The Mediterranean Diet/ Lifestyle

olive oil

It is well known that the Mediterranean diet is very effective in controlling heart disease, weight and improving overall health.

The Mediterranean diet is more of a way of eating, or a lifestyle, rather than an actual diet. It focuses on eating fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and olive oil. Very little saturated fats and red meats are eaten in this style of eating.

Eating as little red meat as possible is very healthy for you. Red meat is full of saturated fats. Saturated fats will cause heart disease, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, etc. Fats are good for you. Your body needs fats to function properly. But not saturated fats.

There are studies out that say we should eat no more than 1 serving of red meat per week. Eating more than 1 serving of red meat per week will increase the chances of heart disease, high blood pressure and will increase cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well. This will make you more likely to have a heart attack. Read more about red meat and its’ effects on your body here.

All fats are not created equal. Extra virgin olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats. These fats are good for you. Not all fats are bad for you. The main fat to stay away from is saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in red meat and pork, and most animal products like butter, whole milk, and others.

Just because a food has fat in it, doesn’t mean that it will make you fat. There is no correlation between eating low fat foods and losing weight. The only fat you want to avoid, or eat as little as possible of, is saturated fat.

Research has shown that low fat foods can actually have the opposite effects of what they are engineered to do. Most people will eat more of a food if they think it is low fat. Instead of having 2 regular cookies that total 200 calories, they will end up eating 5 or 10 low fat cookies that can be 150 calories for 2. Many people will end up eating more calories because they think that since it’s low fat, it has to be good for you. Just because the food is low fat, doesn’t mean that it is good for you. Just because it is low fat doesn’t mean that there isn’t lots of sugar in it, or it isn’t full of calories. Just because it is low fat doesn’t mean it won’t cause weight gain. If you read the nutritional labels of foods, you will not fall into this trap. If you know the amount of calories in a food, then you won’t be as tempted to overeat.

I prefer, and recommend, eating the regular version of most foods versus the low fat, no fat, low sugar or no sugar versions. From research that I have read, low fat, and low sugar or sugar free foods, can be worse for your body long term, then the full fat and full sugar versions. You just have to eat less of the full fat and full sugar foods. There will be less chemicals in the un-processed form of the foods. These processed foods are chemically engineered in a laboratory to taste a specific way and have little fat or little sugar. The problem with these types of foods is that the sugar or fat has to be replaced with something. This something is usually a chemically engineered food product that usually will have some types of side effects that the food industry doesn’t want the public to know about.

Do you remember olestra? It was in low fat chips a few years ago. Until it was revealed that it caused anal leakage. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather eat a few regular potato chips and not worry about anal leakage, then eat a lot of the low fat potato chips and have to worry if my butt is going to start leaking while I’m in public.

There are many examples of chemically engineered food products that have side effects that can be very detrimental to your overall health.

Margarine has been shown to have detrimental health effects because it is basically a partially hydrogenated oil. The form it is in the tub is the form it will take in your body. It will cause the formation of free radicals which will increase inflammation throughout your body and cause your body to break down and age faster than it would otherwise.

Sugar free, and low sugar foods are just as bad for you, if not worse. Anything that is sugar free has to have something to sweeten it. That something is usually aspartame. Aspartame turns into formaldehyde in your body. Formaldehyde is a toxic, carcinogenic chemical that is used to preserve dead bodies. Aspartame will cause free radical formation, systemic inflammation, cancerous growths and tumors. It should be avoided at all costs. You can read more about aspartame here.

Part of what I like about the Mediterranean diet or lifestyle is that it promotes the use of unprocessed foods.  Processed foods and refined foods are very bad for us and will cause health issues when eaten consistently and long term. The Mediterranean diet or lifestyle utilizes all natural foods.

The Mediterranean diet includes the use of lots of extra virgin olive oil. As I said previously, extra virgin olive oil is full of monosaturated fats. These monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) can help to lower cholesterol levels and control insulin levels in the body. These types of fats are also found in avocados, nuts and fatty fish. Even though these foods are made up of healthy fats, don’t overdo it with them. These foods are very calorie dense and should be eaten in moderation.

A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that consuming more than 4 tablespoons of olive oil per day can significantly lower the risk of heart attack, suffering a stroke, or dying from heart disease.

Olive oil is full of polyphenols. Polyphenols are a type of anti-oxidant that can protect your cells from the oxidative damage from free radicals in your body. Thus decreasing inflammation. Olive oil also has vitamin E tocopherols. These can lower inflammatory factors that contribute to heart disease.

Be careful when buying extra virgin olive oil though, the regulations for what is labeled “extra virgin olive oil” is not strict in the states. Extra virgin means that no chemical process was used in the extraction of the oil from the olive. Extra virgin means that the olive was squeezed and oil came out. Extra virgin is the best form of olive oil, and the healthiest.

Store olive oil in a cool, dark place. If it is out in the open and in a clear plastic or glass bottle, then the heat and the light will cause it to break down and become toxic over time. You can safely store olive oil for up to a year. But after that, the anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories and polyphenols all start to break down.

Recently doctors in Spain wanted to test the efficacy of the Mediterranean diet. What they found showed very positive health benefits from eating this way. The results were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Ramon Estruch, from the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, put the Mediterranean diet to the test against a low fat diet. They wanted to track the incidents of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease related death. They had one group that ate a Mediterranean diet high in extra virgin olive oil. Another group ate a Mediterranean diet that was high in nuts. The other group ate a low fat diet.

The group that ate the Mediterranean diet high in extra virgin olive oil showed the least amount of heart problems and the lowest rate of heart disease deaths. Compared to the low fat diet, the extra virgin olive oil group showed a 30% lower risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or dying from heart disease over a 5 year period. The group that ate a Mediterranean diet high in nuts had a 28% lower risk for these issues than the low fat group.

“We really believe the Mediterranean diet lowers incidence of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular deaths,” said Estruch.

The participants in the Mediterranean diet groups replaced red meat with white meat (like chicken) and ate 3 or more servings of fish each week. They also had 3 or more servings of fruit and 2 or more servings of vegetables per day. They were also asked to stay away from sodas.

The extra virgin olive oil group replaced regular oil with olive oil and consumed more than 4 table spoons of the oil per day.

The nut group ate 30 grams per day of a combination of nuts including walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts.

The low fat group ate 3 or more servings of fish or seafood per week and the same amount of fruit and vegetables as the Mediterranean diet group. They were discouraged from eating more than 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, including olive oil, every day.

Even with all of the similarities between the diets, the diet high in olive oil showed a statistically significant decrease in heart disease risk. This is very encouraging for those who suffer from heart disease, or are susceptible to heart disease. If you eat healthy, avoid processed foods and follow the Mediterranean diet you can drastically lower your chances of heart disease, stroke, or dying from a heart attack; a 30% lower risk to be specific. And if you add exercise into the equation, you can decrease your chances even more than that.

Read more about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle here.

Avoiding chronic illness and disease, slowing the progression of chronic illness and disease through your own actions, rather than relying on a doctor and medications, is very possible. Controlling it through proper nutrition and exercise, is the Pain Free Way.

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