Welcome friend! In this article, you will learn about the Mediterranean diet for seniors.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most well-known healthy lifestyle diets and it’s claimed to have several health benefits.
The truth is that the average diet these are pretty horrible for many people.
The good news is that you have the freedom and power to eat as healthy as you want.
Many people are afraid of “healthy diets” because two things come to mind. Lack of taste and being hungry.
Fortunately, neither one of those needs to be true. A healthy diet consisting of real foods can be much more satisfying to your taste buds and more filling than a processed fast-food diet.
A healthy diet also doesn’t mean you can’t eat treats like candy, chocolate, pizza, beer, deep-fried foods, steak, etc. You just have to eat them in moderation.
The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle diet, not necessarily a weight-loss diet. So it doesn’t aim to be too specific or restrictive. It’s based on the diets of the Mediterranean regions of Europe.
The reason this diet has been researched and conceived is the fact that heart disease and metabolic syndromes are historically much rarer in these areas and diet likely has a lot to do with it.
But the Mediterranean diet has its own controversy and history you might not beware of.
So I urge you to read on to find out how if the Mediterranean diet might be a good fit for you.
Let’s start by looking at why diet is so important for your health.
Importance Of Diet
Deep-fried foods, processed meats, lots of simple carbs and sugar, processed oils and trans fat, way too much salt, too little fresh vegetable. The list goes on and on.
Many people don’t even realize they are eating unhealthy foods, because an unhealthy diet has become so normalized.
We are bombarded with advertisements of sugar, salt, and fat-laden processed foods that are claimed to be healthy. Overeating and being overweight is also normalized to the extent that some people get offended when someone actively tries to improve their diet.
I’m definitely not saying that ready-to-eat meals are always unhealthy, but the risk is much higher when compared to meals prepared from whole foods.
When you combine an unhealthy diet with a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise the perfect storm is created.
Constant oversupply of energy and nowhere to use it leads to impaired metabolic processes. High blood cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood glucose, visceral fat, and inflammation. The breeding ground for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
These are diseases that are mostly due to lifestyle choices. Yes, there are hereditary components, but most people can reduce their risk significantly with lifestyle choices.
It’s still unclear which is more important, diet or exercise but one thing is certain. They both play a huge role in your health and they have a synergistic effect. You need a healthy diet and enough exercise to be healthy.
This is where the Mediterranean diet comes in. It’s touted to be one of the most heart-friendly diets with several health benefits.
History Of The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a diet based on the cuisine of the Mediterranean region. The diet was originally coined by Ancel Keys an American physician who researched the influence of diet on health.
Keys was one of the key figures in researching the association of dietary cholesterol to heart disease. Even though there has been some controversy over the actual mechanism of increased dietary cholesterol and heart disease, these findings were very important for understanding the mechanisms of heart disease.
The Mediterranean diet was designed by Keys and his wife based on findings that heart disease was much less common in many nations in the Mediterranean region.
He looked for combining factors in their diets and cultural history and created a “standard” Mediterranean diet. It’s important to realize that in reality there is no single diet in the region of course.
The cuisine between countries and regions varies a lot even historically. For example, people living on the coast would likely eat much more fish and the people in the heartland and mountains would eat more grain, dairy, and meat.
The ideal Mediterranean diet that Keys created with his biochemist wife was originally published in a book called How To Eat Well that was later renamed How to Eat Well And Stay Well the Mediterranean Way.
Since its creation, the Mediterranean diet has been widely accepted in the medical community and it has been updated based on the current understanding of what foods are healthy.
The actual research on its effectiveness is lacking. This is mostly due to the fact that diet isn’t strict enough to formulate long-term studies because the individual preference and variation is too large.
However, all the components of the modern Mediterranean diet are based on research on their health effects.
Mediterranean Diet Components
So what do you actually eat on a Mediterranean diet?
The key ingredients of the Mediterranean diet are an abundance of vegetables, the use of whole-grain and cold-pressed oils. Protein should consist mainly of fish, poultry and eggs and small amounts of dairy.
Red meat, butter, and simple carbs like white rice, white bread, white pasta, potatoes, and sugar should be used only sparingly, preferably not every day. The same goes for alcohol.
Daily exercise and weight control are also recommended in the diet. The diet recognizes the importance of combining daily exercise with a diet that consists of nutritious foods with low caloric density.
The Mediterranean diet is basically a diet that combines known healthy and nutritious foods. More importantly, it’s not a weight loss diet, but a lifestyle diet.
It’s not overly restrictive and aims at a relaxed and sustainable healthy diet that helps with weight control and disease prevention.
The components of the diet are presented typically as a pyramid based on their importance. You can find an example in this Wikipedia article about the Mediterranean diet.
Because the diet is relaxed and more of a set of recommendations, it’s actually possible to modify it to different needs.
It’s very easy to make the Mediterranean diet gluten-free by removing gluten-containing grains and replacing them with lentils and tubers, even though potatoes aren’t typically recommended. Boiled or govern baked potatoes are actually very healthy in moderation, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s also possible to make the diet vegan by replacing the animal protein with complex vegetable proteins like tofu and soy and by increasing the amount of protein-rich vegetables like beans, lentils, and peas. You can learn more about vegan protein in the article Vegan Diet For Seniors.
It’s also possible to make the Mediterranean diet low carb or even keto by removing fruit and grains almost completely and replacing them with more vegetable oils, fatty fish, and nuts. You get some ideas in the article Keto diet for seniors.
Is Mediterranean Diet Healthy?
So is the Mediterranean diet good for health? Let’s answer this by looking at the reasons why certain foods are recommended in the diet.
Vegetables and fruit are the most important ingredient of the diet. The reason is very simple. Vegetables are full of nutrients that your body needs while they are very low in caloric density, sodium, and saturated fats.
Vegetables fill you up and provide your body with the micronutrients that it needs. Vegetables and fruit are also very rich in fiber, which is important for digestive functioning and for your microbiome like I talked about in the article Best Probiotics for Women Over 70.
Red meat, butter, and dairy are high in sodium, saturated fats, and cholesterol and that’s the reason they should only be eaten in low quantities. They are also high in caloric density.
Lean proteins like fish, poultry, eggs, and high-protein plants are very important for sufficient protein intake and nutrients. With these sources, it’s possible to get enough protein without getting too much sodium and saturated fat, or calories.
Simple carbs are very high in caloric density while providing little satiety and nutrients. Whole grains contain much more nutrients and fiber, which help to keep you full.
Plant oils, especially cold-pressed ones are beneficial for metabolism and reducing inflammation. This is especially true for olive oil. However, it’s important to know that unprocessed oils can go rancid and become unhealthy.
Hydrolyzed and hardened vegetable oils are to be avoided completely in the diet. They are also called trans fats and are in fact associated with inflammation. They are mainly found in industrially manufactured processed foods, pastries, and candies.
High amounts of alcohol are well known to be unhealthy but small to moderate amounts might even be associated with positive health. In the Mediterranean diet that means a small glass of wine a couple of times a week.
Mediterranean Diet For Seniors
The Mediterranean diet is great for most seniors in my opinion. It’s based on simple every day whole foods and there are no strict restrictions on what types of meals you can
Following the Mediterranean diet and exercising daily will likely reduce your risk of metabolic diseases and low-grade inflammation while providing your body with all the nutrients to stay healthy.
There are a couple of things that seniors need to be aware of in my opinion.
The first is that many people have trouble with keeping weight instead of gaining it as they age. When you eat a diet that consists mostly of low caloric density foods, it can become even harder to maintain weight.
It’s important to realize that you can still get enough calories to maintain your weight with the Mediterranean diet. You just have to focus on the more calorie-dense foods.
This means plenty of whole-grain carbs like whole-grain pasta, oatmeal, etc. combined with enough fat from nuts and oils. Fruits also offer more energy than vegetables so they are a better focus if you struggle with maintaining a healthy weight.
It’s always wise to plan your diet with a physician or dietician if you are underweight to make sure you stay healthy.
The other issue with the diet is that it does require planning and preparation, especially if you make it diverse as you should.
This can be hard for seniors that have mobility issues or trouble with cognitive functions. Or simply don’t like planning groceries and cooking all the time.
Fortunately these days it’s pretty easy to find ready-made meals that are at least close to the principles of the Mediterranean diet.
Exercise is part of the Mediterranean diet and it’s especially important for seniors. For optimal results, seniors should combine some form of resistance training with cardiovascular exercise.
Examples of resistance training include working out with kettlebells, dumbbells, resistance bands, and barbells. Learn more about the benefits of strength training for seniors in this article.
Examples of cardiovascular exercise include walking, jogging, running, swimming, cycling, kayaking etc.
Yoga, Tai-Chi, and martial arts like Tae Kwon Do are great for keeping your body healthy as they combine cardiovascular exercises with complex movement patterns that help you keep strong and limber.
I hope you found this article about the Mediterranean diet for seniors useful. If you have any questions or suggestions, you can leave them in the comments section below.
As a recap, the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle diet based on scientifically proven healthy diet choices and exercise habits. It aims to reduce weight gain, inflammation, and metabolic disorders while maintaining health.
It was originally created with relatively few research assumptions but they’ve turned out to be quite right and it has been modified based on research.
The Mediterranean diet is a safe bet for most seniors. The only issues with it are the requirement of meal planning and cooking as it’s based on whole foods.
Also, the low caloric density of key ingredients can be an issue if you have trouble maintaining weight.
Thanks for reading and see you next time!