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FACTS FOR FAMILIES: Improve your health with the Mediterranean diet

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Cheri Burcham

There are many diets and weight loss methods that exist today and so I wanted to share this article from Extension Educator Diane Reinhold about one of the healthiest diets available and backed by research.

Diane says: If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed when trying to maintain a healthy diet, you are not alone. We all know a healthy diet is vital to our overall health, especially if you are attempting to slim down or manage a chronic health condition.

One of the best diets, or rather eating patterns, is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet has decades of research supporting its health benefits, dating back to 1952 when Ancel Keys, a researcher from the University of Minnesota, noted a correlation between cardiovascular disease and diet.

Since then, researchers have consistently shown there are many health benefits from following the Mediterranean diet. It reduces the risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and cognitive decline. Additionally, it helps to manage diabetes and lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

This diet varies greatly because of the many cultural influences within the Mediterranean region. However, there are common foods and health behaviors that all can agree on.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on foods rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, lean proteins, and healthy fats while limiting or avoiding processed foods. This delicious diet encourages abundant amounts of fruits, vegetables, beans, other legumes, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, herbs, and spices. While other foods, such as dairy, fish, red meats, and seafood, are consumed in smaller quantities.

The Mediterranean diet is about more than just eating healthy foods. It focuses on lifestyle, which includes daily physical activity and social connectedness. Social connection improves physical, mental, and overall emotional wellbeing, which is important because stress can negatively affect gut function, heart health, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Positive social connections and caring behaviors can help to relieve stress whether you are the giver or receiver. Although we have been physically distancing for well over a year, we can still foster meaningful relationships by connecting with friends and loved ones. Ideas for fostering social connections include scheduling phone calls, virtual visits, writing letters, and gathering while keeping a safe space between yourself and others who are not from your household.

Being intentional about moving more today than yesterday is another cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet. Physical activity has both short and long-term health benefits. It will improve muscle strength and endurance, as well as flexibility and posture. It promotes bone formation and helps reduce the risk of many forms of bone loss associated with aging. Additionally, it helps lower blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides while increasing your healthy HDL cholesterol.

When these lifestyle behaviors are combined, they have a profound impact on your overall health and wellbeing. The Mediterranean diet is known as one of the world's healthiest diets, due in part to the synergistic effect of the overall lifestyle one adopts when following this eating pattern. My question for you is, what lifestyle behavior are you willing to focus on in the coming month? I encourage you to start small, track your progress, and before you know it, you will be living your best life!

Source: Diane Reinhold, Live Well. Eat Well blog,

For more information on University of Illinois Unit 19 programming and to read more helpful articles, visit our website at, call us at 217-345-7034 or contact Cheri Burcham at Also visit the Family Files Blog at

Cheri Burcham is the Family Life Educator at the U of I Extension.


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