Encouraging ‘Mediterranean’ diet

NEW CUMBERLAND – The West Virginia University Extension Service Families and Health Programs is encouraging residents to incorporate regular physical activity and a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy, such as the “Mediterranean Diet.”

Such diets help people stay healthier and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Typical eating habits in the Mediterranean tend to mimic this formula for good health.

“The people who live in the area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea are known for living long and healthy lives,” says Cindy Fitch, health programs director. “Scientists believe that the typical eating habits in the region play a role.”

The Mediterranean Diet consists primarily of legumes, grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables and olive oil. Consumption of milk, dairy products, fish and red wine is moderate, and red meat is seldom eaten and only in small amounts. This combination of food adds up to a high ratio of mono- and polyunsaturated fats in comparison to saturated fats.

“Studies of populations have shown that this way of eating is associated with lower risk for heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, diabetes, some types of cancer and death from all causes,” said Fitch.

In addition to this beneficial fat ratio, the variety of foods eaten in the Mediterranean diet presents few unique benefits of its own. The variety ensures ample opportunity to consume all of the essential vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants that protect the body’s cell walls from damage.

However, Fitch cautions that adopting a Mediterranean diet is not “a miracle drug.”

Fitch also noted all fats, including healthy oils, are calorie-dense and a diet high in monounsaturated fats can potentially lead to obesity. The amount of fat a person needs depends on the number of calories they need for their size, muscle mass and activity level.

So take a cue from the Mediterranean and maintain eating habits, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grain and low-fat dairy products, while incorporating regular physical activity in day-to-day activities.

“Health, longevity and a decreased risk of chronic disease can also be enjoyed right here in West Virginia,” Fitch says.

For information regarding the Mediterranean diet or ideas for incorporating physical activity, contact the WVU Extension Service Hancock County office at (304) 564-3805 or hancockcountyextension@mail.wvu.edu.