THE BLOG
11/21/2014 12:28 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

Turkey With Olives And Tzatziki? Why A Mediterranean Thanksgiving Can Improve Your Health

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With Thanksgiving fast approaching, our thoughts lean less towards work and productivity and more towards oven-roasted turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce. To sum it up nicely, most Americans plan on getting stuffed till they can't eat anymore.

While this seems like a perfectly reasonable way to celebrate family and be grateful for all the blessings that befall us each year, the trouble comes when we do more "celebrating" than healthy eating. Earlier this year, a study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found obesity has not changed by much in the past few years, and that obesity still affects more than one-third of Americans (1). To make matters worse, obesity has been found to increase blood pressure, induce diabetes, and increases the risk for heart disease, osteoarthritis, and respiratory problems (2).

Though we may not like to admit it, obesity, heart disease, and our health in general is most definitely linked to our diets. What we eat not only affects how we feel, grow, and live, it also affects the expression of certain negative genetic traits (3)(4)(5).

So when the Mediterranean diet began making the rounds in the health and diet world, it immediately caught my attention. Could a traditional diet increase vitality, health, and lower the risk of heart disease or other medical conditions? Do we now have a reason to eat more Greek salads, olives and hummus?

In 2008, a meta-analysis of 12 studies, with a total of 1,574,299 subjects was published in the BMJ (6). The researchers carefully and systematically analyzed 12 studies with cohorts from the Mediterranean and elsewhere around the world and studied the effects of adhering to a Mediterranean diet. Their primary goal was to investigate the relationship between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and mortality and chronic diseases.

The results were excellent if you're fond of tabouleh and red cabbage. The meta-analysis found that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in overall health: 9 percent reduction in overall mortality, 9 percent reduction in mortality from cardiovascular diseases, 6 percent reduction in incidence of or mortality from cancer, and a 13 percent reduction in incidence of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. These numbers are big news and further support a Mediterranean diet as a form of primary prevention of major chronic illnesses.

For those who are new to the Mediterranean diet, here's a quick snapshot of what it includes (7): vegetables (broccoli, pumpkin, beets, arugula, artichokes), fruits (apples, apricots, avocados, peaches, oranges, pomegranates), olives and olive oil, nuts, beans, legumes, yogurt, fish and shellfish (shrimp, squid, mackerel, mussels, octopus, sardines, oysters), eggs, meats (in smaller portions), and a glass of red wine a day.

Now, I'm not saying you should toss out the whole turkey before Thanksgiving gets here. But I do think that moderation and an adherence to the Mediterranean diet can have some really amazing and wonderful effects on your health, longevity, and overall well-being. The fun part of sticking to a Mediterranean diet (as opposed to all the other fad diets) is that you can have a ton of fun learning to cook with new ingredients, taste incredibly delicious dishes, and develop a healthier long-term lifestyle that's both enjoyable and non-restrictive. It's inclusive instead of being exclusive. None of your friends may want to come over for a chalky protein shake or join you on a strict juice cleanse, but guaranteed, you'll find someone who'll come over for grilled squid, kalamata olives, and fresh hummus with cucumber chips.

And if there's one thing to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, it's good company.

References:

1. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, et al. Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA. 2014;311(8):806-814.
2. "Obesity Information." American Heart Association, 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. .
3. Ornish D, Magbanua MJ, Weidner G, et al. Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jun 17;105(24):8369-74.
4. Qi Q, Chu AY, Kang JH, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages and genetic risk of obesity. N Engl J Med. 2012 Oct 11;367(15):1387-96.
5. Silventoinen K, Hasselbach AL, Lallukka T, et al. Modification effects of physical activity and protein intake on heritability of body size and composition. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90:1096-103.
6. Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, et al. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. BMJ 2008;337:a1344.
7. "Traditional Med Diet." Oldways. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2014. .