You may have heard of the Mediterranean diet (MD)…..yes? If you are a registered dietitian, you’d have to be deep in hibernation not to be aware of this famous diet. It’s been around much longer than even I’ve been around in health care—over 25 years. A PubMed search on the Mediterranean diet pulls up over 5,000 related research articles. By no coincidence, over the years my practice focus has moved towards digestive and cardiovascular health. I believe these two systems are related. A healthy gut microbiome helps maintain an integral gut lining that prevents toxins and inflammation from occurring elsewhere in the body—particularly, the cardiovascular system and its extensive vessel network. Yes, our body parts are connected.
We’ve known for many years that the MD has cardiovascular benefits. Historically, the research shows these benefits are related to the nutrient dense and phytonutrient dense foods, such as polyphenols in berries and omega fats in fish and their anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Now, in the last decade research shows that these benefits may stem from the positive effects these compounds have on the gut microbiome—which in turn has many orchestrated effects in the body.
The biggest variable to the MD is how much of these diverse foods do you eat? Shall I eat more nuts or more chocolate--tough choices. Probably for many, the choice should be a more consistent intake of fruits and vegetables. I prefer to modify amounts depending on your needs and a little common sense. For example, do you want to eat fewer dense carbs-- sure, limit grains to 1-2 servings/day. Gluten-free—sure, eat more legumes or potatoes for denser carb sources. Red meat is allowed but fish and chicken preferred. Chocolate —of course. Alcohol—yes too, in moderation. I tend to be a grey zone kind of person with food—you know, find a modified version that works for you—because we know one size never fits all. There always needs to be some tweaking. The main point of the Mediterrean diet is fruits, veggies, good fats, fermentable and resistant fibers and high-quality protein sources. You can even manage a low-fodmap version, if necessary. Here are ten reasons to head south —and eat a little more MD like.
1. Protects your gut microbiome. This may be the most profound effect of the Mediterranean diet.
2. More polyphenols in foods such as berries and chocolate—which, BTW, helps your gut microbiome.
3. Fats are ok—thank goodnes—healthy fats that is— especially olive oil. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, which may help your gut microbiome. The MD is not a low-fat diet. Some studies showing up to 40-45% of calories. More research needs to now focus on the influence of the diet and health of the animal—i.e. grass-fed animal fat.
4. Lower your cancer risk, especially breast and colon. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2017-05/mediterranean-diet-cancer-prevention
5. Lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, triglycerides/cholesterol and your weight. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1200303#t=article
6. More resistant starch and varied fibers, which help your gut microbiome. Depending on your gut health and gut microbiome, your tolerance to these foods will vary.
7. Enjoy chocolate, wine and all nuts —pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, Brazil--in moderation. Cheers.
8. Provides high-quality protein sources, including dairy, fish, poultry and meat. You determine how much of each you need. Generally, protein requirements are .8- 2 grams/kg Ideal body weight, depending on health and activity level.
9. Few foods are completely restricted, except processed foods and excessive sugar (dream on).
10. Great flavors. The MD tastes good. What's not to like about berries, nuts, chocolate, wine and even a little cheese.
11. I could go on—oh, did I say it lowers your heart and diabetes risk?
The Mediterranean diet is about diversity. A diverse selection of foods that offer diverse nutrients and phytonutrients lending to a healthy and diverse gut-microbiome.