The Mediterranean diet favors large amounts of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, olive oil, seeds, nuts and fish. The diet also includes red wine (in moderation) and small amounts of dairy products and red meat. A comprehensive review of the scientific literature from 1966 to 2008 shows that the Mediterranean diet prolongs life and prevents heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis.
Other studies looking at specific components of the diet suggest that consuming red meat and not eating fish, whole grains, seeds, nuts, lots of fruits and vegetables, and beans is associated with heart attacks, cancers, strokes, arthritis, and reduced longevity.
A recent review of several studies by Consumer Reports also links the diet to lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease and depression. The benefits in cognitive and emotional function may be the result of the diet keeping arteries and heart healthy; however, some of the benefits may be directly linked to the diet’s direct influence on brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish, nuts, and seeds aid in the function of neurotransmitters that affect mood and alertness. In addition, B vitamins and magnesium in many of these foods might help stave off depression. Many people may require supplements given inadequacies in their diet. It is important to note that the results of the research indicate that it is better to try to follow the general recommendations of the diet, rather than focusing on specifics aspects.
In my experience, quality of life is also influenced by good dietary practice. Clinically, in my wellness coaching and counseling practice, I am a strong proponent of this diet. Chinese herbal medicine has made good dietary practice an integral part of healing and wellness, and it has many commonalities with the Mediterranean diet. As westerners, however, I often find that the Mediterranean diet is easier to implement.
Carlos Durana Ph.D., M.Ac. can be reached in his acupuncture Washington DC, Reston VA, and Bethesda MD practices.