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Has science proven the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet?

Diets can be confusing. Should you juice your food? Do you eat carbs? Avoid fat? Scrap gluten? What about the so-called Mediterranean diet?  Does that work?

Actually, it just might.

The Mediterranean diet is more than a “diet-to-lose-10-lbs-by-summer kind of a diet;” it’s actually a way of living centered around prudent and sensible food choices.

In fact, the diet itself has been around for a long time, first getting recognition through the Seven Countries Study, conducted by Ancel Keys, Ph.D., University of Minnesota in the 1950′s. Long believed to be healthful; a more recent study actually proved its benefits, giving the diet the scientific stamp of approval.

A study involving thousands of participants was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine and compared the health of those who kept a Mediterranean diet vs. those who kept a low-fat diet.

The results were so staggering that the research was halted early because it seemed members of the low-fat diet group were being unfairly deprived of benefits.

“Prudent dietary pattern or the Mediterranean diet, is consistently associated with a lower risk of obesity and chronic diseases,” said Mark Pereira, Ph.D., University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “Good oils and fats bring down cholesterol, while low-fat diets replace both good and bad fats with food that isn’t as beneficial.”

Pereira explained a Mediterranean diet is high in:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Seeds, nuts, and plant oils
  • Whole grains
  • Fresh fish, lean meats and dairy products

What is left out of the Mediterranean diet?

  • Highly processed foods
  • Added sugars
  • Refined grains
  • Fast food meals
  • Excess red meat

Typical beverages associated with this dietary pattern are wine, coffee, tea, and milk. And most surprising, four tablespoons of olive oil is not just allowed, it’s encouraged. Some people are even known to drink the stuff!

Though the diet may seem easy enough, Pereira warned it could be difficult to make drastic dietary changes too quickly. He recommended easing in with little steps like swapping in olive oil for cooking or opting for fish instead of steak.

“It can be particularly challenging to have a healthy diet if you eat out a lot,” warned Pereira. “Try to buy your groceries and cook at home. That can be your first step to a healthful diet.”

To hear Pereira explain the Mediterranean diet further, click here for an interview on WTIP radio.

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