The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Mayo Clinic are endorsing the Mediterranean diet as a way to reduce the risk of heart disease, inflammation, blood sugar and body mass index. The diet is a plant-based eating plan consisting of a daily intake of whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, nuts, herbs and spices. The preferred animal protein is fish and other seafood at least twice weekly. Poultry, eggs and low-fat dairy can be eaten in small portions daily, or a few times per week. Olive oil replaces butter or margarine. Avocados, nuts and oily fish like salmon or sardines are other sources of healthy fat. Red meat is limited to a few times per month. Water is the main beverage; plain coffee and tea are fine. Fruit juices contain too much sugar and should be replaced by eating whole fruit. Wine, especially red wine, can be consumed with meals. Women should drink no more that one five-ounce glass per day, and men should stop at two glasses. People who do not drink alcohol do not need to begin. Eating and socializing with other people is encouraged, and daily physical activity is important.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole grains, such as whole wheat, rye and barley. People wanting a gluten-free diet can use brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, oats and corn.
Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality. A study of 26,000 women over 12 years showed a 25 percent lower risk of developing heart disease and stroke among those whose eating plan was close to the Mediterranean diet. Researchers also saw favorable changes in inflammation, blood sugar, Type 2 diabetes and body mass index.
Fat intake is high in the Mediterranean diet, consisting of 39 to 42 percent of daily calories, but note that the fats are healthy ones, such as from olive oil, nuts, avocados and oily fish. This promotes satiety—feelings of fullness—so that the diet is easy to follow. The Ketogenic diet is also high in fat, but relatively low in plant food while emphasizing meat eggs, and cheese. In this diet, the lack of a wide variety of plant foods means a considerably smaller intake of protective antioxidants. It has been popular for weight loss without hunger, but compared to the Mediterranean diet, it is less healthy for the individual and, ultimately, for the planet.
Sadja Greenwood, a longtime Bolinas resident now living in Portland, is a retired physician formerly active at the University of California, San Francisco. Read more of her work at sadjascolumns.blogspot.com.