using Mediterranean diet for weight loss

The Mediterranean diet is, in and of itself, more of a way of life as it can be considered being a nutritional model or pattern of food consumption than just a "diet" in the usual sense of the word. The term "Mediterranean diet" can be said to be an abridgement of the several traditional foods and eating patterns of the 16 countries that border the Mediterranean basin, most notably, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain.

Despite the fact that the dietary habits of the countries in this region differ by certain degrees due to their different religions, cultures, educational levels, and economic prosperity, they all however appear to share common denominating traits in their dietary habits.

Interest in the traditional Mediterranean diet was aroused mostly because despite the fact that the people of the Mediterranean basin were known to consume diets high in fat, they however still had a generally low incidence of obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Equally, despite inferior health care services, the mortality rates from various diseases in the Mediterranean basin were, and are still generally lower than those prevalent in western cultures, particularly among men.

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On closer examination of their dietary lifestyle, researchers discovered that a significant 40% of their total calorie intake came from fats predominantly olive oil (a monounsaturated fatty acid) which had formed the basis of Mediterranean cooking. Furthermore, the frequent consumption of oily fishes such as sardines which contain polyunsaturated fats known as omega-3 fatty acids also significantly increased the amount of healthy fatty oils they consumed.

Surprisingly, people in the Mediterranean also consumed large amounts of whole grains foods, fruits and vegetables while sparingly including meat as part of their regular diet. Their dietary lifestyle and general healthy lives proves to a large extent that the type of fats and carbohydrates consumed is far more important than the amount, and that the use of monounsaturated fats – especially olive oil – is correlated with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.

The typical Mediterranean dietary patterns have five major characteristics.

Staple Use of Olive Oil

Olive oil and wine consumed in the Mediterranean retain all their natural nutritional properties since they are usually obtained from their respective plant sources through either physical crushing or pressing. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids and is the central component as well as principal source of fat in Mediterranean diets as it is used in preparing almost everything.

Olive oil is a good food additive which is well known to lower LDL "bad" cholesterol while also increasing HDL "good" cholesterol levels. It is equally considered an excellent source of tocopherols, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds that have powerful antioxidant properties to effectively fight against cancers. The use of olive oil in cooking and dressing of foods in Mediterranean diets makes eating more of a feast for the senses because of the bold colors, enticing flavors, and unbeatable aroma.

High Levels of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, and Whole Grains

High consumption of fruits and vegetables is typical in the Mediterranean basin and hence a significant emphasis on them and their health benefits in the Mediterranean diet. Bright colored fruits and leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, and also provide a lot of vitamins and minerals.

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The relative high intake of healthy and complex carbohydrates gotten from whole wheat bread, other cereal products, and legumes also help to reduce risk of coronary artery disease and some cancers. Regular consumption of legumes and derivatives also assist in reducing levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Carbohydrates with crude fiber especially those of low-glycemic indexes have a slower absorption rate and thus less likely to cause fluctuating blood sugar level.

Beans also serve as healthy sources of protein and are loaded with soluble fiber which is considered to lower blood cholesterol levels by five percent of more. Most nuts contain monounsaturated (heart-healthy) fats and can serve as healthy snack options.

Moderate Amounts of Fish, Poultry, and Dairy Products

Although fish consumption varies widely in the Mediterranean basin, it is however preferred over meat in the traditional Mediterranean diet. Fish and poultry are the main sources of animal products and provide a healthy source of protein. In addition, fish also provides Omega-3s – essential fatty acids – which plays beneficial roles in blood clotting and triglyceride (fat) levels.

Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are good sources of calcium and while they are recommended to be consumed daily, this should however be moderate. It is also imperative to choose the low-fat varieties due to the high calorie content of the regular fatty ones.

Moderate Consumption of Eggs and Red Meat

Eggs and red meat are high in cholesterol and are therefore eaten very sparingly. In fact meat consumption is limited to a few times per week while less than 4 eggs are eaten each week including those in processed foods.

Regular but Moderate Wine Consumption

A moderate intake of wine during meals has been a long-standing tradition in the Mediterranean basin. Wine contains polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants that have a relaxing effect on blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. Moderate drinking of alcohol has also been established to reduce risk of coronary heart disease.

The Mediterranean diet, in its several variations in the Mediterranean basin, is effective mostly due to the wide variety of enjoyable foods allowed on the diet combined with a rich tradition of ethnic recipes making use of these foods. The diet does not focus on counting calories but rather on which foods are healthier to eat. This makes it a lot easier and pleasant to remain on the diet for longer periods of time.

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There is a somewhat more emphasis placed on how to eat as the people of the Mediterranean are known to take meals as leisurely affairs as they tend to eat slowly while savoring the taste of their foods. This has been shown to aid digestion and help people get really satiated as it takes about 20 minutes for the stretch receptors in the stomach to alert the brain that it is full.

Furthermore, the lifestyle of the people of the Mediterranean, who tend to walk and bike a great deal, and also generally engage in physical activities for either recreation or working at home, must have also made significant contributions to their healthy lives as well as effective calorie-burning capabilities.

Despite the fact that there are relatively few studies of the Mediterranean diet that has been specifically based on weight-reduction, a recent 2007 research by the Harvard School of Public Health found that a Mediterranean-style diet can be a truly effective approach to weight loss for many people.

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet apart from helping dieters to satisfy their cravings while achieving and maintaining their goal weight are numerous. Its impact on cardiovascular health and benefits in reducing cancer rates as well as having been credited with improving longevity are some of the high points of the benefits of using a Mediterranean diet.

Essentially, the Mediterranean diet is not a diet in the real sense of the word but rather a lifestyle of the people of the Mediterranean basin. Taking and incorporating the best elements of the diet as a realistic model of a prudent diet into your lifestyle can effectively help you achieve a healthy life while also reaching and maintaining your goal weight.