Anti aging and diet, Mediterranean style, is for both old and young. After all, the younger we start our anti-aging quest, the more we stand to gain.
No matter our age, our goal is not just to live longer but also to live healthier. In other words, we want both to live long and to age well.
Mediterranean diet and anti aging
In our discussion here, emphasis is on so-called “superfoods” and the Mediterranean diet as it relates to anti aging and diet. This is because it is the Mediterranean diet that is most associated with longevity in the Western world.
There is no one single Mediterranean diet. There are variations throughout the region with general commonalities. However, as a point of interest, the Mediterranean diet in its purest form is thought to be Greek.
Anti aging and diet superfoods
There is no scientific definition of “superfood,” the meaning of which is unfortunately obscured by sales hype. But, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a superfood is “a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health.”
We think that is a pretty good working definition. Yet, beyond that, our selection of preferred anti aging foods follows the advice of noted nutritionist Wendy Bazilian.
This is, for a food to qualify as an anti-aging food, it must be:
- Nutrient dense
- Backed by research
Of these criteria, we think “accessibility” is underappreciated. But here’s the thing. No matter how “super” a food might be, if it is hard to get, you are just not going to use it.
And “versatility” and “appeal” go to how well it tastes and how easy it is to use in the kitchen. For that, we expect the food to be widely used in the culinary world.
Non Mediterranean superfoods
The Mediterranean diet is actually pretty inclusive, since many of the superfoods that are part of this diet originated far from the Mediterranean.
That said, we don’t want to be too exclusive. We want to be informative too. So, while we give priority to the foods that meet Wendy’s criteria in the Mediterranean context, we have included a variety of other foods that are super nutritious and fit the Mediterranean pattern.
Why the focus on the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet ranked as #1 in the best diets overall in one study. And you will see in the tabulation on that site that it is also ranked #1 in the easiest diets to follow category. This means that it is highly practical. In fact it meets all of Wendy’s criteria above.
On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet ranks only #24 in fast weight loss diets. So, if you want to lose weight quickly, the Mediterranean diet weight loss plan is probably not worth pursuing. And for this reason we like specialty diets like Paleo and Keto for fast weight loss.
But, in our opinion, these specialty diets are suitable only for fast weight loss. They are not easily followed and are not suitable for a practical, sustainable lifestyle.
By contrast, authorities such as the Mayo clinic recommend the Mediterranean diet as a heart healthy eating plan, as does the World Health Organization. And it is a great weight maintenance plan, once you have reached your desired weight. This is what makes it win out in our thinking of anti aging and diet.
Heart health benefits of the Mediterranean anti aging diet
According to Johns Hopkins, the Mediterranean diet has these main heart health benefits:
- Maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels
- Helps the ability of the body to absorb blood sugar
- Cools off inflammation triggered by the immune system
- Helps resist plaque buildup and maintain the flexibility of arteries
The Mediterranean diet is sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s diet.” But it is rich in the right kind of nutrition.
So what is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a relatively modern term. It was coined in the 1960s as a way of describing and documenting the healthy food habits of people living in Greece, Italy and Crete.
These habits themselves originated in what is known as the “Mediterranean Triad” of grapes, grains, and olives, which were the three most important crops of ancient Mediterranean cultures.
Over time, these staples were supplemented by vegetables, fish and to a lesser extent meats. And, of course, many of the items that are now a feature of the Mediterranean diet, originated elsewhere in the world.
Mediterranean diet pyramid
This Harvard Mediterranean diet pyramid illustrates the proportionality of the foods used in the diet.
And you will find applications of the Mediterranean diet at this great Mediterranean recipe site. This will greatly help in the development of your own Mediterranean diet plan.
Mediterranean diet foods
In broad terms, the Mediterranean diet is heavily plant based and revolves, in ascending order of emphasis around:
- Vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, plant oils daily
- Fish, eggs, and poultry pretty much daily
- Dairy products in moderate proportions
- Red meat on a limited basis
- Sweets on a limited basis
- Enjoying a glass of wine with family and friends.
- Staying physically active
The Mediterranean diet is quite high in fats and carbs but these are healthy fats and carbs.
Mediterranean diet superfoods
We have generally grouped these superfoods together but we have singled some of them out for special mention. We’ll work from the bottom of the pyramid up.
Grains are the seeds of cereal plants like rice, wheat, and corn. And they are part of the original Mediterranean Triad.
A whole-grain is a grain that has been rolled, cracked or crushed but still retains its three parts of bran, endosperm, and germ contained within the kernel.
- Bran is the hard outer layer that contains fiber, antioxidants, and minerals
- Endosperm in the middle part of the grain that contains mainly carbohydrates
- Germ is the innermost layer of the kernel
In a refined grain, the germ and bran has been removed. So it is not nearly as nutritious.
So, in the Mediterranean diet, you will find whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole-grain bread, and, of course, whole-grain pasta.
Plant oils – olive oil
The Mediterranean diet uses plant oils but avoids refined oils. In reality this means restricting yourself to extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil. We believe the pyramid diagram above to be in error. This is because it mentions canola oil, which is a processed oil.
A true Mediterranean diet mostly uses olive oil since, after all, olives are part of the original Mediterranean Triad.
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are heart healthy and can lower cholesterol. But it is high in calories, so should be used in moderation.
Nonetheless, it is the preferred replacement for butter margarine or other vegetable oils. It will lose nutritional value when heated, so it is best for cooking at low temperatures.
Use extra virgin olive oil for salads and in soups.
In the context of olive oil “virgin” means that it has been cold-pressed to extract the oil, without the application of heat or chemicals. “Extra” is an indication of high quality.
Vegetables & Fruits
Vegetables in the Mediterranean diet include leafy vegetables generally, like kale and spinach, but also broccoli, cauliflower, onions, carrots, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, etc.
Tubers, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams should also be included here. You will see potatoes as one of the “use sparingly” items at the top of the pyramid illustration. But we think that is a mistake.
Fruits in the diet include citrus, which grows in abundance in the Mediterranean region, although originating in Southeast Asia. Orange, lemon, grapefruit and tangerine are all rich in vitamin C, which is a known antioxidant.
In addition apricots (high in carotene), apples (high in fiber), figs, grapes, melons, and peaches are all found in areas close to the Mediterranean
Olives are high in powerful oxidants, like vitamin E, and are heart-healthy. Olives are generally very bitter when harvested and need to be cured.
This is done through pickling or fermentation. And fermented olives have excellent probiotic qualities.
Dates have a highly nutritious value and definitely qualify as their own superfood.
Blueberries, while not native to the Mediterranean, are recognized as a superfood, and should be included in a Mediterranean diet. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and much more besides.
The tomato is densely nutritious. It supports a whole range of our bodily systems. While originally from South America, it is now a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet. Although it didn’t get there until the 16th century.
The avocado is its own superfood. It originates from Mexico but is widely used in the Mediterranean diet.
Nuts & Seeds
The health benefits of nuts and seeds are many. But in particular, they are low in carbs and high in “good” fats. Plus they are a source of micronutrients, such as vitamin E, selenium and magnesium.
Examples of nuts and seeds used in the Mediterranean diet are hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, and cashews.
Legumes, also known as pulses, are a type of vegetable that include peas and beans. And the health benefits of legumes are legion.
They are high in protein and dietary fiber and contain micronutrients, such as potassium, folate, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Legumes common to the Mediterranean diet include garbanzo beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, fava beans, and chickpeas.
Fish, Poultry and Eggs
Fish that are native to the Mediterranean are anchovy, sardine, tuna, shrimp, mullet, swordfish, herring, and mackerel. They are replete with omega-3 fatty acids and rich in micronutrient minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, iodine, zinc, potassium and magnesium.
Of course, we would add salmon to the fish list. Because, while It is not a Mediterranean native, it is high in the heart healthy fat that suits the Mediterranean diet. And it is readily available.
Poultry and eggs need no introduction. However, the health benefits of eggs make them their own standalone superfood.
Herbs, spices and the Mediterranean diet
Herbs and spices are not strictly part of the Mediterranean diet pyramid but they deserve a mention. This is because their flavors are what make a Mediterranean Cuisine out of the Mediterranean Diet.
Indeed, one of the most attractive features of the Mediterranean diet is its ability to use spices, along with regular herbs, garlic, onion, chives, and citrus, to transform a dish of humble beans into a gourmet feast.
The list of herbs and spices that can be used in Mediterranean style cooking is very long. Some of these originate in the Mediterranean region, while others come from far away. But in line with our philosophy of making everything accessible, we’ll stick with the most common. These are:
Garlic, basil, cilantro, cloves, fennel, turmeric, gInger, oregano, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, allspice, cumin, marjoram, saffron, and sumac.
Milk by itself is not a traditional part of the Mediterranean diet. But one should include cheeses like parmesan, feta and mozzarella. And we definitely include Greek yogurt.
Greek yogurt is full of nutrients, including protein, calcium, B-12, potassium, iodine, and probiotics. Plus it is good for people with lactose intolerance.
In fact, there are studies that suggest dairy should feature more prominently in the Mediterranean diet than it is traditionally understood.
Red meat & Butter
Red meat and butter appear at the top of the pyramid to be used sparingly. And this is fine but the meat should be lean and unprocessed.
White rice, etc
Also at the top of the pyramid to be used sparingly are white rice, white bread, white pasta, potatoes, soda, and sweets. We have already mentioned that including potatoes here was likely a mistake.
However, as for the rest, we think you should avoid them altogether, with the exception of chocolate, as part of the “sweet” category.
Dark chocolate has been elevated to the level of superfood. It contains many different beneficial compounds.
Chocolate also acts as an appetite suppressant because it promotes a feeling of fullness. And it has been found to be a mood enhancer too. It also appears to improve insulin sensitivity.
Choose a chocolate that is low in added sugar and is at least 70% cocoa.
Red wine drinking in moderation (1 – 2 glasses per day), consumed with good food and in the company of family and friends, is part of the Mediterranean diet and way of life, for that matter.
Red wine is preferred to white wine because it is rich in polyphenols, which are similar to antioxidants. Resveratrol is one of the most studied of these polyphenols and now appears in supplement form. Resveratrol has been found to have anti-aging properties.
These polyphenols originate in the skin of the grape, which is mostly discarded in the production of white wine.
Conclusions on anti aging and diet and the Mediterranean diet
Let’s sum up the Mediterranean diet by saying that it really isn’t any kind of a strict, tightly controlled, or fussy diet. It is simply a way of eating that is quite easy to incorporate into one’s lifestyle.
It focuses on whole foods and emphasizes vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Its protein source of choice is fish. And it likes its dairy fermented as yogurt. Eggs and poultry are used in moderation.
This diet is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes and is associated with a longer life.
We’ll just round this out by summarizing foods that you should not eat:
Foods to avoid on any diet
Don’t sabotage your dietary efforts by failing to avoid the following foods:
- Trans fats. These are found in margarine and many processed foods.
- Refined grains. These include white bread and pasta made with refined wheat.
- Added sugar. This appears in soda, ice cream, candies, and many other food products..
- Refined oils. These include soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and others.
- Processed meats. These include hot dogs, processed sausages, etc
- Processed foods. This would be anything that is labeled “diet” or “low-fat” or “diet” or comes in a package. Avoid anything that looks as if it was made in a factory.
In fact one might almost say that any food that has not been processed is a potential superfood.