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Mediterranean Magic

Filed Under: Health Foods at 4:29 pm | By: Susan Coyle, Senior Editor
Mediterranean Sea What country immediately comes to mind, when you think about the Mediterranean? It’s probably Greece or Italy, or possibly Spain and France. But, at least 16 countries border the Mediterranean Sea, including Turkey, Malta, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Albania. None of them are particularly known to have diets that mirror each other. The differences between a typical Greek meal and a typical French meal alone are vast. However, they do all have similarities. Their diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil. Fish, poultry, wine and dairy consumption is consistently moderate, and red meat is kept to a minimum. When all of those things are put together, you have a deliciously healthy diet.

Research has consistently proven that the Mediterranean diet helps protect against cardiovascular disease, but more recent studies have revealed that its benefits are not confined to the heart. They stretch into the mind and joints as well. After examining the disease progression of 192 early-stage Alzheimer’s patients over the course of 10 years, researchers found that those who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet were 76 percent less likely to die. In fact, they lived an average of four years longer. Those who followed the diet moderately gained an extra 1.3 years.  While the study did not specifically monitor the disease’s cognitive progression, it did offer hope for a longer life after the onset of dementia. And now, while those patients live longer, they can suffer less, if victims of rheumatoid arthritis. In a study of 130 arthritic women, doctors in the United Kingdom found that those who changed their diet to encompass Mediterranean styles experienced less pain and morning stiffness.  So thus far, the Mediterranean diet fights heart disease, lengthens life and reduces pain. It sounds like we may have found the magic diet, but before you convert completely, there are some cautions.

The Mediterranean diet is also a fat-filled diet. According to the American Heart Association, obesity is rising in these countries even as the heart disease and death rates lower. So, if you make the switch to the Mediterranean diet, you should remain fat-conscious.  Choose the right ones. In America, we have a habit of reaching for the saturated fats. Lose that habit and look for unsaturated fats, like the ones found in olive oil. Also, keep in mind that the Europeans are much more aware of their portions. Switching to nuts and seeds is wonderful, so long as you don’t overdo it. Have a handful of almonds, not a bucket. But other than that, have fun. The Mediterranean covers a great stretch of land, with a wide variety of cultures. Experiment with your meals to keep the diet interesting. Who knows, you could find that you love Albanian food even more than Italian.

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