Updated: Sep 25
How to Begin the Mediterranean Diet for Health and Weight Loss
Losing weight can feel like a tedious task, especially when there are very little results over an extended period. When work, family and other commitments need constant attention, our nutrition can easily be put on the back burner. Working out an hour a day is not always realistic and can seem a little extreme. It is important to make health a priority so your body can function at its best. Registered dieticians typically discuss the 80-20 rule for overall health and wellbeing. This means weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise. This shows what we put into our body matters a lot and can affect so many other aspects of our lives, such as how we feel about ourselves. A diet that is suggested by most nutritionists and healthcare providers for people suffering from obesity or are having increased health issues is the Mediterranean diet. This is a meal plan used by many and allows for a convenient way to eat even on the go. This article will discuss this diet in detail, benefits, how it relates to weight loss and provide examples of meals that can be made easily at home!
What is Obesity?
In the United States, fast food is convenient, affordable and can be found on every corner. The only issue with fast food is it is full of saturated fats and preservatives. When we consume this type of food, it can cause health problems over time and is stored at fat. This is one of the many reasons one out of every three Americans is suffering from obesity. So, what exactly is obesity? Obesity is a body mass index over 30, where a normal body mass index is 25 or less (Fruh, 2017). It is an increase in fatty tissue in the body that is stored and has become one of the main causes of hospital visits. With unhealthy diet options more easily accessible, obesity continues to become more frequent (Daniele et al, 2017).
Health Concerns with Obesity
Many health issues can be caused from being overweight and decrease life expectancy. Some examples are diabetes, various cardiovascular diseases, and different types of cancer. Diabetes is an increase in sugar or glucose in the blood stream. Glucose is normally pushed in the cells by insulin to be used for energy to perform daily tasks. Over a long period of time obesity can cause insulin resistance. This is when the body no longer responds to insulin, leaving the sugar in the blood stream, elevating glucose levels. When sugar builds up in the blood stream, a domino effect happens which interrupts normal functioning systems causing many adverse reactions such as nerve cell damage in the feet.
Cardiovascular disease can be caused when there is increased amount of fat around the heart and in the blood. The heart pumps blood to all parts of the body providing essential oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. When the heart must pump harder due to increased fat throughout the body, this can lead to other health issues such as hypertension, known as increased blood pressure. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels with diet can improve cardiovascular functions and maintain adequate blood flow.
Studies have also shown an increased risk of cancer in patients with a higher body mass index. When there are increased fat levels in the body, various forms of cancer can develop, including colon and pancreatic.
Not only can obesity be the cause of a serious diagnosis but mostly it can be devastating to someone’s mental health. Anxiety and depression are mental disorders that can be very debilitating. Quality of life is essential and is greatly related to how someone feels about themselves. The best prevention of obesity is proper nutrition and eating foods that the body can use to function properly so people can feel their best (Fruh, 2017).
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Weight loss can seem almost impossible and will not last without lifestyle changes. With the prevalence of obesity related chronic illnesses there are many diet trends that have emerged to assist the population in losing unwanted weight gain. The only issue with following the new fad is the suggested diet plan is not sustainable and is only meant to be temporary. A diet plan shouldn’t have any risks and must be able to be maintained long term safely.
The Mediterranean diet has been used around the world as a healthy alternative to temporary fixes and has stood the test of time. It can be followed for life without harmful side effects and has numerous health benefits. The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet plan that uses real, whole foods free of chemicals and preservatives! These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, and healthy oils such as olive oil. Meals are flavored with herbs rather than sugars and artificial sweeteners. There are various forms of protein, including nuts and fish, to provide optimal nutritional benefits. Frequent water intake is encouraged to assist in decreasing intake of sugar and sodas (Robinson, 2021).
When giving advice about how to shop smart, the usual rule of thumb is to shop on the outer parts of the grocery store instead the middle isles. This helps to avoid foods in boxes and bags that can be full of unhealthy ingredients. The Mediterranean diet advocates for this rule and is easy to maintain because all foods can be bought locally.
Mediterranean Diet and Obesity
The Mediterranean diet is full of antioxidants and is the perfect meal plan to decrease inflammation in the body helping to combat illness and diseases. It contains the essential nutrients the body needs for adequate function of metabolic processes and flushing toxins that build up over time. Some foods in the Mediterranean diet combat diseases naturally and can assist in reversing harmful effects of obesity. An example is the tomato, which has been shown in some studies to reduce inflammation in the body caused by increased fat tissue. In some research the tomato has also increased effectiveness of insulin in the body to lower blood sugar and reverse insulin resistance. The raw food, such as fresh fruits are eaten instead of sweets providing adequate nutrients. Healthy oils are used instead of most cooking oils to lower harmful cholesterol levels. This not only triggers weight loss but also improves the function on the heart (Daniele et al, 2017). This diet guides the body to go into fat burning mode rather than fat storing mode. Rather than increased stores of fat tissue, food is used for energy and is burned! Food consumed from the Mediterranean diet on a regular basis is one way to lose weight and begin a much healthier lifestyle.
Saturated Fats and Unsaturated Fats
Saturated fats are found in a lot of unhealthy food choices such as cakes, pizza, and in most fast food. These fats are not used in the body and are stored as fat, mostly around the abdominal area. An increased consumption can trigger weight gain and cause other harmful effects in the body.
Unsaturated fats come from natural foods such as olive oil, avocados, and various nuts. They play an important role in our body function and aide in lowering cholesterol levels (Tindall et al, 2020). The Mediterranean diet is very low in saturated fats and very high in unsaturated fat. Participants in numerous studies have shown an increase in healthy cholesterol and decrease in unhealthy cholesterol after just a few weeks of being on this diet.
Other Mediterranean Diet Benefits
Some parts of the world follow the Mediterranean diet regularly. In areas where this diet is very popular, and these foods are eaten daily, there is a significant decrease in cancer cases and other serious diseases. The risk of colon cancer drops with high fiber diets due to adequate cleansing and gut health. Other benefits are longer life spans, less need to be seen by a physician, and better mental health increasing overall quality of life.
In the United States, the population is being diagnosed with terminal illnesses more frequently and at a much younger age than European countries, such as Italy, due to poor diet choices. Vitamins A and C are consumed regularly following this diet allowing for better health physically and provides needed nutrients (Daniele et al, 2017). Diet related diseases are becoming a growing issue worldwide and threaten the health of the American population. The Mediterranean diet can be used long term to combat this pandemic and can be maintained for life through healthy diet changes. As the population ages, good nutrition is becoming more important and much more beneficial.
Mediterranean Diet Meal Ideas
Knowing what to cook and planning the preparation can be overwhelming and discouraging. Being that the Mediterranean diet is plant-based, natural foods, recipes can be created using simple ingredients! Recipes can be changed according to taste or preference. The first meal idea is tomato Soup. This is a delicious, easy way to feed the family and requires little preparation. The ingredients include:
-Salt/pepper to taste
-Half and half
Wash tomatoes and put them in a pan that is oven safe with whole garlic cloves. Lightly glaze the tomatoes and garlic with olive oil or vegetable oil. Add salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to taste. Put pan in the oven on 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Make sure tomatoes are very soft prior to removing them from the oven. Put the tomatoes in a blender with garlic cloves as well as left over tomato juice in the pan. Once tomatoes are pureed, add spoonful of cream cheese and a splash of half and half. Cook on stove top on medium for 10 to 15 minutes. May add mozzarella or avocados according to preference.
The second meal idea is salmon with asparagus. This is an easy meal that can be made ahead of time. Ingredients include:
-salt/pepper to taste
Add salt and pepper to each side of salmon. Cook salmon on stove top in pan with olive oil on medium heat. Cook each side 5 to 7 minutes or until cooked. Once cooked squeeze lemon for flavor. May add additional herbs if preferred. For asparagus, wash well with water. Lay on a pan over aluminum foil. Glaze with olive oil. Add salt, pepper, and sprinkle parmesan cheese. Cook in oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with salmon and enjoy!
There are many other recipes that can be found on social media and Mediterranean cookbooks. Most of the meals are easy to prepare and can be made with items found on most kitchens.
The Mediterranean diet has been used around the world due to its health benefits. With most diets, the foods do not provide adequate nutritional content and can be difficult to stick to. This is one diet plan that can be used to improve overall health. Sometimes eating the right balance and amounts of food can seem almost impossible without the right guidance. With obesity on the rise, it is crucial to know what foods to eat and what foods to avoid. Simple rules to follow are to shop in the produce and meat sections of the grocery store to avoid processed foods. By following this plan-based diet, health can be improved so weight loss can take place in a long term, safe way.
Daniele, N., Noce, A., Vidiri, M., Moriconi, E., Marrone, G., Annicchiarico-Petruzzelli, M., Urso, G., Tesauro, M., Rovella, V. & Lorenzo, A. (2017). Impact of the Mediterranean diet on metabolic syndrome, cancer and longevity. Oncotarget, 8(5), 8947-8979. DOI: 10.18632/oncotarget.13553
Fruh, S. (2017). Obesity: Risk factors, complications, and strategies for sustainable long-term weight management. Journal of The American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 29(1), 3-14. DOI: 10.1002/2327-6924.12510.
Robinson, K. (2021). The Mediterranean diet. Nourish by WedMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diet/a-z/the-mediterranean-diet
Tindall, A., Kris-Etherton, P. & Petersen, K. (2020). Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats from walnuts or vegetable oils lowers atherogenic lipoprotein classes without increasing lipoprotein. The Journal of Nutrition, 150(4), 818-825.