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The Mediterranean diet is a popular option for those who are looking to do more than lose weight, but improve their heart health, boost brain function and even reduce inflammation that often leads to arthritis. The diet is known for its rich variety of flavors that characterize the traditional cooking style of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
The basic elements of the Mediterranean diet include eating fish twice each week, moderate portions of yogurt and cheese weekly, no more than 3-ounce portions of red meat - which should only be consumed sparingly - and moderate amounts of eggs and poultry every two days, or weekly. The diet also involves drinking plenty of water throughout the day and consuming no more than one glass of red wine per day, or two for men. Every meal is based on a combination of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and seeds.
The health advantages of the Mediterranean diet have been proven by numerous studies, including those that examine the impact the diet has on the heart, joints, brain and factors like blood pressure and cholesterol. Here are a few of the detailed benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
Prevents heart disease
Consuming a high amount of plant-based foods, such as vegetables, nuts, fruits and grains, helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, ultimately warding off serious conditions like stroke and heart attack. According to a 2013 study by Harvard Medical School, women who maintained a healthy diet with these foods were around 40 percent more likely to live well past 70 years old than those who didn't. The results were found after examining the eating habits of over 10,000 women in their 50s and 60s and comparing their physical health 15 years later. The women who consumed diets high in plant foods, limited their alcohol intake and ate red meats sparingly lived the longest.
As plant foods make up a large part of Mediterranean meals, these results suggest that this type of diet has major advantages for the heart. The positive impact that Mediterranean dishes have on heart health occurs thanks to the monounsaturated fats found in nuts, fish and olive oil - three of the main components of the Mediterranean diet.
Less joint inflammation
The omega-3 fatty acids found in Mediterranean staples, such as oily fish, have been found to lower joint inflammation. Sally Squires, writer of the Lean Plate Club blog, told news source WTop that research has shown the popular diet can not only prevent inflammation, but help arthritis patients who are already affected by swollen muscles and joints.
"They've looked at studies where they've put people on the Mediterranean Diet for a period of weeks or months versus [those not on] the Mediterranean Diet and they actually see that they have less joint pain, they have less stiffness over a period of six months," Squires explained.
A 2015 study published in Neurology looked at 674 people who were near 80 years old. They took a survey that asked for details of their eating habits over the past year. The scientists then scanned their brains and found that those who ate a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet with a lot of fish and low amounts of saturated fats had more gray and white matter in their brains, which means that their brains were a lot younger - and functioned more efficiently - than those with other eating habits.
According to CNN, the Mediterranean diet has also been found to lower cancer risk and is particularly effective at helping people maintain a healthy body weight without sacrificing essential nutrients.