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5 Surprising Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet


Photo of a Food From the Mediterranean Diet

In a recent U.S. News and World Report review of the best diets, experts gave top honors to the Mediterranean diet for its surprising health benefits. The very word “diet” belies the true power behind this way of eating, since it does so much more than shrink your waistline. Studies have shown it can help reduce your risk for many of the diseases and conditions most of us try to avoid.

“The Mediterranean diet is a blend of foods from Greece, Italy, Northern Africa, Spain, and southern France,” says Danielle Volpe, RD LDN CPT, outpatient dietitian at Springfield Hospital. “The foundation of the diet is fruits and vegetables, nuts and healthy oils, and some fish and poultry. Foods like red meat and sweets are eaten sparingly.”

May is National Mediterranean Diet Month and it's the perfect time to swap out some of your standard Western fare for foods from this region. Maybe you’ll start to experience some of these surprising health benefits yourself.

Supercharges Your Ability to Maintain Healthy Weight

Weight loss that you can’t maintain is useless, which is why so many diets fail when it comes to improving your health. The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, can help you maintain a healthy weight over the long run without a lot of effort.

Across five different studies, the Mediterranean diet was just as effective for weight loss as a low-carb diet or the American Diabetes Association diet, and better than a low-fat diet. The best part is that as long as you stick to the basic principles and eat sensible portions, you’ll never have to count carbs, calories or fat with the Mediterranean diet.

It’s Good for Growing Fetuses

Research shows that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can affect her child’s risk of developing diseases such as diabetes later in life. Eating foods high in fat and sugar while you’re pregnant can increase your child’s risk, while the Mediterranean diet may lower it.

“While proper nutrition can usually overcome any of the increased risks of disease some children may have developed from their mother’s poor diet during pregnancy, it’s always better to give your child a head start on good health,” says Volpe. “The Mediterranean diet is one of the best ways to do this.”

It’s Healthy for Kids, Too

Kids can also benefit from a Mediterranean diet. Studies suggest that it helps reduce their chances of developing obesity, allergies, and asthma, and may even help cut down on their risk for developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

It May Improve IVF Success Rate

Women who are undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) may also benefit from a Mediterranean diet. One study showed that young women who followed this diet had a much higher chance for IVF success than those who did not. While more evidence is needed to prove the cause and effect, this is good news for couples struggling with infertility.

“A healthy lifestyle generally improves your fertility, and diet is a big part of that equation,” says Volpe. “This study shows that a Mediterranean diet can help support overall health and may improve fertility.”

It Reduces Your Risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can help to improve your brain health. By keeping your blood sugar and cholesterol lower, your blood vessels stay supple and healthy. This helps to reduce your chances fordeveloping dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The diet also gives you a hefty dose of antioxidants, and people eating this way may cut their risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in half.

“In many ways, switching to a Mediterranean diet is an easy choice,” says Volpe. “It has so many health benefits and the ingredients are readily available in most supermarkets. If you’re ready to get started, meet with a nutritionist for some advice on how to make the change.”

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