This past summer, I got the chance to travel to Europe with my beautiful wife, Penny. I was invited to attend the 84th Congress of the EAS (European Atherosclerosis Society) in Innsbruck, Austria.
Innsbruck sits right in the heart of the Alps and it’s just a stunning city. The mountains, the Inn river, the architecture — a feast for the eyes! The EAS is an international conference where cardiologists and scientists share new research in the treatment of atherosclerosis — the process of plaque build-up in blood vessels that causes heart disease.
This is life-saving work being done here, especially considering that heart disease is still the #1 cause of death worldwide. I was honored to be able to share the results of my landmark 2013 study, which proved that eliminating lectins and boosting polyphenols lowered your risk of cardiovascular disease.1
This was the study that triggered my passion for polyphenols and their massive power to boost energy2, improve digestion3, make your skin look healthier4, and improve your metabolism5.
Now, the conference was incredible… but what I really love to do when I’m lucky enough to travel is explore the culture. We spent most of our time hiking to small villages to see what the locals eat and how they live. The Mediterranean Sea region is home to some of the healthiest, longest-lived people on Earth — and there’s so much to learn from studying their eating patterns up close.
Like the fact that it’s actually a heavily plant-based diet (packed with plenty of non-starchy vegetables). Fresh meat and seafood are also lovingly consumed, but they’re eaten in much healthier portions. Thyme has been used as a traditional restorative herb since ancient Greece. Some recent research even suggests that wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum L.) might actually help reduce blood pressure in mammals.6
Thyme adds an herbal twist to literally any salad, but my favorite thing to do with it is sauté mushrooms — it’s just a classic flavor combination. Heat a bit of oil or french butter in a sauté pan and add the thyme leaves. Once they’re fragrant and start to pop, add the mushrooms, and cook until golden brown. Sprinkle with sea salt and enjoy!
The Oil of the Ancients
Next, I was invited to the grand opening of the new Eataly in Lombardy… where I got to taste some amazing organic olive oil with a craftsman from Coppini Arte Olearia.
Now, olive oil is the #1 staple of the Mediterranean region’s diet, and the health benefits are just amazing. In Italy, traditional eating habits seem to revolve around one simple concept: pour olive oil on everything! I’m convinced the very high polyphenol content in olive oil is the main reason Italians look and feel so healthy well into their 90s! I love olive oil so much, I tell my patients, family, and friends: “The purpose of food is to get olive oil into your mouth!”
OLIVE OIL SHOPPING TIPS:
The massive health benefits of olive oil only come from extra virgin olive oil. This oil is extracted from fresh fruits using a cold-pressed method (no heat or chemicals), it’s the highest-quality, tastes the best, and has the most polyphenols & micronutrients. If the label just says “olive oil,” avoid it at all costs… this refined oil has been processed from the olive fruits using heat or chemicals (just as canola oil is refined) and we want to avoid this at all costs. It has a much lower quality, less flavor, and the polyphenols have been neutralized. If the olive oil makes you cough because it’s so peppery, that’s the one you want! The coughing is caused by a really high polyphenol content — so you know it’s a top-notch extra virgin olive oil.
Here are just a few reasons why you should keep your cabinets stocked with extra-virgin olive oil…
1) It’s good for your heart. (Pt. I)
Extra-virgin olive oil is loaded with healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, which help lower blood cholesterol levels… which, in turn, lowers your risk for heart disease.7
2) It’s good for your heart. (Pt. II)
A well-executed study of overweight adults showed that extra-virgin olive oil helped lower systolic blood pressure and helped increase HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or your “good” cholesterol.8
3) It’s good for your gut.
The polyphenols in olive oil help balance the bacteria in your digestive system — or “gut bugs,” as I call them. A recent study of the Mediterranean diet shows it helps restore several key strains of “good bugs” in your gut, improving digestion and nutrient absorption.9
4) It’s good for your waistline.
A 5-year study in Spain looked at the effects of eating high-calorie, high-fat, Mediterranean meals (including a liter/week of extra-virgin olive oil!) on overweight adults. The results? The high-fat diet did NOT cause weight gain… in fact, subjects in the olive oil group ended up with slightly greater weight loss than the control group.10
Now, the very best way to get all the benefits from your extra-virgin olive oil isn’t cooking with it at all… it’s eating it raw. And high-quality olive oil tastes AMAZING. Use a little olive oil and lemon juice to dress your favorite salad, or drizzle a bit over a beautifully cooked piece of meat. Penny and I blend it with herbs — like thyme, rosemary, or parsley — and a bit of garlic to make a great dip for raw vegetables.
Locals of the Mediterranean region would never consider following a “low-fat” diet because they receive so many health benefits from good fatty acids – like those found in extra-virgin olive oil. But not all fats are like extra-virgin olive oil. Olive oil is especially low in saturated fats. Why are saturated fats bad? Well, because saturated fatty acids can raise the level of “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood, and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
How To Eat More “Mediterranean” Meals
So what are some of the foods that are considered to be a part of the Mediterranean diet? Here’s a shortlist that you can take with you to the grocery store.
Fruits & Vegetables: leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, chard), cauliflower, artichokes, fennel, dates, figs, grapes, melon, beets, lemons, mushrooms, onions, celery, Brussels sprouts, carrots, sweet potatoes, pomegranates, berries, avocado
Protein: salmon, tuna, shrimp, crab, scallops, pasture-raised chicken, sardines, squid, octopus, clams, grass-fed beef, duck
Dairy: Goats cheese (feta, chevre), sheep cheese, yogurt, pastured or omega-3 eggs
Herbs and Spices: basil, mint, parsley, thyme, oregano, rosemary, cilantro
Nuts and Seeds: almonds, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds
Oils: Extra-virgin olive oil
Drinks: Red Wine, water *Red wine is rich with a polyphenol called resveratrol and has numerous health benefits. Stick to a moderate consumption of red wine, which is considered one 5oz glass per day for women, and two glasses per day for men.
One more thing I’d like to share…
As I said, I love exploring new places. On our last day in Italy, we were out hiking the hills surrounding Portofino, a small fishing village on the Italian Riviera (physical activity is also a big deal here!) I discovered a beautiful tree which I had to tell you about, so I asked Penny to film me right there on the spot with her iPhone.
Isn’t that amazing? Those sour cherries are very similar to the Aronia Cherries in the Gundry MD Vital Reds formula — they’re dense with nutrient-rich polyphenols. You can read about Aronia berry benefits as well. Human beings survived for thousands of years just by using the gifts Mother Nature gave us: the plants, roots, herbs, and berries which keep us healthy and give us energy.
I’ve had a lot of fun writing this blog and I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing my stories and seeing my photos. If you think your friends and family on social media would enjoy reading this, I encourage you to share the article. I also hope you take these tips to heart and really try to incorporate the Mediterranean “Longevity” Diet into your daily meals…especially if you’re interested in getting slim, having youthful-looking skin, and living a long, active life!
Always looking out for you, Steven Gundry, MD
P.S. If you have a moment, I’d love to get your opinion on something in the comments section below. What’s the one thing you NEVER want to be forced to stop doing because of your age or your health? Maybe it’s your career, spending time with your family, cooking, a hobby… or maybe it’s just being able to walk to the corner store. Please leave an answer in the comments section and let’s get a dialogue going!
SOURCES1. Gundry SR, Epstein J. Abstract P169: Intensive Nutrigenomic-based Dietary and Supplement Management of Coronary Artery Disease Utilizing Quarterly Measured Advanced Cardiovascular and Genetic Risk Markers: Ten Year Followup. Circulation. 2013; 127: AP169. 2. Dulloo AG, Duret C, Rohrer D, Girardier L, Mensi N, Fathi M, Chantre P, Vandermander J. Efficacy of a green tea extract rich in catechin polyphenols and caffeine in increasing 24-h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Dec;70(6):1040-5. 3. Parkar S, Trower T, Stevenson D. Fecal microbial metabolism of polyphenols and its effects on human gut microbiota. Anaerobe. October 2013. doi:10.1016/j.anaerobe.2013.07.009. 4. Schagen, Silke K. et al. “Discovering The Link Between Nutrition And Skin Aging.” Dermato-Endocrinology 4.3 (2012): 298-307. Web. 13 June 2016. 5. Da Villa G, Ianiro G, Mangiola G, et al. White mulberry supplementation as adjuvant treatment of obesity. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2014 Jan-Mar;28(1):141-5. 6. Mihailovic-Stanojevic N, Belscak-Cvitanovic A, et al. Antioxidant and Antihypertensive Activity of Extract from Thymus serpyllum L. in Experimental Hypertension. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. September 2013 vol. 68, Issue 3, pp 235-240. 7. Publications, Harvard. “The Truth About Fats: The Good, The Bad, And The In-Between – Harvard Health”. Harvard Health. N.p., 2016. Web. 9 June 2016. 8. Rozati M, Barnett J, et al. Cardio-metabolic and immunological impacts of extra virgin olive oil consumption in overweight and obese older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrition & Metabolism. August 2015. 12:28 DOI: 10.1186/s12986-015-0022-5 9. Haro C, Garcia-Carpintero S, et al. The gut microbial community in metabolic syndrome patients is modified by diet. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. January 2016 Vol. 27:(27-31). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2015.08.011 10. Estruch R, et al. “Effect of a high-fat Mediterranean diet on bodyweight and waist circumference: a prespecified secondary outcomes analysis of the PREDIMED randomised controlled trial.” The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. (2016): n. pay. Web. 10 June 2016.