Diets like the Mediterranean diet have always been a popular topic in the wellness industry, as people are always trying to optimize their intake for their body to obtain the proper energy and nutrient intake without over-consuming. A common theme around these diets is that the foods that are prioritized tend to be plant-based, which means they are not processed (i.e., close to their most natural form). The Mediterranean diet was recently ranked by a team of nutritionists as the best diet for 2020, due to its ease to follow and various health benefits. Research has shown that following the Mediterranean diet can help reduce risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and breast cancer, so let’s take a deeper look.1
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The most prominent aspect of the Mediterranean diet is an emphasis on plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. The people of Greece engaging in this diet average upwards of 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.2 Typically, while on the diet, animal fats like butter are substituted for unsaturated fats like olive oil; furthermore, red meat consumption is limited, while leaner meats like fish and poultry are prioritized. One interesting aspect of the Mediterranean diet is the consumption of red wine is actually an approved component. It is important to note that red wine is recommended in moderation, as studies have shown that red wine, in moderation, may be beneficial to overall cardiovascular health. High consumption of alcohol can put you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, as it tends to raise fat levels in the blood, putting more stress on the system. The last major dietary component of the Mediterranean diet is the limited amount of salt consumed. Herbs are used to flavor foods over salt. The Mediterranean diet is high in the foods that have been found to help combat disease while limiting the components of a diet that have been shown to increase the prevalence of disease when consumed at higher amounts; making it the perfect diet to combat chronic illnesses.
One final component of the Mediterranean diet is an emphasis on consistent physical activity. Being active is a crucial component in preventing the development of all progressive diseases. Obesity is a risk factor for all of our targeted diseases, and the best way to combat obesity is the reduce the amount of time that you are sedentary each day; this will help increase your blood flow by moving and working your heart. Effective results have been seen in walking at a brisk pace for as little as 20 minutes a day, three days a week.
What diseases does the Mediterranean diet help prevent?
Now that we have a general idea as to what the Mediterranean diet is, the next question becomes what diseases does it help to combat? Well, based on our research, it actually is helpful with all of the diseases RiskAverse is initially targeting in our Health Risk Assessment platform. These diseases include Lung Cancer, Breast Cancer, Colorectal Cancer, Diabetes, and Coronary Artery Disease. Now, what is it about this diet that makes it so effective at combatting these diseases?
When it comes to cancer, we have found that upwards of 90-95% of cases result due to poor lifestyle choices and environmental exposures. Of that, 30-35% arise due to dietary choices; meaning poor diet causes cancer.3 Examples of harmful dietary components include excess intake of saturated and trans-fat, processed meats and carbs, high intake of sugary beverages and sodas, as well as inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables. As I mentioned previously, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes the consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are vital components of our diet in the fight against cancer. Cancers are caused by mutations to our DNA, leading improperly regulated cell growth in our body. One way that these mutations take place is through the exposure to free radicals in our cells. These free radicals damage our DNA; however, our fruits and vegetables are loaded in antioxidants, which neutralize these dangerous particles. Ultimately, this prevents them from causing such damage. When fruits and vegetables are regularly consumed at high amounts, an individual’s risk of cancer has been shown to decrease. Many other aspects of the diet help to reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases like coronary artery disease.
Diabetes, specifically type 2 diabetes mellitus, is almost entirely caused by poor dietary habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Those considered high risk for diabetes are those that are overweight or obese, have low HDL cholesterol (i.e., good cholesterol), high blood pressure, are not physically active, and have high fat and glucose levels.4 Various components of the Mediterranean diet help promote the opposite of these factors I just listed. The first aspect is due to the diet being very plant-based. Plant-based diets are high in fiber, and consuming fiber has been shown to reduce blood sugar spikes. The spikes are caused by consuming high glycemic Index grains like processed or refined grains. Fiber prevents these spikes by slowing down digestion and filling us quicker. When these spikes occur, it puts a lot more stress on our cells to try and reduce the levels of glucose in our bodies.
And continued exposure can lead to the insensitivity of insulin to the point of irreversible damage; thus, the onset of diabetes occurs. Soluble fiber also helps to lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol; reducing that risk factor as well. Finally, being active, with an emphasis on cardio reduces blood pressure, because as we exercise our arteries dilate to promote greater blood flow, when they dilate the stress placed on the arterial walls decreases, and this effect had been shown to last upwards of 12 hours. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other plant-based foods help reduce the stress placed on our body and limit risk factors associated with diabetes, and with an emphasis on exercise it further reduces diabetes-associated lifestyle risk.
The Mediterranean diet helps to prevent Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) for very similar reasons to diabetes. Plant-based diets have shown lower incidence rates of CAD and its dangerous effects when practiced. CAD is considered America’s number one killer in terms of diseases, as it most commonly leads to heart attacks and stroke from the excess buildup of plaque in our arteries. This buildup occurs due to a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. Because the Mediterranean diet tries to limit saturated fat intake by reducing butter consumption as well as red meat consumption, the fats primarily consumed are the healthy unsaturated fats, which help to improve cardiovascular function.
Conclusion: A Healthier Future
Overall a diet like the Mediterranean diet is an excellent way to combat progressive diseases. High fruit and vegetable consumption provide crucial nutrients to fight the causes of cancer, while low consumption of saturated fats, increased whole grains, and living a more active life reduce the chances of developing chronic illness. Committing to the entire diet may be an extreme change in your life, but if you are trying to improve your long-term health, incorporating any part of the diet should help to give you an edge over progressive diseases.
To help you in your journey to a healthier future, we’ve put out a free online risk assessment to help you determine what risk factors you have for several chronic diseases. It takes about 5 minutes to complete, after which you’ll be sent to your personalized report page that details your risk for the chronic diseases you’ve selected. The report page is will show you what changes you need to implement in your life to lower your risk for disease. We also understand how hard it is to change habits like diet, so we want to help you effectively incorporate healthy choices into your life. With the upcoming changes to our platform, we will engage you regularly to make sure that you are staying on track with our risk-reducing solutions, allowing you to stay disease free and improve your long-term prognosis.
Choose a quiz, find out your risk
Answer each question honestly and to the best of your knowledge. All information will be stored confidentially and no personally identifiable information is asked during the quiz. Each quiz takes about 5 minutes.
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Best and worst diets for 2020, ranked by experts, with a popular one near last, CNN, 2 Jan. 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/02/health/best-diet-worst-diet-2020-wellness/index.html
Mediterranean Diet: A Heart-Healthy Eating Plan. Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Jan. 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801.
3. Anand, Preetha, et al.
Cancer Is a Preventable Disease That Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharmaceutical Research, Springer US, Sept. 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515569/.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Nov. 2016, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/risk-factors-type-2-diabetes.