Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet has certain types and amounts of food. If eaten for a number of years, it has been shown to reduce the risks of developing heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Following the diet has also been linked with a reduced risk of early death and has proved a successful strategy for healthy weight reduction. You don’t need any particular cooking skills to produce inexpensive, delicious, meals fitting the Mediterranean Diet.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is rich in vegetables, fruit, peas and beans (legumes) and grains. It also contains moderate amounts of chicken and fish.

There is little red meat and most fat is unsaturated and comes from olive oil and nuts. Having a small amount of red wine has been shown to increase the health benefits.

In combination with moderate exercise and not smoking, the Mediterranean Diet offers a scientifically researched, affordable, balanced, and health-promoting lifestyle choice.

Lifestyle and risk

The modern Western diet, living in cities, office working, daily stress and reliance on the car all appear to have contributed to a recipe for unhealthy living.

Heart disease is still the most common cause of death (and premature death) in the UK. It causes around 101,000 deaths each year. 1 in 5 men and 1 in 6 women die from heart disease. Among the more developed countries in Europe, only Ireland and Finland have higher rates than the UK.

Unhealthy lifestyle, diet and obesity have also been linked to type 2 diabetes, raised cholesterol and high blood pressure. These conditions can combine to make medical risks and problems more severe. Diet, lifestyle factors and obesity are also associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. Being substantially overweight can bring on or worsen osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea (a condition where your breathing stops for short spells during sleep), high blood pressure and gallbladder disease.

Why was the Mediterranean Diet investigated?

In 1980, Professor Ancel Keys published the results of his investigation into cardiovascular death rates in different countries. He found death rates were low in Greece (particularly Crete), southern Italy (also Japan) and relatively high in the USA and Finland.

He investigated the lifestyle of the long-lived Mediterranean people to see if we could learn from them and use the knowledge in higher-risk populations. After such factors as smoking, exercise, education and stress had been taken into account, it was found that diet had played an essential part in keeping these communities healthy. The dietary pattern was not new. In fact, it was a traditional mix of fresh seasonal and easily stored produce, that probably dated back to the early civilizations. It had incorporated new foods, such as tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.

They tried to establish which foods offered particular health benefits, producing all the research into ‘superfoods’. It was found that both individual food components (such as vegetables, fruits, mono-unsaturated fats) and their combination into a long-term dietary pattern were important for health. This led to the identification and description of an ‘ideal’ Mediterranean diet which could be tested on Western populations.

Many long-term population studies, involving hundreds of thousands of people, have been carried out to assess the likely health benefits of switching to a Mediterranean diet.

The ‘ideal’ Mediterranean Diet

The ‘ideal’ (in terms of health-giving effects) Mediterranean Diet has, in relation to a typical Western diet:

High quantities of: a variety of vegetables, a variety of fruit, legumes (eg, beans), cereals and cereal products.
Moderate quantities of: fish, white meats, nuts, low-fat dairy produce, wine (men: 1-3 units per day, women: 1-2 units per day) with meals.
Low quantities of: red meat, eggs, sweets and sweet desserts.
A high mono-unsaturated fat (eg, olive oil) to saturated animal fat (eg, fatty red meat) ratio – at least 2:1.
Low amounts of added salt – in many cases, herbs can be used for flavouring in place of excess salt.

The Mediterranean Diet is a pattern of food proportions, rather than a set list of particular products, ‘superfoods’ or recipes. As such, there are many possibilities to be creative using locally sourced and affordable produce, according to your taste. You don’t need to master Greek or Italian cookery – unless you want to. Just use the ingredient mix in any way you wish.

With fat being a major source of calories, restrictions can be placed on total amounts used in food preparation if setting targets for losing weight.

An example of the ‘ideal’ Mediterranean Diet food template (currently issued in Greece) is shown below:

This dietary pattern fits with both the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 5-A-Day message and the recommendations of the UK Government’s Change4life campaign.

What are the measured benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?

Scientists have compared the risks of developing heart and other diseases in populations that did and didn’t adopt the diet. People who had closely followed the Mediterranean Diet were found to have:

Increased longevity – that is, a reduced chance of death at any age – due mainly to reductions in the chance of developing, having a recurrence of, or dying from heart disease or cancer. The results have been confirmed in UK and USA populations and represent around a 20% reduced risk of death at any age.
Reduction in the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or raised blood cholesterol, each of which is associated with cardiac and vascular disease, as well as other serious complications. And each of which may require permanent medication once developed.
Reduction in the chance of becoming obese and that the Mediterranean Diet formed the basis for a balanced reduction in weight.
Reduction in the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle at home

It has become clear that there are very good scientific reasons why certain peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean lived longer, healthier lives than those in the West in the mid 20th century.

We can all benefit from this information. The Mediterranean Diet is a healthy template that fits with the WHO and UK recommendation to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

But, the Mediterranean Diet also maximises the intake of essential nutrients and health-promoting ingredients, whilst minimising quantities of ingredients associated with health risks. So that, overall, those who adopt the Mediterranean Diet are likely to have a much lower risk of developing life-threatening and chronic disease than those who don’t.

Switching to a Mediterranean diet, taking moderate exercise and stopping smoking, are all choices that offer a greater chance of being able to enjoy an active long life. If you are interested in trying out the Mediterranean Diet at home, see the separate leaflet called How to Follow the Mediterranean Diet.

14 Surprising Health Benefits Of Wine

You pop open the cork after a killer day at the office, and the luscious wine flows in mellow drops into your shiny glass. Then this voice whispers in your ear. “Should I be drinking wine?” You try to make healthy food choices and go to the gym and yoga a few times a week. Are you negating your efforts with a few sips? You know that over-indulging is a health no-no, but what about a glass of wine a few times per week?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely heard of the heart-healthy benefits of red wine. But this is not your big concern; you already exercise and eat pretty well.

Prepare to be amazed. More than just being heart-healthy, wine has a slew of surprising health benefits, many of which stem from resveratrol. Some plants make resveratrol to fight off bacteria and fungi, or to withstand a drought or lack of nutrients. Red and purple grapes, blueberries, cranberries, mulberries, peanuts, and pistachios are sources. Resveratrol may be the wonder ingredient responsible for many of wine’s benefits. Isolating the resveratrol does not yield the same powers, indicating that a constellation of forces act together to protect the body. Most studies focus on the benefits of red wine because white grapes do not contain resveratrol.

Prepare to be amazed and relieved. You’re about to learhow your wine-drinking ritual can be a powerful health elixir. Check out the following fourteen benefits of wine that go way beyond heart healthiness.

1. Live longer

That’s right. On the island of Ikarios, a recently discovered Blue Zone, people live longer than anywhere else in the world. Daily wine consumption is part of a dietary pattern that encourages long life through eating fewer animal-based foods and eating more plant-based foods. You’ll find the long-lived residents of Crete and Sardinia sipping dark red wine, a part of their anti-aging lifestyle. A 2007 study suggests procyanidins, compounds found in red wine tannins, help promote cardiovascular health. Wines produced in areas of southwest France and Sardinia, where people tend to live longer, have particularly high concentrations of the compound.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School uncovered evidence that resveratrol directly activates a protein that promotes health and longevity in animal models. Resveratrol increases the activity of sirtuins (longevity pathways), a group of genes that protects the body from diseases of aging.

2. Get smarter

Resveratrol may help improve short-term memory. After just 30 minutes of testing, researchers found that participants taking resveratrol had a significant increase in retention of words and showed faster performance in the portion of the brain associated with the formation of new memories, learning, and emotions.

3. Banish breakouts with wine

Resveratrol is able to inhibit the growth of acne-causing bacteria longer than benzoyl peroxide. And it works even better when combined with benzoyl peroxide. So far, drinking the antioxidant is the best way to benefit from its properties. Topical application in creams has not been proven as effective – so imbibe your antioxidants in wine, fruits, and veggies rather than buying expensive creams.

4. Wine may beat trips to the gym

Would you rather drink wine or slave away at the gym? Scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada found that resveratrol improves heart, brain, and bone function; the same way these parts are improved when you go to the gym. Now imagine the benefits of doing both!

5. Say goodbye to the blues

You know wine helps you relax…but depression? Researchers in Spain found that men and women who drank two to seven glasses of wine per week were less likely to be diagnosed with depression. Even when taking into account lifestyle factors which could influence their findings, the reduced risk held strong.

6. Reduce (not increase) your risk of liver disease

This study challenged conventional thinking about alcohol and liver disease. Modest wine consumption, defined as one glass a day, may decrease the prevalence of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). Modest wine drinkers, as compared to teetotalers, cut their risk of NAFLD in half. And compared with wine drinkers, modest beer or liquor drinkers had four times the odds of having suspected NAFLD.

7. Promote healthy eyes

Resveratrol stops out-of-control blood vessel growth in the eyes, according to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. This may help with treatment of diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. Note that these studies were done in mice, so the dose for humans is not yet clear. But this is a great start.

8. Protect your pearly whites

Did you know that drinking wine is a little-known way to protect your teeth from bacteria? We mentioned wine’s antimicrobial effects on the skin. Well, it also helps reduce bacteria on our teeth.Using five of the common oral plaque-causing bacteria, scientists noted almost complete degradation of the bacteria after applying the biofilms with red wine.

9. Cut multiple cancer risks

Breast Cancer

Red grapes are the fruit best able to suppress the activity of aromatase, the enzyme used by breast tumors to produce their own estrogen – this is called an aromatase inhibitor. Red wine may serve as a nutritional aromatase inhibitor, which may ameliorate the elevated breast cancer risk associated with alcohol intake. Note that you can also eat red grapes; those with seeds are especially helpful. Resveratrol is also thought to kill cancer cells by cutting off a pathway that feeds cancer cells.

Colon cancer

Studies show that moderate consumption of red wine can reduce the risk of colon cancer by 50%.
Prostate Cancer

Harvard Men’s Health Watch reports that men who drink an average of four to seven glasses of red wine per week have a 52% less chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer compared to those who don’t drink wine. Red wine appears particularly protective against advanced or aggressive cancers. Doctors speculate that flavonoids and resveratrol contain potent antioxidants and may counterbalance androgens, the male hormones that stimulate the prostate.

10. Stave off those pesky sniffles

So maybe grandma’s cold remedy isn’t so strange after all. A study looked at 4,000 faculty members at five universities across Spain. Those who drank wine were less likely to come down with a cold compared to those that drank beer or spirits. Researchers think that the antioxidants help lower inflammation and reduce the symptoms of colds.

11. Lower your cholesterol (without changing your diet)

Resveratrol is thought to reduce LDL and increase HDL, meaning that our blood vessels are less likely to be coated with plaque. Even the American Heart Association admits that moderate consumption of any type of alcohol can increase your HDL, or good cholesterol, by about 12%.

12. Reduce the risk of stroke

Wine may reduce your risk of ischemic stroke. In analyses adjusted for age, sex, and smoking, intake of wine on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis was associated with a lower risk of stroke compared with no wine intake. The benefits were not seen in beer or hard alcohol consumption.

13. Regulate blood sugar levels without drugs

Red wine is abundant in polyphenols. The polyphenols in wine interact with cells involved in the development and storage of fat and the regulation of blood sugar. The amount of polyphenols in a small glass of red wine appears to rival the blood sugar regulating activity of certain diabetes drugs.

14. Slash your diabetes risk

Men and women who drink moderately have a 30% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This may be due again to resveratrol, which improves sensitivity to insulin. Insulin resistance is the most important critical factor contributing to Type 2 diabetes risk.
Don’t make this crucial mistake

The monumental mistake people make is trying to buy these benefits in a bottle, rather than looking at how wine can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. We want to bottle it, sell it, and find that magic bullet.

Supplements have not proven to have the benefits of simple foods. Nature is complex, and we haven’t figured out how to put that in a bottle (and I hope we don’t).

The most important thing you can do is start to look at the big picture.

Think of the slow-paced life of the Mediterranean and bring a little bit of that into your life.

Take time to prepare a simple meal packed with legumes and fresh vegetables.

Savor this meal.

Linger at the table with your friends and family.

And of course – enjoy a leisurely glass of wine without feeling guilty.

11 health benefits of papayas

Christopher Columbus, an Italian voyager once referred to papayas as the fruit of the angels. The fruit which is extremely rich in Vitamin C has a wide range of health benefits making it a great fruit option to include in your diet. Here are some of the top health benefits of papaya.

1. Lowers cholesterol

Papaya is rich in fibre, Vitamin C and antioxidants which prevent cholesterol build up in your arteries. Too much cholesterol build-up can lead to several heart diseases including heart attack and hypertension.

2. Helps in weight loss

Those looking to lose weight must include papaya in their diet as it is very low in calories. The fibre content in papaya leaves you feeling full and also clears your bowel movement making your weight loss regime easier.

3. Boosts your immunity

Your immunity system acts as a shield against various infections that can make you really sick. A single papaya contains more than 200% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, making it great for your immunity.

4. Good for diabetics

Papaya is an excellent food option for diabetics as it has a low-sugar content even though it is sweet to taste. Also, people who don’t have diabetes can eat papaya to prevent it from happening.

5. Great for your eyes

Papaya is rich in Vitamin A which helps protect your vision from degenerating. Nobody wants to lose their ability to see due to diseases like age-related macular degeneration, and eating papayas will ensure that you do not see a day where you cannot see.

6. Protects against arthritis

Arthritis can be a really debilitating disease and people who have it may find their quality of life reduced significantly. Eating papayas are good for your bones as they have anti-inflammatory properties along with Vitamin C which helps in keeping various forms of arthritis at bay. A study published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases showed that people who consumed foods low in Vitamin C were three times more likely to have arthritis than those who didn’t.

7. Improves digestion

In today’s times, it is near impossible to avoid eating foods that are bad for your digestive system. Often we find ourselves eating junk food or restaurant food prepared in excessive quantities of oil. Eating a papaya daily can make up for such occasional mistakes, as it has a digestive enzyme known as papain along with fibre which helps improve your digestive health.

8. Helps ease menstrual pain

Women who are experiencing menstrual pain should help themselves to several servings of papaya, as an enzyme called papain helps in regulating and easing flow during menstrual periods.

9. Prevents signs of ageing

All of us would love to stay young forever, but no one in this world has managed to do it. Still, healthy habits like eating a papaya daily will prolong the process and may make you look 5 years younger than you are. Papaya is rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin E and antioxidants like beta-carotene which helps prevent your skin from free radical damage keeping wrinkles and other signs of ageing at bay.

10. Prevents cancer

Papaya is a rich source of antioxidants, phytonutrients and flavonoids that prevent your cells from undergoing free radical damage. Some studies have also linked the consumption papaya to reduced risk of colon and prostate cancer.

11. Helps reduce stress

After working hard for the whole day, it is a good idea to come home to a plate a papayas. The wonder fruit is rich in several nutrients like Vitamin C which can keep you free from stress. According to a study conducted in University of Alabama, found that 200 mg of Vitamin C can help regulate the flow of stress hormones in rats.

3 Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee

Do you smell it? Can you taste it? For some people, that unmistakable smell and delectable taste are the main reasons to pry themselves out of bed each morning. What is it? It’s the eye-opening and mouth-watering beverage that’s consumed by an estimated 100 million Americans on a daily basis and it comes from a simple bean – coffee. But, aside from the caffeinated beverage’s eye-opening abilities and addictive flavor, there are many other hidden benefits and we’ve compiled a list of arguably the six best reasons you should be consuming coffee.
Mental Note

Is there anything sadder than seeing an aging loved one drastically losing their mental sharpness? You may be powerless to prevent it, but, according to a recent study, coffee may be able to help you from falling into the same trap. Researchers discovered that participants who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 65% decreased chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia later on in life. To ensure you’re always drinking enough coffee, make it a point of always consuming coffee with your meals.
Cardiovascular Protection

Anybody who’s serious about health knows the importance of a healthy cardiovascular system. What they may not know is that by simply drinking one or two cups of coffee per day they could have a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease-related death. According to a Japanese study of more than 76,000 participants, men consuming one to two cups of coffee daily reduced their risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease by as much as 38%. Of course, this still doesn’t excuse you from cardio exercises.
Risk Aversion

Want to lower your risk of death? A National Institutes of Health – AARP Diet and Health study of more than 400,000 people revealed that drinking coffee might be the answer. Between 1995 and 2008, male participants drinking even just one daily cup reduced their risk of death by 6%. Drinking either two to three cups or six or more cups reduced the risk by 10% during the timeframe of the study. The greatest reduction of death risk was 12% in the group drinking four to five cups. Know your limit: five cups.

Exercise: 4 benefits of regular physical activity

Want to feel better, have more energy and perhaps even live longer? Look no further than exercise. The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. And the benefits of exercise are yours for the taking, regardless of your age, sex or physical ability. Need more convincing to exercise? Check out these seven ways exercise can improve your life.

No. 1: Exercise controls weight

Exercise can help prevent excess weight gain or help maintain weight loss. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. You don’t need to set aside large chunks of time for exercise to reap weight-loss benefits. If you can’t do an actual workout, get more active throughout the day in simple ways — by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or revving up your household chores.

No. 2: Exercise combats health conditions and diseases

Worried about heart disease? Hoping to prevent high blood pressure? No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, regular physical activity can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls.

No. 3: Exercise improves mood

Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A workout at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.

No. 4: Exercise boosts energy

Winded by grocery shopping or household chores? Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance. Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to go about your daily chores.

References

The benefits of physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/health/index.html. Accessed July 2, 2013.
2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx. Accessed July 2, 2013.
Armstrong S, et al. Social connectedness, self-esteem, and depression symptomatology among collegiate athletes versus nonathletes. Journal of American College Health. 2009;57:521.
Peterson DM. Overview of the benefits and risks of exercise. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 2, 2013.
Hannan JL, et al. Beneficial impact of exercise and obesity interventions on erectile function and its risk factors. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2009;6(suppl 3):254.
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