The World's Healthiest Diet
6 Reasons to Try It
You don't just lose pounds -- the Mediterranean diet also helps you feel better and live longer.
1. Lasting weight loss. How can a diet that features nuts, oils, pasta, bread, and wine help you lose weight? Because it makes you feel full and therefore holds hunger at bay. The healthy fats and protein in the Mediterranean diet keep your glucose (blood sugar) level on an even keel, which means you'll be less apt to hunt down chips, cookies, or fast food to get through the day.
A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet for two years lost more weight than low-fat dieters and maintained their 10-pound loss. "You don't feel hungry," explains Meir Stampfer, MD, DrPH, a coauthor of the study and a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston. Don't believe us about protein's fill power? Dr. Stampfer suggests this little experiment: "One morning eat white toast and jam for breakfast. The next day have scrambled eggs." The egg meal, Dr. Stampfer promises, will leave you more energetic and a lot less hungry at 11 a.m.
2. A strong, healthy heart. Eating Mediterranean decreases practically every heart-disease risk factor -- high blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. When 605 patients who'd had a first heart attack followed the diet for four years, they had a 50 to 70 percent lower risk of having a second heart attack, angina, or a stroke or pulmonary embolism. "There's no single aspect of the diet that keeps your heart healthy," says Dr. Stampfer; it's the synergy of all the diet's elements. Antioxidants in fruits, vegetables, and beans help prevent the atherosclerosis that can make plaque build up in arteries. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish lower blood pressure, arrhythmia risk, and triglyceride levels. Olive oil lessens LDL ("bad") cholesterol. And wine and other spirits in moderation may lower heart-disease risk.
3. Diabetes prevention. In a new Annals of Internal Medicine study, 215 type 2 diabetics were asked to follow either a low-fat or a Mediterranean diet. After four years only 44 percent of the Mediterranean group needed diabetes medication -- but 70 percent of the low-fat eaters did. The Med dieters also lost more weight. Other research shows that the diet helps people with pre-diabetes lower their blood sugar enough to avoid developing full-blown type 2 diabetes.
4. Better eyesight. The diet could help stave off or prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss after age 54. The condition, which affects more than 10 million Americans, destroys the part of your retina responsible for the clear central vision you need to read, drive, and recognize faces. A recent study linked eating fish and vegetables to a reduced risk of getting it early, and the omega-3 fatty acids in fish can lower the risk of the disease altogether. What's more, the lutein in green leafy vegetables cuts your chance of cataracts and boosts retinal health, says Dr. Willett.
5. Reduced Alzheimer's risk. Eating Mediterranean may help cut your chance of Alzheimer's disease by 40 percent, shows a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And people who added regular exercise to the diet were 60 percent less likely to get Alzheimer's.
6. Longer life. A recent meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal found the diet significantly improved health and led to a 9 percent reduction in death from heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Other studies have found that the diet's healthy fats may lessen the inflammation and pain of rheumatoid arthritis and cut the risk of getting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) by 60 percent.