In the 1950s, scientist Dr. Ancel Keys discovered that poor Italians were living longer and had better health in old age than wealthy New Yorkers. He attributed this to the diet and lifestyle in that part of the world.
In the Mediterranean region, the local diet consists of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, poultry, and beans. Dr. Keys found that eating this way has significant benefits for heart health, and he touted the Mediterranean diet for 50 years. He himself lived to be 100 years old, and by the time he died in 2004, the Mediterranean diet had gained widespread popularity.
The diet is high in heart-healthy lean fats and whole grains, and low in trans fats. It’s also free of refined oils and highly processed meats and foods. These items can cause conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
The diet provides best results when it’s paired with a physically active lifestyle—another hallmark of the Mediterranean culture.
Over the years, researchers have studied the effects and benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown that even adopting this healthy lifestyle later in life can provide significant benefits. Here are the top 4 benefits of the Mediterranean diet:
1. Prevent cognitive decline
The diet is chock-full of healthy fats, which can boost your brain and mental prowess. In one study, strictly following the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 40 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment. Another study that followed older participants over four years found that switching to the diet in old age slightly improved memory and brain function. By contrast, the control group of seniors who did not change their diets showed significant deterioration in mental function.
2. Reduce your risk of heart disease
Following the Mediterranean diet can also greatly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. This includes various heart diseases, heart attack, and stroke. Research has associated the diet with a lower level of oxidized LDL cholesterol—the “bad” cholesterol that’s responsible for plaque deposits in the arteries.
3. Keep your blood sugar and diabetes under control
The Mediterranean diet is rich in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Compared with a low-fat diet, people with diabetes fared much better on the Mediterranean diet. They experienced better control of blood sugar and more weight loss.
Some studies suggest that the diet can even prevent type 2 diabetes if adopted early enough.
4. Protect against cancer
Research shows that the strictest adherents to the Mediterranean diet have a 13 percent lower rate of cancer mortality, as compared to those who follow it the least. The diet seems to protect against cancers of the breast, colon, stomach, prostate, and liver, among others.