MEDITERRANEAN-FOCUSED DIET OFFERS WIDE VARIETY OF BENEFITS
There is no one-size-fits-all diet, and it can be difficult for people to figure out what kinds of foods might best meet their needs.
Hollie Donelson, nutritional therapy practitioner and owner of Happy Tummies of the Lowcountry, sees clients weeding their way through the fads and trends regularly.
“I believe everyone is different,” she says. “We have a lot of different aspects to genetics and where everybody came from that determines how we fit with our food.”
A few years ago, Donelson noticed that many people started gravitating to the Mediterranean diet, and the trendy eating philosophy has stuck around. Based on the eating habits of people who live along the Mediterranean coast in places such as Greece, France, Spain, Italy and northern Africa, the diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. And unlike restrictive diets such as keto or paleo, carbs are OK on the Mediterranean eating plan.
“It’s a little less daunting,” Donelson said.
In January, U.S. News and World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet as the No. 1 best overall diet for 2019. In addition, it was named the top diet for diabetes, for healthy eating, for heart health, for plant-based dieting, and for ease to adhere to. The rankings were determined by a panel of experts who focused on a number of factors like nutrition, food, obesity, food psychology and more.
The basics of the diet are straight-forward but nuanced: Seek nutritionally balanced food, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy grains, good proteins, and healthy fats. Your plate should be colorful and plentiful.
A typical meal might consist of fresh salmon, organic carrots, leafy greens and quinoa. A glass of red wine and some berries for dessert would also fit in the diet — in moderation, of course.
In 1993, a nonprofit nutrition organization called Oldways created a pyramid for the Mediterranean diet that emphasized plants — plant-based proteins, vegetables, fruits, healthy oils such as olive oil. It also included fish, to be eaten twice a week; other healthy proteins, such as cheese and dairy in moderation; and poultry and eggs on occasion. At the top of the pyramid, red meats and sweets are combined into the smallest category. At the base of the pyramid is recommendation that could be considered surprising: In addition to being physically active, Oldways recommends that those following the Mediterranean diet enjoy their meals with other people — the social aspect is important, the group said.
Overall, other experts agree that the Mediterranean diet has benefits: It can lower the risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. It has also been linked with helping with depression, brain health and bone strength.
However, the success of any diet depends on the individual — their desires, their needs and their genetic makeup.
When Donelson sees news client, she does a full assessment of their needs and goals. She analyzes their metabolic makeup and goes through 300 questions to help her get to know their habits and preferences. Donelson finds that many of her clients need to start on an elimination diet that excludes what she calls “the nasty nine” — wheat, dairy, corn, soy, shellfish, citrus fruits, nuts, tree nuts, and eggs. This helps “reset” the body and helps clients fine-tune their nutritional needs. Then they can start slowly reintroducing foods to their diets to see how they feel after consuming specific items.
Donelson says many of her clients, after they’ve become comfortable and hit some of their goals, end up landing on the Mediterranean diet long term.
“I think everybody should talk to a nutritionist,” she said. “Maybe you don’t have a chronic disease right now, but it’s a good idea to just kind of learn about your body and protect your health so things don’t creep up later on.”