Monday Medical: Mediterranean diet may be a good fit for a fitter you

Mary Gay Broderick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The first few months of a new year typically bring a slew of diet and gym membership commercials promising trim waistlines and six-pack abs through minimal effort that yield maximum results.

But studies show that the best way to take off weight and keep it off is through lifestyle choices that include daily exercise, proper rest, managing stress and adopting a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and heart-healthy foods.

Which is why so many members of the medical community believe in the Mediterranean diet.

“A Mediterranean diet is a wonderfully balanced way to eat,” said Cara Marrs, registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “In general, it can benefit most people.”

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The “diet” is named after the cuisine and traditional food eaten for centuries in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea such as Italy, Spain and Greece. In the 1950s, researchers began noticing that residents of these countries suffered less heart disease and strokes than in the United States.

Marrs is a fan of the Mediterranean diet as it includes a wide range of nutritious food, has no strict rules (wine and coffee are even OK in moderation) and is sustainable over a lifetime.

The diet centers around embracing and incorporating:

  • Vegetables, fruits and legumes.
  • Whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • Olives and olive oil.
  • Fatty fish like sardines, salmon and anchovies.
  • Herbs such as oregano, rosemary and basil.
  • Greek yogurt.

While certain things such as highly processed and high-sugar foods should be restricted, Marrs said it’s not an all-or-nothing approach. You can even occasionally indulge in dessert.

“People who have a good relationship with food, who experience joy around food and maintain good health, a healthy weight and optimal gut health, achieve all of that because of one thing – balance,” she said.

Why the diet might be right for you

Marrs believes that incorporating heart-healthy foods you like into your diet equates to a better chance for success. Because the Mediterranean diet encompasses such a wide and extensive array of choices, nearly everyone can find something they like in it.

A balance of fats, protein and carbohydrates is what people should aim for. Many of the fad diets, fasting and media trends promoted by celebrities, athletes and social media influencers are typically purely anecdotal with no science behind whether they work.

By contrast, the Mediterranean diet benefits from having a hefty amount of medical evidence, perhaps “more than any other diet,” according to Marrs. Because these foods have high levels of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory ingredients and polyphenols, they protect the body against cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even dementia and depression.

“When you begin adding these foods and ingredients into your diet incrementally, every day and with each meal, it builds up over a lifetime and will make a difference,” said Marrs.

Tips for success

  • Buy food in bulk. For instance, both dried and canned beans are nutritious and affordable.
  • Items bought on sale can be kept in the freezer of fridge.
  • If you’re in need of additional calcium, you can get it from veggies such as kale, mustard greens, spinach and broccoli.
  • Make small changes in your pantry if you don’t want to revamp every meal.
  • Don’t forget to get enough sleep and exercise.

“When you are thinking about changing your diet, it can be overwhelming by taking it all on at once,” said Marrs. “Especially if you focus on weight, it can be frustrating and ultimately, defeating. Instead, focus on health.”

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at

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