The Mediterranean Diet for Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases
As I strolled along the beach this morning, I felt gratitude for living on the west coast with its sunshine, ocean breezes and the salty aroma that fills the air. I thought to myself, this is paradise. Or is it? What’s the difference between this California paradise and other idyllic locations around the world? The answer is lifestyle. The way of living in the United States is driven by schedules and a fast-paced daily routine. This is especially true in California where traffic often drives your daily choices. However, this is often not the case around the globe. Jump into the Mediterranean and you will find similar weather and topography along its coast, but the people are often healthier because of their day-to-day choices. Chief among these choices is diet. We know of it as the Mediterranean diet trend. However, the word trend implies it is temporary. Like most diets, we implement them and then move on to the next fad. The Mediterranean lifestyle is a constant for the people of Italy, Spain, France, Greece, and other neighboring areas. It is the consistency of these choices that results in health benefits. The Mediterranean diet has shown to improve many maladies, including inflammation, a common symptom of autoimmune disease.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
What is the Mediterranean diet? This menu emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, fish and shellfish, olives and olive oil, herbs and spices. Other animal proteins and fats like poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt are recommended in smaller quantities. Desserts are on the menu but are consumed for special occasions. The main benefit of this diet is its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities.
Research on the Mediterranean Diet for Health and Autoimmune Disease
The Mediterranean Diet
Why should I implement this diet? Research dating back to 1940 reports multiple health benefits including a reduced risk of stroke, heart disease, cancer, Parkinson, Alzheimer and metabolic syndrome. Over the years, researchers have noted that it also impacts gut microbiota, fertility and mental health including depression. As I reviewed in my previous blog, this diet might also be helpful for the management of autoimmune conditions such as lupus (1).
This lifestyle choice enables you to implement a healthy balanced diet while maintaining the freedom to socialize with friends at restaurants. Peruse your favorite restaurant’s menu for Mediterranean food choices. Start with a salad to get your fill of vegetables and share the entrée with a friend. Dessert is doable but monitor portions and savor each bite.
The Mediterranean Lifestyle
The Mediterranean lifestyle is also built on the principle of activity. “Moving more” is a healthy motto for all. Like everything in the United States, we practice a method of “go big or go home.” Our food servings are larger than necessary, and our idea of exercise is often excessive. A two-hour gym session, 5 mile run or boot camp class is not the key to health. In fact, if you practice these behaviors but are sedentary for the rest of the day, most of the benefit is null and void. This is the purpose of the step model and standing desk evolution. Blood flow is paramount to preventative medicine. Consistency is likely more important than intensity. Monitor your activity level and make an effort to increase it to include more steps. A standing desk, treadmill desk, or cycling chair might be the answer to a sedentary occupation. Parking further away from the destination, walking to the furthest bathroom, taking the stairs or taking quick walk breaks throughout the day are also simple additions to increase movement and improve blood flow.
Both diet and movement play a huge role in sleep, another pillar of health. This pillar is often challenging for people to improve. However, with changes in other areas such as activity level and food choices, one might be able to see positive trends in this area too.
A Quick Reference Guide to the Mediterranean Diet
The good news is you do not have to travel the globe to transform your health. Soak up the sunshine and purchase the Mediterranean staples at your local farmers’ market or supermarket. I prefer to shop at farmers’ markets because the food is local and remains fresh for longer. No more moldy fruit or wilted lettuce after one day. Here is a guide to help you get started with the Mediterranean diet.
Pantry Staples: beans, canned seafood, capers, whole grains, dried fruit, garlic, herbs and spices, nuts, oil, olives, potatoes, seeds, tomatoes, and vinegars
Countertop Staples: fresh fruit, tomatoes, olive oil
Refrigerator Staples: vegetables, fruits, fish, shellfish, eggs, cheese, yogurt, poultry, hummus, mustard, pickles
Freezer Staples: frozen fish, frozen poultry, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, sorbet or gelato
If you need specific direction in the form of a recipe, check out this salad concoction for inspiration.
California Harvest Salad
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp honey
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 dash nutmeg
- 1 – 5 ounce bag baby lettuce
- 1 fresh stone fruit (nectarine or peach), sliced
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled
In a large bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, honey, salt and nutmeg. Add lettuce; toss to combine with dressing. Arrange stone fruit and avocado slices on top of salad. Scatter cheese crumbles on top and serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy of Mediterranean Foods Alliance on behalf of California Avocado Commission.
Final Words on the Mediterranean Diet for Health and Autoimmune Disease
The Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle can help one improve their overall health, including inflammation for those with autoimmune diseases. It follows the simple steps of reducing red meat, adding in more beans and nuts, and focusing on vegetables. However, it really isn’t just about the diet – lifestyle and movement factor in too. If you need assistance with the diet aspect of living and maintaining a healthy life, especially if you have an autoimmune disease, reach out. It’s what I specialize in.