Olive Oil is Essential to The Mediterranean Diet
Great news for people who love real food: fresh is in. A healthy diet of natural foods, healthy olive oil, nuts, seeds, and legumes is all we need. The perpetuation of fad diets and dietary rules and restrictions is finally coming to an end. Look at the results of the past decades’ dietary trends. Eating manufactured, chemical food hasn’t helped us win the battle of the bulge. In fact, eating processed foods — including processed “health” foods with reduced fats and synthetic sweeteners — has created a health crisis in America. If it wasn’t broken, why did we try to fix it? The Mediterranean Diet is not a radical concept. Eat real food for a healthy heart and body.
The Mediterranean Diet
Health and life expectancy in the Mediterranean is a direct result of their food culture and approach to stress. Their diet emphasizes fresh vegetables, legumes, grains, and a generous use of olive oil. They eat mostly fish. Other animal products are eaten sparingly. The Mediterranean Diet doesn’t ask you to restrict consumption of fats or carbohydrates. As a matter of fact, there’s no counting involved! It’s a lifestyle shift to eating whole, unprocessed foods. Eat what’s natural, and preferably local. Eating this way is more satisfying and nutritious.
Eat Fat to Burn Fat?
In the 80s, fat was demonized and everything was “low fat” and “fat-free.” That phenomenon drastically changed the way that Americans selected food. As a culture, we believed fat was the cause of weight gain.
In truth, the difference between the fat in foods and the fats that we store in the body is vastly different. Researchers today have found that consuming healthy fats, specifically Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs) like those found in olive oil, can increase our ability to metabolize subcutaneous (stored) fat in our bodies! PPAR-a is a protein that speeds up fat metabolism. The study shows that oral administration of olive oil increases PPAR-a activity in obese mice, activating their ability to utilize stored body fat as energy and burn off excess fat from their bodies.
These results are evident in The Mediterranean Diet. Fat has gotten a bad rep because it is more calorie dense than carbohydrates and proteins. But, fat comes in many different forms. Natural sources of fat like nuts, extra virgin olive oil, eggs, and fish provide many health benefits to the body.
Whole Foods Vs. Processed Foods
There is a lot of contradictory information out there about what foods we should eat and avoid. It seems like it’s constantly changing. Unfortunately, big businesses and corporations with special interests fund research and market the results to enhance their product. We have seen advertising campaigns and marketing throughout the years that has fed a diet and healthcare industry crisis. Yet, independent researchers have found that simple, whole foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, yogurt, and olive oil are vastly superior to processed carbohydrates, reduced fat versions of foods, or shelf-stable packaged foods.
When eating The Mediterranean Diet, your focus should be on whole grains, whole plant foods, healthy fish, extra virgin olive oil, and fruits. Food items that were prepared in a laboratory to remove fat and increase fiber are no longer whole foods. Essentially, the closer a food is to its natural state, the better it is for our bodies.
Olive Oil and Mental Health
Slim waistlines, healthy hearts, and longer life spans are great. But, if those benefits alone don’t sway you to swap your usual cooking oil, animal fat, or butter for pure olive oil, perhaps the preservation of your brain will!
Say what? The MIND Diet was designed specifically to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and degeneration of the mental function of the brain with age. The results of switching to this plant-based, Mediterranean-inspired, olive oil-fueled diet is overwhelmingly positive! Of those studied, the chance of developing Alzheimer’s saw a 53% decrease when adhering to this diet plan. What’s more, the plan itself is simple. Remove unhealthy saturated and trans fats, high-fat meats, refined cooking oils, and fried foods. Instead, eat a healthy amount of plant foods, leafy greens, whole grains, fruits, olive oil, and lean meats. Fat is essential for brain function, but not just any fat will do! Unprocessed, plant-based fats provide the best protection against loss of brain function and memory over time.
A Longer (and More Quality) Life
An article written for The New York Times titled The Island Where People Forget To Die provides a great deal of insight into the culture and dietary choices of the people who live in Ikaria, Greece. Ikaria is a designated “blue zone,” an area studied for having the highest level of centenarians (people who live to be 100 years old or more). Not only do these people live long lives, but they are healthy into old age, both mentally and physically. They have low rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
Their diet is simple. They eat mostly beans and fresh vegetables cooked with herbs and extra virgin olive oil. Processed foods and items stripped of nutrition are not part of their daily intake. Instead, they eat whole foods, and drink plenty of wine!
What to Eat For A Quality Life
Who knew it was so easy to eat right? There’s no gimmicks or special products that you need to buy to have a healthy cardiopulmonary system and brain. Replace the junk with real ingredients and cook using high-quality olive oil from a reputable source. Not only can you look better and function better, but you can enjoy your food without all of the fuss of confusing diet regimens and number crunching! Maybe instead of calling it “The Mediterranean Diet,” which has a negative connotation, we can call it “The Mediterranean Lifestyle.” After all, it’s not a restrictive plan, but rather an expansive one.