Helping your body achieve a normal, healthy inflammation response is key to maintaining joint and muscle health. The foods we eat can be an important part of this process. Medical and nutrition experts (not to mention your grandmother) recommend some form of the Mediterranean Diet … and lucky for us, because this eating plan is delicious as well as healthful!

For years this diet has been associated with heart health and increased well-being. A new study has now linked it to mental and physical health too.

Published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study analyzed the diets of 11,000 students over a four-year period, and found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet scored higher on quality of life in terms of physical and mental well-being. This link is even stronger in terms of physical quality of life.

The study supports further research, including four studies of children and older adults published by the Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden, that show those who eat a Medeterranean Diet have a 20 percent higher chance of living longer.

Basically, the Mediterranean diet consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains and some protein, mainly from fish and poultry. The diet isn’t so much about limiting fats as choosing “good” fats such as nuts and olive oil. Avoid hydrogenated and trans fats.

If it's OK with your doctor, have a glass of wine at dinner. If you don't drink alcohol, you don't need to start. Instead, enjoy an occasional glass of purple grape juice as a refreshing treat.

A wonderful component of the Mediterranean Diet is its emphasis on mealtimes as family and social occasions. Whenever possible, eat while in the company of people instead of the TV! Social eating encourages slower eating – aiding digestive health – as well as enhanced overall well-being and longevity.

The Mediterranean Diet has its own “food pyramid.” Main meals should never lack three basic elements: cereals, fruit and vegetables and dairy products. Furthermore, it must include a daily intake of 2 liters of water. Olive oil constitutes the main source of fat for its nutritional quality. Fish, lean meat and eggs are sources of high quality animal protein (fish and seafood are also sources of healthy fats). At the top of the pyramid are sugar, sweets, cakes, pastries and sweetened beverages that should be consumed occasionally and in small amounts.

You don’t need to be a gourmet chef to enjoy the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. There are simple ways to incorporate its principles every day. Here are a few suggestions, from Marco Di Buono, director of research for Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation:

  • Eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits, and plenty of legumes and nuts.
  • Choose whole grain breads, rice and pastas as often as possible.
  • Replace butters and spreads that are high in saturated and trans fats with healthy oils like olive oil.
  • Be physically active every day.

What are your favorite Mediterranean Diet foods?

Dr. Oz: Science of the Mediterranean Diet by Marco Di Buono
Science Daily: Mediterranean Diet is Definitively Linked to Quality of Life