drinking wine? The Mediterranean diet includes the consumption of red wine (in moderation!), as this has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. While some doctors are hesitant to encourage alcohol consumption, since over-drinking comes with many health risks, the key here is moderation. Five ounces of wine each day will do the trick. However, don’t include wine in your diet if you already suffer from heart or liver disease, as alcohol consumption can make the problem worse. And of course, if you have a history of alcoholism or substance abuse, it is best to stay away from alcohol as well.