I adopted the Mediterranean diet

Why I researched and adopted the Mediterranean diet started with a silly story.

A few weeks ago, I felt a little bit on pain on my left chest and noticed that my heart rate was a bit higher than it usually was. For good measure, there was a little bit of pain in the area right above my left elbow. I Googled the symptom and the results said that it could be a pinched never or it could be a harbinger of a heart attack. Paranoid and scared, I scheduled a visit to a doctor at a nearby hospital, despite knowing that I would have to pay out of my pocket. I don’t want to have a heart attack and how silly it would be to die from saving a couple of hundred bucks!

I explained to the kind doctor how I felt. He did a few checks, pressed on the painful area on my chest and asked a few questions on what my routine was. After some 20 minutes, he told me that I simply had inflammation on the area, that I got a pinched nerve on my left elbow, that my high heart rates might just be because I was under work stress and he didn’t think I was at risk of a heart attack. The inflammation could be due to exercise or just because my 13lb cat had a habit of walking on my chest every morning to wake me up. He prescribed me some pills to deal with the inflammation and sent me on my way. My little scare went away a few days later, but my relief was soon replaced by the $140 bill that the hospital sent. I spent all that money just to know that my cat might have given me chest inflammation!

But then it hit me that deep down I am really concerned about the health of my heart and the risk of a heart attack. I needed to do something to make sure I gave myself the best chance at living with my newly wed wife as long as possible. In addition to regular exercise, food is an equally , if not more, important factor. So I went down a rabbit hole and it led me to Mediterranean diet.

What is Mediterranean diet? It describes the way that people in the Mediterranean region have consumed food for centuries and still to this day. Their way of life features a high emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, legumes and white protein meat such as fish or other seafood. The Mediterranean diet discourages the consumption of red meat, processed meet, butter, eggs and sweets. (Figure 1)

Figure 1 – Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Source: Domestic Dietitian

Numerous studies have linked Mediterranean diet with lower cholesterol and lower risks of heart disease. According to Harvard, a study involving 26,000 women over 12 years associated the Med diet with a decrease of 25% in risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus, elderly women who followed this diet were 46% more likely to age healthily with no chronic disease. More studies on this subject could be found at National Library of Medicine.

While the evidence seems abundant, I would be intellectually dishonest if I didn’t say that not all study was properly conducted. Healthline reported one study of more than 7,400 individuals that lasted more than 4 years showed that Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of a stroke and heart attack by at least 28%. This study; however, was found to be flawed in its design and conclusion.

Nonetheless, I don’t think that all the studies on this subject are flawed. And I do believe that a plant-based diet with an emphasis on vegetables and fruits like the Med diet is healthy for us. The trick is to actually put some figures on the effect.

One concern regarding the Med diet is how we can substitute the benefits of red meat. Red meat offers a high amount of protein, iron and B12, the latter of which is crucial in generating red blood cells. The problem is that various studies show a clear link between a high intake of red meat (more than 3 servings per week according to The chair of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition) and a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The association between heart disease and processed meat is even stronger as processed meat can come with additives and chemicals. While we do need protein and B12, we certainly do not need the additional health risks. For the maximum health benefits, we just need to find plant-based food that is rich in B12 and protein. Fortunately, there is no shortage of that.

The American Red Cross says that the likes of of kale, broccoli, peas, spinach, sweet potatoes, dates and watermelon are rich in iron. The National Institutes of Health lists clams, tuna, salmon, fortified cereals, milk and yogurt as good sources of B12. Additionally, you get fulfill the daily intake of protein with protein, beans, yogurt, walnut, pistachio or hemp seed. Nowadays, food comes in much more diverse forms; which helps us design an interesting meal plan. For instance, this Edamame spaghetti from Aldi contains 24g of protein per serving. Instead of eating cooked beans, you can spice up the meals with this spaghetti

Figure 3 – Protein rich spaghetti from Edamame. Source: Aldi

In short, I have been on Mediterranean diet for 3 weeks and I feel good physically while losing a couple of pounds already. I can still run 5kms or finish 30 minutes of HIIT without disruption. Anecdotally, I notice that since I cut back on red meat, I have saved some money on grocery every week (likely due to the increase in red meat’s prices). In the midst of historic inflation, that’s an additional benefit that I didn’t expect.

Nonetheless, my goal is to share my story and what I found while researching on this topic. I understand that food and diet are highly personal. What works for me may not work for you. If what I wrote can pique your interest enough that you do your own research or talk to your doctor, I will be already happy.