Searching for a healthy and balanced diet, or at least the most effective one, can often feel like a full-time job. However, for those with specific fitness and wellness goals, comparing and trying different diets is the only way to understand which will fit your needs and help you accomplish your goals.
The good news is, if you have ever traveled in Europe, you may have already tried the world’s healthiest diet without even realizing it!
What is the Healthiest Diet?
Every diet is different and affects every person in a slightly different way, but in recent decades, there has been some consensus that the healthiest diet you can choose is the Mediterranean diet. Now, when some people think of eating a meal in Italy, they immediately picture heaping servings of pizza and pasta, but that isn’t the case for this diet. What the Mediterranean diet refers to is the traditional eating habits of the region, which are quite different than the carb-heavy cuisine we associate with the region today.
50 years ago, studies found that people in the Mediterranean region had some of the lowest levels of chronic disease in the world, as well as one of the longest life expectancy rates, despite lacking access to overly advanced medical services. While the Mediterranean countries have different culinary styles and specialties, the basics of these diets are quite similar; in combination with certain lifestyle choices, the Mediterranean diet can be an excellent choice if you want to lose weight, reduce your risk of diabetes and protect your heart, among many other potential benefits.
Healthiest Diet – Mediterranean Diet Plan
In terms of what you should eat, the Mediterranean diet consists of eating a large amount of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, healthy oils, whole grains, herbs, spices and wine, among others. Rather than limiting food types, which many other diets require, the Mediterranean diet focuses on replacing certain foods with healthier – but similar – options. The other primary reason why this diet is so popular is that the food is flavorful and there are plenty of options, making it easy to maintain and actually enjoy!
Fruits and Vegetables
One of the key staples of the Mediterranean diet is a high concentration of fruits and vegetables, which are usually consumed in some form at every meal. Packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fiber, some of the best foods in this category include spinach, red peppers, onions, carrots, kale, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, figs, pears, apples, bananas, grapes, and strawberries.
Red meat is very rare in the Mediterranean diet but can be added 1-2 times per month on special occasions. Chicken is slightly more common and can be consumed 1-2 times per week, but the major source of animal protein comes from fish, which is also rich in trace minerals and beneficial fatty acids. Be sure to increase your intake of salmon, shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, sardines and mackerel on this diet.
Nuts and Seeds
These often overlooked aspects of a diet provide concentrated sources of beneficial fatty acids, as well as minerals, dietary fiber and other active ingredients, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Although some nuts and seeds are high in calories, they can be eaten in moderation, particular things like almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and Macadamia nuts.
In terms of cereals, whole grains are always the best option, as they have not been processed or hulled, so all of the nutrients remain intact. They are particularly rich in key nutrients that can be difficult to access in the rest of your diet, particularly in things like whole-grain pasta and bread, corn, brown rice, buckwheat, barley and whole wheat.
Perhaps the most recognizable part of a Mediterranean diet is the consistent use of olive oil. Used as a cooking oil, a salad dressing, a condiment for bread, or in any other form, olive oil is a much healthier option than things like butter, margarine, or other vegetable oils that are high in omega-6 fatty acids or saturated fats. Some of the best healthy oil options, aside from olive oil, are avocado oil and canola oil.
When it comes to beverages, people are often confused by the heavy presence of wine in the Mediterranean diet. However, wine does offer certain antioxidants and cardiovascular benefits when consumed in moderation. Having 1 or 2 glasses of wine for women and men, respectively, is another appealing aspect of the healthiest diet.
Legumes are densely packed with nutrients and fiber, making them quite filling, in addition to being a good source of protein. Found at almost every meal in some form, bean varieties like chickpeas, lentils, peas, and lentils are frequent elements of the Mediterranean diet.
Herbs and Spices
One of the most dangerous aspects of your diet is your salt intake, as this can elevate blood pressure and compromise your heart health. It is also one of the most popular spices for food across the world. Using other herbs and spices, which are common in the Mediterranean diet, can deliver extra antioxidants and minerals, without putting your health at risk. Some of these spices include garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, and basil.
Advantages of the Healthiest Diet
There are many advantages to following the Mediterranean diet, such as protecting against diabetes, boosting heart health, lowering inflammation, optimizing digestion and aiding in weight loss, among others.
Many people think of the Mediterranean diet primarily as a weight loss tool, and it can certainly help in that area. With high levels of fiber and “good” forms of fat, the world’s healthiest diet can promote muscle growth, reduce fat deposition and speed up the metabolism to boost your calorie-burning potential.
Thanks to the nuts, seeds, beans, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats, this diet is excellent for supporting heart health. Mediterranean-style food is linked to lower levels of LDL cholesterol, reduced blood pressure, faster healing rates and lower levels of stress hormones, all of which can reduce your risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke and coronary heart disease.
Many of the typical foods in the Mediterranean diet are rich in fiber, including vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes. With ample amounts of fiber in your diet, your digestive process will be improved, preventing symptoms of constipation, bloating, cramping and stomach upset. It can also help to improve the efficiency of your nutrient uptake, meaning that you will get the most of the food you eat.
Another major bonus of the Mediterranean diet is its effect on diabetes, both for those at risk for the disease and people who have already been diagnosed. High fiber levels can help to regulate the release of insulin and glucose into the body, while also reducing inflammation and lowering risk factors for metabolic syndrome, which is closely associated with diabetes.
Inflammation comes in many forms in countless areas of the body, causing oxidative stress and exhausting the body’s resources. With anti-inflammatory compounds, minerals and antioxidants abundant in this diet, inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, gout, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and general aches and pains can be remedied quite easily.
Numerous studies have linked the common food in the world’s healthiest diet to a reduction in chronic disease, owing to the antioxidants present in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy oils. These antioxidants seek out and neutralize free radicals before they can cause oxidative stress and cellular mutation.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in various nuts, oils, seeds, fish and even some fruits, is known to reduce the oxidative stress and inflammation in the neural pathways, which can reduce your risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The Mediterranean diet can even improve mood, lessen anxiety, and soothe nervous system disorders.