Mediterranean diet reduce risk of serious health issues boulder community health Proper nutrition is one of the most important components of a healthy lifestyle. It helps you manage your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure. In addition, there is considerable evidence that proper nutrition can help reduce your risk of a variety of serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

A variety of diet plans have become popular in recent years, and each one claims to provide important health benefits. With so many options, how do you know which diet to pick? “What is important is to know what your goal is first,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cruse, BCH’s Medical Director of Quality Improvement and Population Health, during a free lecture.

“You also have to pick what’s right for you. You’re not going to stick with a way of eating that you’re not enjoying or that you don’t like. It has to be a lifestyle change,” explained Dr. Cruse. In fact, most people don’t end up sticking with diets. According to Dr. Cruse, research shows that after about 7 days, only 20 percent of people are still adhering to the diet they started.
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Watch a recording of Dr. Cruse's lecture on "The Mediterranean Diet: Fitting it Into Your Busy Life."
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During her lecture, she presented information on the Mediterranean diet, which she described as “a pattern of eating that has great evidence for health benefits, is pretty easy to follow, is very flexible and can taste really good.”

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

“As the name suggests, the Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods prepared in countries along the Mediterranean Sea,” Dr. Cruse stated. While there is no set list of foods included in this diet, it typically involves adhering to the following principles:

  • 35% of calories from fat, with less than 10% from saturated fat
  • No emphasis on sodium restriction
  • Emphasis on extra virgin olive oil use for cooking and dressings
  • Greater emphasis on regular consumption of oily fish and a-linolenic acid
  • Increased vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, unsaturated oils and lean protein (including seafood)
  • Decreased trans-fat, saturated fat, refined grains and added sugars
  • Moderate or no alcohol consumption

This is a largely plant-based diet. Dr. Cruse said that while meat is included, it remains in moderation.

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

dr. cruse health lecture boulder community health

According to Dr. Cruse, there are many benefits to adopting the Mediterranean diet. These include:

  • Reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
  • Improved blood sugar control among diabetics
  • Prevention of cardiovascular disease
  • Potential reduction in age-related cognitive decline
  • Potential improvement in longevity
  • Reduced risk of certain types of cancers

What is Involved in Following the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean region encompasses at least 15 countries that draw from a variety of cultures, including Italian, French, Arab, African and Greek. “When you follow this diet, you can draw from elements of all these cultural cuisines in varying levels to arrive at a menu that appeals to your personal tastes,” Dr. Cruse explained.

While the base of the Mediterranean diet is vegetables, fruits and whole grains, there are several important components associated with this eating pattern.

Fats

The Mediterranean diet isn’t a low-fat diet. It actually encourages fat — but only the healthy varieties such as monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat (especially omega-3 fatty acids), which help lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol.

Depending on your taste preferences, you can get the bulk of your fat intake from any of the following sources:

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Grapeseed oil

Proteins

Dr. Cruse said you should draw your protein from the following sources:

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Fish
  • White meat (including some types of pork)
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Nuts

Special Occasion Foods

According to Dr. Cruse, the following types of foods should be considered a treat and only consumed sparsely:

  • Fruits for dessert (this is a much better option than cakes, cookies, pies and ice cream)
  • Chocolate (may be beneficial in moderation – approximately 3-4 ounces per week)
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages should be avoided (choose flavored water or unsweetened tea instead)
  • Alcohol (moderate consumption is considered acceptable) – an average of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men

“Overall, you should shoot to adhere to the 80:20 rule – your goal should be to eat well 80 percent of the time,” Dr. Cruse said.

6 Tips for Incorporating the Mediterranean Diet in Your Life

Dr. Cruse provided several tips that will make it easier to start adopting the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle:

  1. Meal plan – Plan out all your meals for the week in advance and shop for the week.
  2. Prep in advance – Prepping and freezing ingredients in advance makes it easier to incorporate this diet into a busy life.
  3. Engage your family – Have your spouse and your children get involved in the cooking process so that they learn how to prepare meals that fit into the Mediterranean diet.
  4. Keep it simple – Rotate through a few different recipes during the week to prevent the need for complicated meals.
  5. Eggs for dinner – This is a quick, inexpensive way to use leftover ingredients in a healthy, filling meal.
  6. Doesn’t have to be expensive – Look for deals on the ingredients you buy to reduce the cost of your meals.

If you’d like to learn more about the Mediterranean diet, schedule an appointment with a BCH primary care physician by calling (303) 415-4015.

View the PowerPoint slides from Dr. Cruse’s lecture on the Mediterranean diet.

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