A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Diet series: Mediterranean diet is the gold standard

Editor’s note: We’re inundated with promotions, ads and infomercials for weight loss. They tout the latest-greatest-fastest way to reach your goal but what’s right for you? In this occasional series for Shine365, Marshfield Clinic Health System Dietitian Chrisanne Urban takes a look at popular diets, weighs the pros and cons, and shares her thoughts.

Diets - What to know about the Mediterranean diet

What should you know before starting the Mediterranean diet?

Mediterranean diet

Who votes for a miracle, something that makes losing weight fast, simple, healthy, tried and true for the long haul?

Well, wouldn’t that be most of us?

Sadly, when it comes to a “miracle,” there is no such thing and no quick fix.

“Why is it human nature that we’re always looking for that golden ticket?” said Chrisanne Urban, a Marshfield Clinic Health System dietitian. “We look for the easy way out.”

But, the “miracle” could be a diet that’s been around for a long time – the Mediterranean diet that ranked No. 1 on the U.S. News & World Report list of Best Overall Diets for 2019 and was in the top 10 diets most frequently searched via Google in 2018.

This whole-foods diet,” Urban said, “is the ‘gold standard,’ the hot topic.”

It’s hot but certainly not new. And, Urban contends, it’s not that hard to follow.

“The Mediterranean diet, actually more of a way of life, has been around for years, as long ago as the 1940s and ‘50s,” Urban said. “The diet was first inspired by learning that people living in the Mediterranean region (21 countries on three continents, like Greece, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Morocco) live longer, healthier lives. They ate foods low in sugar, little or no red meat and saturated fats while eating lots of vegetables, nuts and fruits.”

The diet also calls for olive oil instead of butter as well as legumes, unrefined cereals, whole grains, fish, chicken, moderate dairy that’s mostly cheese and yogurt. If you appreciate a glass of wine, there’s room for moderate wine consumption, too.

Pros … and cons

Research shows the diet is not only good for weight loss but for our health in general. For example, Urban said, it’s shown to reduce heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and the chance of early death.

It’s also an easy diet to incorporate, though it takes a bit of retraining, she said. If you like eggs, processed meat, sweets, refined flour, sugar and carnivore-levels of red meat you may not like this approach.

It’s not cutting a food like red meat out completely,” she explained. “Look at the Mediterranean food pyramid and it says ‘less often.’ When you think about it, you can eat fish twice, chicken once and red meat once in a week. You can use meat more as a flavoring rather than a main dish so you could put a little bit of meat in a soup rather than eating a big steak.”

Urban does well eating legumes but admits there should be more fruits and veggies on her plate.

“Planning also helps make this approach to eating easier,” she said. “Once you’ve planned for a while it becomes second nature. Your routine has changed and then becomes a way of your life, not just a diet, per se. I see that so many times but human nature is hard to change.”

And, with any lifestyle, physical activity and body movement are important, too. It has a significant place on the Mediterranean food pyramid so it’s a balance in what you eat and what you do to stay active.

Give it a try

Few things are simple at first so Urban suggests remembering you may not do perfectly in the beginning, “but work on a couple things at a time, just like any lifestyle change.”

To learn more about this approach to food and the Mediterranean food pyramid, go to Oldways, a website Urban recommends that also includes recipes.

Compare diets

Ketogenic diet

DASH eating plan

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