Developing healthier routines, such as proper diet and exercise, will help you preserve good health, fight illnesses, and gain the personal achievement. A good habit is one that benefits your physical, behavioral, and emotional health. As a result, healthier habits can be developed by eating a diverse range of organic foods, adhering to an exercise regimen, and leading a balanced lifestyle. It can also help us maintain stable body weight (Byrne, 2017). As a result, the aim of this paper is to compare and contrast the features of the Mediterranean diet to those of the North American diet in order to determine which diet is healthier.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet reflects the traditional eating habits of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean. Such countries include Greece, Southern Italy, France, and Spain. The diet puts emphasis on consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. It also contains fish and poultry, limiting consumption of red meat. Olive oil is a Mediterranean staple and used at almost every meal.
The characteristics of the Mediterranean diet include:
Eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables
Eating seafood and poultry at least twice a week
Limiting consumption of red meat to a few times a month
Eating healthy sources of carbohydrates: whole-grains & legumes (beans).
Replacing butter with healthy fats like olive oil
Using herbs and spices in replacement of salt
Research continues to prove the correlation between the Mediterranean diet and with the prevention of chronic diseases such as hypertension, coronary heart disease (CHD), and obesity. Each of these foods provides various components for preventing and reducing the risk of these chronic diseases.
Olive Oil and Seafood
Extra virgin olive oil is an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acids for its richness in Oleic acid. Monounsaturated fatty acids are linked with lowering coronary heart disease (CHD) by increasing the good cholesterol levels in the blood. Virgin olive oil also has phenolic compounds. This is what makes virgin olive oil unique – other oils rich in oleic acid do not have phenolic compounds. The main phenolic compound in virgin olive oil is hydroxytyrosol. Research shows that hydroxytyrosol has strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and aids in the prevention of stroke by its anti-thrombotic activity.
Seafood is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, are very rich sources for the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Research has proven that these omega-3 fatty acids are correlated with protecting against inflammatory conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetic complications, and rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, the use of these omega-3 fatty acids has helped improve symptoms related to mental health disorders (Smith & Collene, 2016).
Fruits, Vegetables and Whole-Grains
Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense, high in fiber and low in calories. Whole-grains, which are minimally processed, are an excellent source of carbohydrates, are high in nutrients and low in trans-fats. Fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains also contain phytochemicals (powerful antioxidants) that are associated with reducing the risk for major chronic diseases such as hypertension, cancer, and diabetes. In addition, the anti-inflammatory activity of phytochemicals may also play an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease (Liu, 2013).
There are several healthy components and long-term health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet. Iranian Public Health Association and Tehran University of Medical Sciences state that the Mediterranean diet is “characterized by the balanced use of foods rich in fiber, antioxidants and unsaturated fats, a healthy approach designed to reduce the consumption of animal fats and cholesterol in a diet with an appropriate balance between energy intake and expenditure” (2013). Although the name “the Mediterranean diet” may be misleading with the word “diet”, it is not about restricting foods or only consuming a small amount of calories. It is focused on healthy eating habits that emphasize the importance of proportionality, variety and moderation which is the foundation of a healthy diet and a key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The North American Diet
The North American diet is generally characterized by large consumption of animal fats, consuming high amounts of red meat, processed meat and dairy products. It is high in refined grains, sugars and preservatives, but low in fresh fruits and vegetables. It is also known for its imbalance in calories and minimal consumption of nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and fish, have essential minerals that our bodies require in order to function properly. Not to mention, they are rich in vitamins with a considerably low level of calories. Characteristics of the North American diet include:
Eating larger quantities of red meat and processed meat
High consumption of dairy products
Processed and artificially sweetened foods
Due to the under-consumption of healthy foods and over-consumption of unhealthy foods, the North American diet is strongly correlated with obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.
Red Meat and Processed Meat
The high consumption of red meat, most particularly processed red meat, has been linked with an increased risk of several chronic diseases: heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic illnesses. Red meat has a high content of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol.
Many North Americans consume substantial amount of dairy products despite the scientific evidence that points out on the potential health risks associated with these products. Health wise, they provide a source of calcium (found in milk) that promotes healthy growth of bones and keeps them strong. On the negative side, dairy product relates to prostate and breast cancer mostly because of increased insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which is mostly found in the cow’s milk (The Physicians Committee, 2017). Thus, since exercise, sunlight among other things can generate similar health benefits as the dairy products, it is better to reduce their intake and engage in exercise that will promote general growth of bones and increased fitness.
Refined-Grains, Sugars, and Preservatives
Among many North Americans, wheat is a key ingredient in their diets. Biscuits, spaghetti, cereals, and other products are made of it. Refined grains or products are manufactured from processed natural whole grain, but they lost most of the nutrients in the refinement process. For example, white rice and cream of wheat are made from refined grains. They are excessively starchy and high in gluten and lack natural fiber. Additionally, they are added with about 25 different chemicals in the refinement process. Through all these processes, nutritional value is lost and imbalanced thereby making them unhealthy for human body development.
From the above mentioned diets, it is evident that the Mediterranean and North American communities vary significantly in the food consumption patterns. Each group is driven by different actors to consume the diet they prefer. Thus, it is important to evaluate how the diets works in providing a healthy community.
Comparing the North American diet and the Mediterranean diet
The North American diet and the Mediterranean diet are completely contrasted of one another; the North American diet is high in red meats, animal products, sugars, and saturated fats. In contrast, the Mediterranean diet is primarily plant-based, composed of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and unsaturated fats. In contrast, North American diet is focused on animal based products especially the red meat and whole grain that is processed. Unfortunately, with such a diet, healthy living is not promoted.
Conclusively, the diet of the Mediterranean people sharply contradicts with that of the North Americans. By virtue of consuming unprocessed whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and other healthy meals the people from the Mediterranean promote a healthy living with less chances of falling ill especially with chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. On the other hand, North Americans, by concentrating on red meat and other animal products and too much processed grains, lack essential minerals to protect themselves from diseases and live a healthy life. Thus, from this study, it is evident that different diets can increase health levels of a person which I think I am influenced by the study to change my eating habits and focus on living a much healthier life.
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