Eating the right nutrients helps to keep your body and mind healthy, fortified and functioning properly. Interestingly, research during COVID-19 underscores again that Mediterranean eating habits are a standout in benefitting heart health and boosting immunity while improving your mood and aiding in managing stress and anxiety.
About the healthy Mediterranean plan
So how does Mediterranean eating habits help two totally different areas of your body? The foundational reason is the Mediterranean eating is anti-inflammatory, and studies are finding that many chronic diseases are linked to chronic inflammation.
Based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the majority of foods in a Mediterranean eating plan come from plants: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
Blending these basics of yummy, healthy eating has been shown to improve mental and physical health:
• Fruits and vegetables: Loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and nutrients, while low in calories, try to include them in every meal and snacking. No single fruit or vegetable can provide all the healthy components your body needs, so incorporate a variety to get the full spectrum of benefits.
• Whole grains: Wheat, oats, quinoa, barley, popcorn and rye are whole-some foods that contain little or no saturated or trans-fats but plenty of phytochemicals (disease preventive properties), antioxidants, fiber, iron, magnesium and vitamins B and E — all kinds of good stuff! In addition to tasting yummy, studies have shown that people who eat three daily servings of whole grains may be able to significantly reduce their risk of heart disease (up to 28%), stroke (up to 36%), and type 2 diabetes (up to 30%).
• Legumes: A class of veggies that includes lentils, beans and peas, they have been found among the most versatile and nutritious foods available. They are low in fat, devoid of cholesterol, a good source of protein and a powerhouse when it comes to important vitamins and minerals (folate, potassium, iron and magnesium). Their protein content makes them a suitable substitute for meat.
• Nuts and seeds: Theses help to improve blood vessel function as well as decrease the size of atherosclerotic plaques (fatty plaques within artery walls that impede blood flow to organs) and blood clot formation (can completely block off blood flow). Not only are they a good source of fiber, protein and healthy fats, but they make great snacks and can be used as a garnish for salads and meals. And they contain omega-3 fatty acids — crucial to optimal brain function, as well as heart health and mood. Before going nutty, remember nuts are high in calories and should be consumed in moderation.
• Healthy fats: Olive oil is used as a primary source of fat and is great for sauteing, drizzling, flavoring or dipping foods. It is a monosaturated fat and has the power to lower “bad cholesterol” levels. And, too, olives are rich in vitamin E and other antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of health conditions like cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Select “extra-virgin” (no processing) or “virgin” (minimal processing). Processing decreases the amount of antioxidants, which lowers its benefits.
• Replace salt with herbs and spices: Parsley, turmeric, paprika, thyme, marjoram and rosemary add healthy tastiness to foods. These items contain antioxidants, disease-fighting agents and vitamins that can have far-reaching benefits for the health of your body and mind. Of note, while botanically vegetables, garlic and onion are used abundantly for yummy, healthy flavor and make for a great salt alternative.
• Fish, seafood and poultry: Fatty fish is high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and lean chicken breasts (without skin) are low in fat and have high quality protein. Limit consumption of red meat to a few times a month and cut portion sizes. Studies show that high red meat consumption — in particular, processed meats — elevates risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer, and can shorten lifespan. When selecting meats, make it lean, not processed. Other excellent protein sources include nuts, low-fat dairy and whole grain products.
In addition to the above Mediterranean Diet recommendations, limit or avoid: sugars, including sugary beverages such as energy drinks and soda; highly processed foods; refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, rice); saturated fats; and fatty or processed meats (hot dogs, processed sausages).
The Mediterranean eating plan is also a good way to help keep your weight within a healthy range. It’s very palatable and fairly simple, allowing you to enjoy, while gaining the immeasurable benefits — body and mind — for a longer, healthier life as a result of using its guiding principles.
Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to email@example.com with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.