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Diet

Your Diet Doesn't Have to Be Mediterranean to Be Healthy

The premise behind this healthy diet can be applied to almost any cuisine.

Key points

  • Traditional cuisines from other parts of the world can be adapted to fit Mediterranean diet guidelines.
  • Other top-rated healthy diets, like the MIND and DASH diets, are very similar to the Mediterranean diet.
  • The most healthful diets feature fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and other plant-based foods.
Biju Toha/Pixabay, used with permission
All fresh foods can fit into a Mediterranean-style diet plan.
Source: Biju Toha/Pixabay, used with permission

Just as a poor diet is linked to a higher risk of chronic disease, disability, and early death, a nutritious diet is linked to physical and mental healthfulness, fitness and strength, and increased longevity. And one of the top-ranked healthful diets in recent years has been and continues to be the Mediterranean diet or, more specifically, the traditional Mediterranean diet.

That’s because the traditional Mediterranean diet isn’t based only on specific ingredients found in that part of the world; it’s based on traditional patterns, habits, and styles of eating as well. In that respect, any traditional diet from almost any country has the potential to be as healthful as the Mediterranean Diet, if the food categories recommended and proportions eaten are similar.

Today’s definition of a healthful diet is one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based foods and includes limited amounts of added sugar, saturated fat (such as butter and other animal fats), and processed foods. Seafood is often the commonly preferred animal protein. Meat may be added to these diets, but generally less often and in much smaller amounts than in the typical Standard Western or American diet.

That description fits not only the diet of the Mediterranean region but also traditional plant-based diets from regions of Asia, Scandinavia, Africa, Latin America, including Mexico, and other parts of the world. Individual types of foods eaten may vary, but in any healthful diet, the staple foods come from these same general categories or food groups.

For example, fruit preferences in African or Latin American heritage diets may include papaya, guava, melons, and mango, while Asian preferences may include mandarins, lychees, rambutan, and dragon fruit, and a Nordic diet may include a wide variety of unique berries. Each of these preferences is different but they are all fruits, an important food category in any healthful diet because fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemical (disease-fighting substances found only in plant foods). A Chinese dish may feature snow peas while a French dish contains green beans, an Italian dish uses tomatoes, and a Mexican dish includes hot and sweet peppers. What matters is they all incorporate vegetables.

Other positive food and lifestyle habits, such as eating meals together as a family or community, eating small amounts of a wide variety of different foods from the recommended categories, and consuming enough water or other fluids to maintain adequate hydration also contribute to healthy diets. An overall healthy lifestyle includes not only healthful eating habits but also enough physical exercise, socialization, and sleep. It’s also essential to take steps to minimize stress and avoid the use of tobacco and excessive alcohol. Any of these can undermine the benefits of even the healthiest diet.

Other eating plans that continue to hit the top of the healthy diet charts include the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) and MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diets. These, too, have been designed as guides to smart eating patterns that help maintain good health and prevent or minimize the risk of disease.

The DASH diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet but gives specific daily and weekly recommendations for minimum and maximum amounts of different categories of foods, and specifically recommends 4 to 5 weekly servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes for their notable contribution to heart health.

The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets that includes very specific types and amounts of foods that provide the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) known to support good brain health, maintain a healthy mind-body connection, and potentially reduce the risk of dementia. The MIND diet plan specifically recommends eating at least six servings of leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, kale, and lettuces), five servings of nuts, three servings of legumes, two or more servings of berries, poultry twice a week and fish once a week, along with three or more servings of whole grains and at least one other non-starchy vegetable each day. It also includes specific recommendations to limit red meat, butter or margarine, cheese, fried foods, fast foods, and pastries and sweets.

Any of these diets can be used as guides for healthy eating and to some degree, all can be adapted to include your personal food preferences. The trick is to compare your way of eating to any of these top plans and come up with your own healthy hybrid diet that follows the same basic principles of a Mediterranean/DASH/MIND plan. (See references below for more information on each of these top diet plans.)

Remember to discuss any diet changes or specific diet recommendations with your primary healthcare provider to be sure it is the best plan for you.

References

Cena H and Calder PC. Defining a Healthy Diet: Evidence on the Role of Contemporary Diet Patterns in Health and Disease. Nutrients. January 27, 2020; 12(2): 334

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/2/334/htm

Oldways: Traditional Diets (including Mediterranean)

https://oldwayspt.org/traditional-diets

DASH Eating Plan

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan

The MIND diet: A Guide for Beginners

https://www.pfizer.com/news/featured_stories/featured_stories_detail/th…

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