HEALTH

6 Little-Known Ways The Mediterranean Diet Can Benefit You

  • ITS MOSTLY ABOUT THE PLANTS
    1 / 8 ITS MOSTLY ABOUT THE PLANTS

    The Mediterranean diet gets hyped for a reason. The traditional Italian, Greek, or Spanish way of eating can help you lose weightslash your cancer risk, and offers your whole body a slew of health perks.

    Mediterranean meals—which range even further to France, Croatia, and Turkey—are mainly composed of plant-based foods, with the occasional addition of lean proteins like fish and chicken, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Other options include foods high in fiber, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy fats, like the kind you find in olive oil and nuts, are also a staple. If you drink, red wine will be your libation of choice, while red meats, butter, and added sugar are typically limited.

    Overall, it’s one of the healthiest ways to eat, because you’re primarily consuming foods in their whole form, explains Carolyn Brown, M.S., R.D., a nutrition counselor at Foodtrainers in New York City.

    In general, Americans tend to eat fewer fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, while loading up on more processed carbs and sugar. The result? A higher risk of obesity, heart problems, and diabetes, says Brown.

    But eating an abundance of Mediterranean staples? That can do your body good. Read on to find out how.

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  • YOUR HEART HEALTH IMPROVES
    2 / 8 YOUR HEART HEALTH IMPROVES

    Time and time again, studies show that the Mediterranean diet protects your heart. That’s an important perk, since heart disease is the leading killer of men in the United States, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    One preliminary study from the American College of Cardiology sheds light on that statistic even further: After following more than 2,500 Greek adults aged 18 to 89 for 11 years, researchers found that nearly 20 percent of men who participated in the study either developed or died from heart disease.

    However, those who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who barely followed the diet at all.

    There are lots of reasons why loading up on fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can be great for your ticker. Since you’ll strip ultra-processed foods from your diet, you’ll minimize your chances of gaining too much weight, a known precursor to heart disease.

    Plus, the diet emphasizes canola oil, walnuts, and fatty fish, all of which contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that can help lower your triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood), keep your blood pressure stable and your blood vessels healthy, all of which benefit your heart in the long run, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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  • YOUR PENIS PERFORMS BETTER
    3 / 8 YOUR PENIS PERFORMS BETTER

    Your penis needs a variety of foods to perform, but those that benefit your heart naturally benefit your boner, too. Heart disease is a common cause of erectile dysfunction (ED), because once plaque starts to form and build up in your blood vessels, the super small blood vessels in your penis are some of the first to get blocked up, says Jamin Brahmbhatt, M.D., a urologist at Orlando Health.

    Research supports this idea: In one study, Italian scientists asked 35 men diagnosed with ED and metabolic syndrome—a term used to describe a cluster of risk factors associated with heart problems—to eat lots of Mediterranean staples, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish. Another 30 men with just metabolic syndrome followed a control diet instead.

    After two years, one third of men who ate the Mediterranean diet regained normal sexual functioning, the study found. The researchers aren’t sure, but they believe foods full of fiber and antioxidants work to reduce inflammation in your body, which helps promote healthy blood flow, the study authors say.

    Even healthy guys might notice the diet’s benefits down there, since men who chow down on good-for-you monounsaturated fats—which can be found in olive oil and nuts—tend to have higher levels of testosterone, a key player in your sex drive, research suggests.

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  • YOUR BRAIN AGES SLOWER
    4 / 8 YOUR BRAIN AGES SLOWER

    Brain food is a real thing, according to a review published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition. After Australian researchers looked at 18 different studies examining the Mediterranean diet’s impact on brain functioning, they found that people who stuck to the diet, regardless of their location in the world, experienced slower rates of age-related cognitive decline and decreased their risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, eating Mediterranean foods was associated with better working memory and attention.

    That’s because building your meals with fish, leafy greens, nuts, olive oil, and fruit bumps the amount of protective vitamins and antioxidants—like B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyphenols—in your system. Certain B vitamins, for example, actually help regulate the production of your neurotransmitters, the chemical substances that transfer messages from one cell to another, the researchers note.

    And since those foods may lower inflammation in your body, they work to protect the nerve cells in your brain from deteriorating, research from Spain suggests.

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  • YOUR EYES SEE CLEARER FOR LONGER
    5 / 8 YOUR EYES SEE CLEARER FOR LONGER

    Eating colourful Mediterranean-approved foods like dark leafy greens, oranges, peppers, and sweet potatoes are great for your vision thanks to their high antioxidant content, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

    Plus, people who eat just one serving of fish per week have a 31 percent lower risk of developing early age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a type of eye damage that’s the leading cause of vision loss for people 50 and older, a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology suggests. Eating one to two servings of nuts per week was also associated with a 35 percent lower risk.

    The reason? Eating more omega-3 fatty acids—abundant in both fish and nuts—may protect your retinas from cell damage. These fats also decrease the amount of inflammation and plaque buildup in your arteries, reducing your risk for heart disease, which has been linked to AMD, the researchers note.

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  • YOUR COLON CANCER RISK DROPS
    6 / 8 YOUR COLON CANCER RISK DROPS

    Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. While most cases affect guys over 50, the disease is quickly on the rise in young people, too.

    But eating certain foods may reduce your odds of developing this hard-to-detect cancer in the first place, according to preliminary research from the European Society for Medical Oncology.

    After surveying 800 people being screened for the disease or undergoing colonoscopies, scientists found that those who had advanced colon polyps—a clump of precancerous cells that form on the lining of your colon or rectum—reported eating fewer components of the Mediterranean diet, like fish, fruit, or whole grains, than people with clear colonoscopies.

    In particular, eating at least 90 grams of whole grains per day can slash your colon cancer risk by 17 percent, according to a report from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research. One potential reason? Whole grains are high in fibre. This keeps you regular, which may help minimize your chances of developing cancer-causing mutations in your digestive tract, the report authors note.

    Just note that your diet can only take you so far. Colonoscopies can save your life, so the best way to catch colon cancer early is by getting screened for it regularly.

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  • YOUR KIDNEYS FUNCTION BETTER
    7 / 8 YOUR KIDNEYS FUNCTION BETTER

    Your kidneys don’t get enough credit: they’re constantly working to filter out extra water and waste from your blood, while producing hormones that keep your blood pressure in check and your bones strong.

    Yet chronic kidney disease, or long-term kidney damage, may affect more than 30 million Americans. In addition to the risk of complete kidney failure—which would eventually require dialysis or a kidney transplant—this damage can lead to other serious health issues, like high blood pressure, bone or heart disease, and sexual dysfunction down the road.

    The good news is that those who eat meals that closely resemble the Mediterranean diet reduce their risk of developing chronic kidney disease by 50 percent, according to a study including 900 people in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, possibly due to its ability to lower inflammation in your body, a known contributor to chronic kidney disease, the study authors say.

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  • HOW YOU CAN EAT MORE MEDITERRANEAN FOODS
    8 / 8 HOW YOU CAN EAT MORE MEDITERRANEAN FOODS

    Ready to incorporate more Mediterranean meals into your diet? Try these simple tips to reap the rewards.

    1. Eat 85 to 170 grams of fatty fish, like salmon or black cod, three times per week, suggests Men’s Health nutrition advisor Alan Aragon, M.S.

    2. Have a handful of nuts, like almonds, walnuts, or pistachios, as a snack daily.

    3. Add one tablespoon of oil (like soybean, olive, or canola) to a daily salad as a packaged dressing replacement. You’ll take in some greens, and the healthy fat will help your body absorb more nutrients, according to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study. You can also add a tablespoon to your roasted vegetables or soups, suggests Brown.

    4. Try to bump your vegetable intake to a minimum of two servings per day, says Brown.

    By Alisa Hrustic and Julie Stewart

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