Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet You Might Not Have Heard Of

By Annie Burdick

If there are two things most adults in the US are accustomed to, it’s being chronically stressed and tired. Though we may try a range of strategies to combat these feelings, the lifestyles of constant busyness and overwhelm have a continuous effect, and things like global pandemic, political turbulence, nationwide violence, personal health issues, bills, relationship challenges, and so on only serve to worsen our stress or sleep issues. 

But it’s also been repeatedly shown in studies that having less stress and better sleep makes our lives better overall. People with less stress and more sleep report better moods, better relationships, better work outputs, better life outlooks, and better physical and mental health. They can also even contribute to things like weight loss, immune system strengthening, and better heart health. So these are two things we should strive to have, right?

One thing that may have an effect on both of these essential parts of life–stress and sleep–is the diet we adhere to. And this doesn’t mean committing to a fad diet that’s unlikely to be sustainable long-term. In fact, one of the healthiest diets the world over, and one shown in studies to have potential links to improved sleep and reduced stress is the Mediterranean diet.  

Mediterranean Diet Basics

We’ve covered the Mediterranean diet before, so by now it should be a bit more familiar, but for those who don’t know it well, this diet refers to the general eating patterns of the countries and areas on the Mediterranean Sea, places like Italy, Greece, and Spain. The diet came into public popularity in the 1960s when people around the world noticed the healthier, longer lives people in these regions were living, much in part to their diets. 

The diet emphasizes large amounts of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, herbs, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil. It also allows for more moderated amounts of dairy, poultry, eggs, and yogurt, and very rare red meat consumption. Those who adhere to this diet avoid processed foods, sugars, and refined grains.

Benefits for Sleep and Stress?

So, besides the physical health benefits like weight loss, heart health, etc. that are known to be effects of this diet, there might well be ties to other critical benefits? That’s right. 

According to a study done in 2014 and 2015 that tested nearly 2000 Italian adults, a total of 67.9% reported adequate sleep quality. However, more importantly, that for each point someone went up in their “Mediterranean diet score” (essentially how much they adhere to that diet), the likelihood of adequate sleep went up by a full 10%. The conclusion: a direct correlation in this study to higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet and better overall sleep.

As far as stress, this is harder to study in humans, and less concrete data is given. However, generally countries with more Mediterranean diet use do report higher levels of satisfaction, and studies have shown happier people after trying the diet. 

However, particularly interesting when it comes to the stress factor, is a study published in 2020 in which 38 monkeys were studied. Half were fed a Mediterranean diet and the other half were fed a “Western” diet. The results showed that “those fed the Mediterranean diet exhibited enhanced stress resilience as indicated by lower sympathetic activity, brisker and more overt heart rate responses to acute stress, more rapid recovery, and lower cortisol responses to acute psychological stress.” If similar results can fairly be assumed in humans, this indicates the diet could easily make you have more stress resilience and reduced stress reactions. 

Ultimately, if the disease-fighting, heart-healthy, weight-loss supporting effects of this food lifestyle weren’t convincing enough, even the possibility of reduced stress and better sleep might just be enough push to put it into practice this spring.