Mediterranean Diet: The World's Healthiest Diet?

By Rachel Johnson, Ph.D, M.P.H., R.D., "The World's Healthiest Diet?," September/October 2008

Research shows that eating like a Mediterranean is good for your waist as well as your heart.

"'Eating Mediterranean' doesn't necessarily mean flavoring everything with rosemary and covering it in tomato sauce. As long as the basics are there (lots of legumes, vegetables and whole grains, limited meat, healthy fats, fish), you can...

A few years ago I was invited to lecture in Italy. My husband, Mark, always ready for an adventure, tagged along. After my work was done, we visited the Cinque Terre, five tiny villages perched high upon rugged hills overlooking the Mediterranean. We hiked the scenic trail into the coastal town of Riomaggiore. Weary from our walk we settled into a small café for a 2 ½-hour lunch: a small plate of pasta with pesto, fresh fish drizzled with olive oil and a platter of grilled artichokes and peppers, along with a carafe of the house red. With plenty of exercise, delicious food in reasonable portions and a relaxed pace, I experienced the Mediterranean lifestyle in its home base—and felt wonderful.

The Mediterranean Diet has been officially recognized by Oldways, a nonprofit food-issues think tank in Boston, as one of the world’s healthiest. Based on the age-old dietary traditions of Crete, Greece and southern Italy, this “diet,” or eating pattern, is abundant in fruits, vegetables and olive oil, sparing with meat and anointed daily with red wine.

Studies support this way of eating. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed that following a Mediterranean-style, reduced-calorie diet was just as effective as a low-carbohydrate diet. The study tracked 322 Israelis over a two-year period and found the Mediterranean eating pattern helped people lose more weight than a conventional low-fat diet and helped people with diabetes better control their blood glucose levels.

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