Why Eat the Mediterranean Way?
A photograph of a colorful produce section flashed onto the large screen in a classroom at Providence St Vincent Medical Center. "Here's a medicine cabinet," said Dr. Miles Hassell. "In case you haven't seen one recently."
Dr. Hassell was talking to an audience of health professionals and people with diabetes, about the powerful impact of a Mediterranean-style whole foods diet – along with exercise – on health.
"Almost everyone can reverse their insulin resistance, and a lot of people can reverse diabetes," he said.
Hassell knows what he is talking about. Director of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Providence Cancer Center, he has examined the evidence for eating a Mediterranean diet. And he has written about it in his book, Good Food Great Medicine.
In fact, eating a Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to lower rates of: heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and even dementia. So if you want to live a long life and enjoy good health every step of the way, your best bet may be eating the Mediterranean way.
Dr Wendy Kohatsu, a leader in Integrative Health, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and a graduate of Oregon Culinary Institute, also details the science behind the diet
Can I Reverse Diabetes?
Hassell has plenty of examples from his own practice. One 77-year-old woman, who had suffered from diabetes for many years, came into his consulting room after suffering a stroke. She loved sweets, had high blood sugar levels and didn't exercise. She had high blood pressure and blood tests showed her cholesterol levels were unhealthy.
After consulting with Dr. Hassell, she began walking (about 8,000 steps a day) and switched to a healthy Mediterranean-style diet.
Two years later her blood sugar had come down so much she didn't need diabetes medications any more. Her blood pressure was normal. Her cholesterol levels looked good. She had lost about 15 lbs and she no longer suffered from asthma. In fact, she had not only reversed her diabetes, she had dramatically reduced her risk of dying from heart disease or stroke—all from diet and exercise. Of course, not all diabetic people can do this; but everyone can improve their health and reduce symptoms.
"There's no drug that can do that." Hassell points out.
This is good news for African Americans, who are dealing with some of the highest levels of these diseases of any group. And it gives hope that African American families can reverse the trend of the last few years that has seen diabetes rise for Black youth.
Yes, there are hereditary factors for diabetes, but they don't have the final say – you do, Hassell said.
"You can do your own gene therapy: it's called diet and exercise."
Hassel recommends adopting a Mediterranean-style diet for life. He likes it because it can work for people from all cultural food traditions. Families enjoy eating the Mediterranean way, he says. It fills you up and leaves you feeling satisfied. It tastes great. And it cuts your risks for killer diseases such as: heart disease, stroke, dementia and cancer as well as diabetes and all the many complications that come with diabetes.
People who eat the Mediterranean way – and take regular exercise – are less likely to suffer from:
Find more about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet at Oldways
The Seven-Countries Study
Ancel Keys, an American doctor, first noticed that people living in Crete and southern Italy seemed to live longer and healthier lives. In the 1950s he began studying dietary habits in different countries, and started the Seven Countries Study, which looked at how people ate and lived in Finland, Greece, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, USA and Yugoslavia. This was the first of dozens of studies which have confirmed the health benefits of eating a diet based on the food people eat in the Mediterranean countries. In 1993, the World Health Organization, in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Policy and the healthy food nonprofit Oldways, introduced the newly named Mediterranean diet to the public. Of course, not all Mediterranean people eat exactly the same things – North African Muslims, for example, don't drink red wine, and each culture has its own favorite recipes. But that is the beauty of the Mediterranean-style diet: it can be adapted to almost any culture. Check out the healthy Latino diet, for example, on the Oldways website.