The Benefits of Eating Mediterranean Style

Heading out to dinner tonight but don’t know where to go? If you want to stick to your weight-loss goals while dining out, a good bet is to choose a Mediterranean-style restaurant. This style of cooking relies on nutrient-dense and fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, healthy portions of lean poultry, beef, and seafood, and good fats from extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, and avocado — all of which are staples of the South Beach Diet.

Health Benefits of Mediterranean Foods
While research on the health benefits of Mediterranean-style eating is ongoing, a major study recently found that the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of a heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular death in high-risk individuals by 30 percent.

The five-year study, in The New England Journal of Medicine, was part of the PREDIMED project, a multicenter trial conducted from 2003 through 2011, which focused on the link between the Mediterranean diet and the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. The large and rigorous study followed 7,447 men and women ages 55 to 80 in Spain who had major cardiovascular risk factors, such as being overweight, smoking, or having diabetes, but who had no cardiovascular disease at enrollment. Researchers divided the participants into three groups: One group followed a typical Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil; a second group followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with a combination of tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts); and the third (control) group followed a low-fat (animal and vegetable) diet. All three groups were provided with nutritional counseling.

The findings showed that the participants on both versions of the Mediterranean diet significantly lowered their cardiovascular risk, while the participants on the low-fat diet did not. The one caveat, as the study’s researchers pointed out, is that more research still needs to be conducted to determine whether the Mediterranean diet could benefit individuals who are at low risk for cardiovascular disease. However, the study’s coordinator, Dr. Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona, expects that the Mediterranean diet has the potential to help low-risk individuals as well as people at high-risk, and suggests that developing Mediterranean diet–style eating habits during childhood is the best way to reap the heart-healthy benefits over the long run.

Weight-loss was not a benefit cited in this study, but an earlier PREDIMED study comparing the Mediterranean-style diet with a low-fat diet found that those on the Mediterranean diet had better blood sugar, better blood pressure, better LDL to HDL cholesterol ratios, and lower levels of C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation) than those on the low-fat regimens — and they also lost weight.

Since the basic principles of the South Beach Diet follow the Mediterranean way of eating, many people on our diet have experienced these same health benefits along with weight loss, particularly since exercise is a key component of our plan.

On the Menu
When you’re dining out at a Greek or Middle Eastern restaurant, go for dishes like kebabs made with lean grilled meat (sirloin steak or skinless chicken breast, for example) or seafood (such as scallops, shrimp, or salmon). For a healthy side dish, enjoy steamed vegetables on all Phases of the South Beach Diet. Whole-grain dishes like couscous and bulgur can be enjoyed on Phase 2 and beyond. You can also choose dips like hummus or tzatziki (a yogurt, cucumber, and garlic dip) served with vegetable sticks or whole-wheat pita bread, depending on what Phase you are on. And on Phase 2, you may enjoy a glass of heart-healthy red wine with your meal, if you like.

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