We in the west have a problem. Well, we have a lot of problems, but they all stem from one thing… our diet. We live in an age where we’re born knowing only an assault of temptation from all sides. We can’t walk a hundred yards outside the house without seeing color saturated, high contrast images of succulent fast food emblazoned on the sides of buses, on billboards, on bus stops and even popping up here and there in our social media feed. While recent legislation has restricted companies from advertising fast foods to children on social media platforms, let’s be honest, we adults are not immune from temptation.
Why Adopting A Mediterranean Diet Could Solve Your Health Problems
Every visit to the supermarket is a stroll down aisle after aisle of gaudily packaged processed foods which are high in calories, high in fat, high in sugar, high in salt but low in nutrients. Even foods we assume to be (or that are marketed as being) healthy are loaded with hidden sugars. And then there’s the meat. Oh, so much meat! Despite the recent explosion of awareness of the health and ethical benefits of a plant based diet in the US, meat consumption is at an all time high. In 2018 the average consumer will eat 222 pounds of meat and poultry. That’s a lot of saturated fat coursing through the nation’s arteries. Moreover, a great deal of this will be processed red meats like bacon, salami, pastrami, ham and pepperoni. These are not only loaded with salt and saturated fats, they’ve also been deemed class 1 carcinogens by the World Health Organization. That’s the same category as cigarettes!
The Health And Ethical Cost Of The "Western Diet"
So, what’s the upshot of the ubiquity of processed foods, red meats, dairy products, sugars and refined carbohydrates like white flour in bread, pasta and baked goods? Look around you and the state of the nation’s health will speak for itself. We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Research shows that around 40% of adults and 20% of children are obese. Despite national efforts to improve nutritional awareness and encourage exercise, our reliance on the wrong foods is not just making us fatter, it’s seriously damaging our health. Heart disease, diabetes, cerebrovascular diseases such as strokes and cancer are ruining the nation’s life expectancy.
Moreover, the “Western Diet” isn’t doing our planet any favors either. Our reliance on red meat and dairy mean that we’re raising more and more cows for slaughter which consume so many edible crops and so much water that we’re squandering resources that could feed millions to feed hundreds. Just under 45% of all available land in the continental US is used for food production. Moreover, the methane produced by cows is a huge contributor to global warming. As the population continues to grow, our reliance on meat and dairy will inevitably become untenable.
In light of this, you could be forgiven for thinking that a plant based diet is the only way to redress the balance. But while vegetables and fruits are extremely important, they are not the only way key to a healthy lifestyle. If you love fresh fish, shellfish and sharp, tangy cheeses, you may do very well on a Mediterranean diet. This still emphasizes fresh produce but doesn’t rule out animal products or seafood altogether (although it does limit them).
What Is The Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet involves eating the kinds of foods readily available in rural or seaside communities in Italy, Greece and Spain. In these communities you’ll see generally lean, healthy, happy and long lived men and women with an active lifestyle and a diet rich in healthy but delicious foods. When people in the US, Canada, Australia and other parts of Europe think of the Mediterranean diet we probably think of a diet loaded with refined carbs like pasta and pizza, but while these are enjoyed occasionally it tends to focus primarily on fresh fruit and veggies. Green leafy veggies like spinach and kale are firm favorites as are non starchy vegetables like eggplants, artichokes, cauliflower, fennel and of course lots and lots of tomatoes and olives. It also incorporates a lot of nuts, seeds and legumes, especially for condiments. Think of tahini which uses sesame seeds and almonds or hummus which uses chickpeas and lentils. It also eschews the dairy products and eggs made in industrialized farms and emphasizes fresh caught fish, hand reared dairy products like cheese, yoghurt and goat’s milk and the eggs from happy, free range hens.
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As you can see, a Mediterranean diet has far less ecological impact on the planet but it’s also regarded as one of the healthiest diets on the planet. It’s benefits include, but are not limited to:
All those green leafy veggies are chock full of chlorophyll which is great for your skin. It helps your skin to get the oxygen, hydration and nutrients it needs for that elusive natural glow while helping to slow or even reverse the aging process. Moreover, all those tomatoes are bursting with the powerful antioxidant lycopene which is essential for protecting your skin from the free radicals created by sun damage.
A Healthy Heart
Ditching all that red meat and all those processed dairy products will set you on the path to heart health. You’ll be getting plenty of the healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats you need from plant and seafood sources without clogging your arteries. Olive oil is prescribed by some cardiologists to patience with heart health issues for its ability to raise HDL cholesterol, lower LDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides and help to reverse the effects of a life spent on a diet rich in saturated fats.
A Sharp Mind
A healthy body is nothing without a healthy mind, and the Mediterranean diet is well placed to improve cognitive function, aid memory and combat brain fog. It can even help to prevent dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. All that fresh oily fish like salmon and mackerel alongside all those nuts and seeds will help you to get plenty of omega 3 fats which are proven to help improve brain health. Olive oil is also rich in antioxidants called polyphenols which can aid memory and enhance learning.
Who says eating healthily has to be boring and tasteless? Have you adopted a Mediterranean diet? How has it benefited you? Do you have a favorite recipe you'd like to share? Let me know in the comments below!