Naturally, one of the best way for us to create health is through a balanced diet. In terms of essential fatty acids, that means a eating in a way that more closely approximates the time-honored Mediterranean diet than that of your average fast-food or diet-fad junkie.

If you're concerned you’ll gain weight by consuming fats in their diets or by taking omega-3 supplements, remember that healthy fats are essential to healthy weight loss. They help decrease inflammation, regulate blood sugar, and improve blood vessel function, thereby increasing nutrient uptake and utilization, reducing cravings, and calibrating metabolism — all important if we want to maintain our weight within a healthy range.

Our ancestors ate a diet more like the Mediterranean diet because they had little choice. Processed and chemically preserved foods didn’t exist, and their omega-6/omega-3 ratios were more balanced and healthier. Many physicians today are urging people to return to this healthier way of eating. After all, it worked beautifully for thousands of years — and it’s what we’ve been enjoying all along at Women's Health Network!

The Mediterranean diet has been studied extensively and proven to be one of the best ways to optimize your intake of natural omega-3 fatty acids as well as monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and health-enhancing phytonutrients. These all work together in the body as cell-signaling compounds to regulate healthy cell processes. From reducing our risk of degenerative diseases like Cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s, to alleviating the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and increasing our life span, the Mediterranean diet is associated with an array of benefits that no fad diet could ever afford us!

This way of eating is a way of life, really, emphasizing fresh whole foods rather than processed, packaged or preserved foods, to be enjoyed at leisure whenever possible with family and friends. All this may or may not sound familiar to you, but once you recognize how far-reaching the benefits of a Mediterranean diet are, making a transition to this way of eating can be a relatively simple one. Try to keep in mind that the benefits don’t come from one particular food, but from following the pattern as a whole. In terms of guidelines, a Mediterranean-style diet includes:

  • An abundance of brightly colored fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes of all types
  • Whole grains
  • Walnuts, other tree nuts, and flaxseed (1–1.5 oz, or one-fourth to one-third cup daily)
  • Plenty of fatty fish and seafood (see the list of best choices in our main article on omega-3s)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (keep refrigerated, if practicable)
  • Lean, grass-fed meats or free-range poultry (little to no saturated fats)
  • Moderate amounts of red wine if desired (one drink per day for women)
  • Avoiding all trans fats — margarine or anything else “partially hydrogenated”

Part of what we find so beautiful about the Mediterranean diet is how relaxed the rules are. The emphasis is on fresh and brightly colored, so you need not spend a lot of time preparing meals but focus more on enjoying them. So it’s both simple and tasty. And even if you adopt just one of the above steps at a time, you’ll be seeing health benefits from it soon enough. From your heart to your mind, it’s never too soon or too late to start reaping those benefits.

References

1 Paniagua, J., et al. 2007. A MUFA-rich diet improves postprandial glucose, lipid and GLP-1 responses in insulin-resistant subjects. J. Am. Coll. Nutr., 26 (5), 434–444. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=PubMed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&
TermToSearch=17914131 (accessed 11.05.2007).

  Paniagua, J., et al. 2007. Monounsaturated fat-rich diet prevents central body fat distribution and decreases postprandial adiponectin expression induced by a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects. Diabetes Care, 30 (7), 1717–1723. URL (full text): http://care.diabetesjournals.org/cgi/content/full/30/7/1717 (accessed 11.05.2007).

2 Hill, A., et al. 2007. Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 85 (5), 1267–1274. URL (abstract): http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/85/5/1267 (accessed 09.21.2007).

3 Harriss, L., et al. 2007. Dietary patterns and cardiovascular mortality in the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 86 (1), 221–229. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?orig_db=PubMed&db=PubMed&cmd
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?orig_db=PubMed&db=PubMed&cmd=Search&TransSchema=title&term=17616784 (accessed 10.25.2007).

  Vincent–Baudry, S., et al. 2005. The Medi-RIVAGE study: Reduction of cardiovascular disease risk factors after a 3-mo intervention with a Mediterranean-type diet or a low-fat diet. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 82, (5), 964–971. URL (full text): http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/82/5/964 (accessed 10.25.2007).

  See also:

  (No author listed.) 2007. Support for Med diet’s heart benefits keeps growing. URL: http://www.nutraingredients.com/news/ng.asp?id=78858 (accessed 10.25.2007).

  (No author listed.) Nutraingredients.com. 2005. Mediterranean diet cuts heart disease risk factors. URL: http://nutraingredients.com/news/ng.asp?id=64126 (accessed 10.25.2007).

4 Scarmeas, N., et al. 2007. Mediterranean diet and Alzheimer disease mortality. Neurology, 69, 1084–1093. URL (abstract): http://www.neurology.org/cgi/content/abstract/69/11/1084 (accessed 10.25.2007).

5 McKellar, G., et al. 2007. A pilot study of a Mediterranean-type diet intervention in female patients with rheumatoid arthritis living in areas of social deprivation in Glasgow. Ann. Rheum. Dis., 66, 1239–1243. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?orig_db=PubMed&db=PubMed&cmd=
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?orig_db=PubMed&db=PubMed&cmd=Search&term=17613557 (accessed 10.25.2007).

  See also:

  Heller, L. 2007. Med diet found to benefit arthritis sufferers. URL: http://www.nutraingredients.com/news/ng.asp?n=79807&m=1NIE917&c=uzuhcbwlwpxgpva (accessed 10.25.2007).

6 Mitrou, P., et al. 2007. Mediterranean dietary pattern and prediction of all-cause mortality in a US population — Results from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Arch. Int. Med., 167 (22), 2467–2468. URL (abstract): http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/167/22/2461 (accessed 12.11.2007).

  Staff reporter. 2007. Med diet linked to longer life — study. URL: http://www.nutraingredients.com/news/ng.asp?n=81979&m=1NIED11&c=uzuhcbwlwpxgpva (accessed 12.11.2007).

7 Curtis, B., & O’Keefe, J. 2002. Postgraduate medicine: Understanding the Mediterranean diet. URL: http://www.postgradmed.com/issues/2002/08_02/curtis.htm (accessed 08.16.2007).