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Health Column: The benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Scott Rollins
INTEGRATE YOUR HEALTH
Free Press Health Columnist
Grilled Chicken Breast with Vegetable Salad
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If you’re working on a healthier diet plan, the Mediterranean diet might be right for you — by incorporating the basics of healthy eating, a splash of flavorful olive oil and perhaps a glass of red wine, among other items characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

The traditional Mediterranean diet includes:

Eating plenty of plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts;

Using healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil in place of butter and margarine;

Using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt;

Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week;

Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month; and

Drinking red wine in moderation (optional).

Fresh fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, providing the vital nutrients and disease fighting anti-oxidants that help keep cancer at bay and protect our arteries from the oxidized cholesterol that causes plaque. The best sources are leafy greens, and brightly colored red, yellow, orange and purple veggies, with a recommended amount of eight to 10 servings per day. When able, buy fresh, seasonal, organic and local.

Whole grain pastas are prominent with homemade sauces featuring fresh tomatoes, spices and herbs, with little to no salt. Bread is typically dipped in olive oil thus adding heart healthy monounsaturated oils rather than the artery clogging saturated or trans-fats found in butter or margarine.

The Mediterranean diet is not a low-fat diet. What you say? How can it be healthy as we’ve been brainwashed into thinking fat is bad! It depends on the type of fat as saturated and trans-fats cause inflammation and disease while others like omega-3 and unsaturated fats prevent disease and lower inflammation. Oils such as olive and canola are healthy unsaturated oils can lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol when used in place of butter and margarine. The “extra-virgin” oils are cold processed, have a longer shelf life, and provide more of the anti-oxidant plant compounds that make these oils so healthy.

Fatty fish, such as salmon, lake trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna, are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides, decrease blood clotting, improve the health of your blood vessels, and help moderate blood pressure. They are also associated with decreased sudden heart attack. Fish is eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean diet, at least two to three times per week.

Nuts provide more healthy oils, especially almonds, walnuts, pistachios and pecans. Nuts are high in calories so a handful is a good daily serving, and nuts make a great snack instead of chips or sweets!

Wine, in moderation and particularly red wine, has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Moderation means no more than a few glasses of wine per day, as more than that begins to have negative effects on health. Of course it is not recommended if you have a history of problems with alcohol, and consumption of grape juice or supplementing with grape seed extract or resveratrol is an alternative method for getting the health promoting compounds in red wine.

Many studies confirm the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, including a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Consider the recent “Prevention with the Mediterranean Diet” study, which showed a 52 percent reduction in the risk of diabetes in those following the diet.

A review of close to 200 studies, published in the April 13, 2009 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, found “strong evidence that a ‘Western’ diet — which is high in processed meats, red meats, butter, eggs, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products — is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, so we could say [to patients]: ‘You should consume less of those types of foods and gravitate more toward a prudent diet or a Mediterranean diet, which are both high in fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fish’,” according to senior author Dr. Sonia Anand.

Overall, the dietary pattern is what needs to be emphasized and not simply good foods or bad foods. It’s what the overall quality of the diet is. The Western diet pattern is high in saturated fat, trans-fat, and cholesterol, whereas a Mediterranean diet and “prudent” diet include more monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and there is more fish consumption. Emphasize the fruits and vegetables and cut out the sugar.

How you eat is also important. Taking time to really enjoy meals, slowly and deliberately, savoring the experience, with friends and family, is all part of the lifestyle of the Mediterranean diet culture. You don’t have to be in Rome, just bring home the elements of the Mediterranean diet and enjoy.

GJ Free Press health columnist Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.


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