By Rebecca Brundidge
For much of the last 30 years, U.S. dietary guidelines have emphasized low-fat diets in an effort to decrease obesity rates and create a healthier population. This paradigm has changed, and in 2015, the previous restriction on percentage of calories from total fat was discontinued. With cardiovascular disease still on the rise (now accounting for about 1 in 3 deaths in the United States), researchers continue to examine the links between diet and health. The typical Western diet’s high levels of refined grains, sugar, and saturated fats may be a perfect recipe for promoting cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Unsaturated fats, however, are increasingly recognized as important for good health..
Unsaturated fats serve as the main source of dietary fat in Mediterranean dishes. Olive oil, a primarily monounsaturated fat, is known for its ability to improve blood cholesterol, decrease risk of heart disease, and help control blood sugar. In fact, researchers believe unsaturated fat like olive oil is why the Mediterranean diet works so well. A systematic review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine analyzed primary studies and reviews on the Mediterranean diet published between 1990 and April 2016. In their review, they sought to “determine if the Mediterranean diet is more effective than any other diet in preventing mortality and new onset of disease in healthy persons.” Ultimately, they reviewed ninety different papers and found that a “Mediterranean diet with no restriction on fat intake may be associated with reduced incidence of cardiovascular events, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes mellitus compared with any other diet.” Including more monounsaturated oils, antioxidant-rich fruits, and colorful veggies on your plate means a decreased risk for some of the leading causes of death in the U.S. It tastes great, too.
Wondering how to eat Mediterranean when dining out? Ditch the refined carbs and ask your server if you can swap out white bread and pasta for whole grain options. Look for menu items containing fresh grilled fish (steer clear of fried options). If fish is not available, choose protein packed legumes or other lean meats, like white meat, skinless chicken. Look for dishes containing many fruits and veggies. You can always add a side salad drizzled with olive oil and pepper or substitute out fries for fresh fruit. Check Healthy Dining Finder’s restaurants for healthy menu items with low saturated and trans fat. Oh, and did we mention red wine makes the cut? An occasional red aligns perfectly with the Mediterranean diet, so feel free to treat yourself to a glass.
 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2017 At-a-Glance. (2017). [PDF] American Heart Association. Available at: https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_491265.pdf
 Bloomfield, H., Koeller, E., Greer, N., MacDonald, R., Kane, R. and Wilt, T. (2016). Effects on Health Outcomes of a Mediterranean Diet With No Restriction on Fat Intake. Annals of Internal Medicine, 165(7), p.491.