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Heart and Brain Health with the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is not a diet – it is simply a pattern of eating that maximizes health and eliminates processed foods. It is not a “diet” in the sense that the goal is weight loss or minimal calories or eliminating any foods, which is what diet culture has trained us to believe. Rather, it focuses on foods present in the daily consumption of people in Mediterranean countries, specifically Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece, where people live longer and healthier lives. Now that we have cleared that up, let’s talk about the idea behind the Mediterranean diet.

While I was browsing through Study Abroad programs, one caught my eye: a program with the Health and Exercise Science program that involved studying the Blue Zones in Greece. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “Blue Zone” is a geographical region where citizens live the longest and healthiest lives. One of these Blue Zones is Greece, and the study abroad program focuses on studying why people in Greece live such long and fruitful lives compared to so many other countries. I was curious, and in my research, I found that much of it is due to their diet, which focuses on lots of in-season fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and minimal dairy and red meat. However, not only does their food look delicious (I’ll link some of my favorite Greek dishes at the bottom), but it is nourishing and beneficial for their bodies and overall health and wellbeing.

Heart Health

As I scoured the internet for information about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, one thing that kept showing up was cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association suggests the Mediterranean diet for heart health, including risk reduction for stroke and heart disease. They also stated that the consumption of virgin olive oil, which is a key ingredient in Greek and Mediterranean cooking, may help the body to clear its arteries of cholesterol. Additionally, according to the American Stroke Association, “80% of brain disease can be linked to cardiovascular disease, and 99% of adults have one of seven cardiovascular health risks”. However, following a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps maintain a healthy heart, combined with the other health-enriching factors of the Mediterranean diet this makes it an effective diet in preventing heart disease. 

Preventing Alzheimer’s and Cognitive Decline

As college students, it is hard to think so far ahead into our future that cognitive decline becomes a problem, but the Mediterranean diet has been proven to aid in Alzheimer’s prevention and prevent cognitive decline. Because of the connections between diet, cardiovascular (heart) health, and neurocognitive (brain) health, it makes sense that a diet rich in nutrients improves cognitive function. For example, a diet rich in seafood (typical of the Mediterranean diet) may prevent against stroke, even if individuals increase their seafood intake by only one portion each month. Additionally, because the Mediterranean diet lacks much of the refined sugar and saturated fats that are present in a typical American diet, the absence of these ingredients is shown to prevent the cognitive decline that can be associated with these foods. 

Greek & Mediterranean Dishes

As promised, here are some of my favorite Greek and Mediterranean dishes. Most of these can be found at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but you can also make them at home! Other chain stores, like Yama’s, Cava, Mezeh, and Zoe’s Kitchen may also provide a ton of delicious Mediterranean-style options. 

Greek Salad (Love and Lemons)

Tzatziki (Cookie and Kate)

Baked Orzo (Pinch of Yum)

Stuffed Grape Leaves/Dolmades

Chicken Souvlaki

The Bottom Line

It can be hard to follow this kind of diet in college because of limited on-campus food options. However, you can still improve your heart and brain health by making sure to incorporate healthy fats (like eggs and nut butter), whole grains (wheat bread, quinoa, whole grain pasta), and fresh fruits and veggies into your diet.

Emory Lewis

Wake Forest '25

Hey! I'm Emory, and I'm a freshman at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, although I'm originally from Annapolis, Maryland. I'm planning to major in Biology on a pre-med track, and in my free time, you can find me at the gym, re-watching Grey's Anatomy, or playing with my dogs. Hope y'all enjoy!
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