A Comparative Guide to the Mediterranean Diet vs. Standard American Diet
In the United States, the prevalence of health conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers is quite high and growing. As emphasized this month, these health challenges are tied to metabolic health, serving as potential precursors to declines in brain health.
Strikingly, these issues are in turn heavily linked with dietary choices.1 When it comes to diet, the culprit behind these health issues is often attributed to the Standard American Diet (SAD). The Standard American Diet is predominantly comprised of ultra-processed foods, offering minimal nutritional value, and often coupled with a sedentary lifestyle marked by limited movement and social interaction.1 On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Mediterranean diet (MeDi) brings a colorful and aromatic cuisine that is dense with nutrients. Numerous studies confirm that following the MeDi lowers the chances of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and cognitive diseases.2 This eating pattern is popular in blue zones, home to the world's healthiest and oldest individuals. It's not just about the food; the Mediterranean lifestyle includes regular movement and socialization, contributing to overall well-being and lowering health risks.2
Today, let's learn about the differences between these two diets. Just because you live in America doesn't mean you have to follow the SAD and fall into poor health status. Explore how you can choose to embrace the MeDi and its lifestyle for a longer, healthier life!
The Discovery of the Mediterranean Diet’s Longevity Secrets
The modern story of the Mediterranean Diet's health benefits starts with an American scientist named Ancel Keys. Back in the 1950s, Keys noticed something interesting in small towns in southern Italy. Even though the people there had less money, they were healthier than wealthier people in New York. This got Keys curious about their food. He found out that their diet, later called the Mediterranean diet, played a significant role in their well-being.2 Fast forwarding to more recent times in 2004, when two Italian researchers, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, discovered that people in certain parts of Sardinia (an island off of Italy) lived unusually longer and healthier lives also. This captured the attention of an explorer and journalist at National Geographic, Dan Buettner, who joined forces with Pes and Poulain, uncovering other places in the world with similar characteristics. They called them “blue zones,” where people lived longer than normal with little reported health problems.3 It turns out, many of them follow diets very similar to MeDi, showing how special and healthy it really is!
The Low Nutritional Value of the Standard American Diet
The SAD has led the way towards an overall decline in nutrition over the years, and it is compounded by overeating and insufficient physical activity, leading to population-wide obesity and overweight challenges. Additionally, micronutrient deficiencies, defined as insufficient intake of essential vitamins, minerals, and plant-based phytonutrients, contribute to impaired immunity, fatigue, and cognitive deficits. Factors like poor food quality and decreased absorption exacerbate nutrient inadequacies.4 Ultra-processed foods (UPFs), dominating the food supply in countries like the United States, account for almost 60% of total calorie intake.5 Common in the western dietary pattern, UPFs are rich in unhealthy elements like saturated fat, added sugar, and salt, while lacking in essential nutrients like fiber and vitamins – often described as “calorie rich, but nutrient poor.” Beyond their poor nutritional quality, UPFs contain additives and contaminants linked to inflammatory diseases, even contributing to conditions such as depression.5
The Core Foods of the SAD vs. the MeDi
SAD: Red Meats
In the SAD, red meats and deli meats are frequently favored, often laden with saturated fats, additives, and being processed to preserve them.1
MeDi: Fish and Chicken (Lean Meats)
Contrastingly, the MeDi leans towards fish and chicken, rich in lean proteins and omega-3 fatty acids, contributing to brain health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.6
SAD: High Fat Dairy
High-fat dairy like butter and heavy cream, is a staple of the SAD, often containing elevated levels of saturated fats which have been linked to negative impacts on brain health.1
MeDi: Limiting Dairy
On the other hand, the MeDi advocates for limiting dairy intake, instead opting for moderate consumption of healthier options like low-fat yogurt which also adds a source of probiotics.6
SAD: Fried Foods
The SAD often includes an abundance of fried foods, which contain advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that can contribute to diabetes and heart-related issues.1
MeDi: Healthy Fats
In contrast, the MeDi embraces healthy fats from sources like olive oil, nuts, and avocados—elements that promote heart and brain health with their sources of omega-3's and polyphenols.6
SAD: Refined Grains
Refined grains like white breads, are prevalent in the SAD, stripped of essential nutrients in the process.1
MeDi: Whole Grains
In contrast, the MeDi places whole grains at the forefront, delivering sustained energy, fiber, and nutrients crucial for brain health and maintaining stable blood sugar levels.6
SAD: Sugary Beverages
Beverages like fruit juice and sodas are a hallmark of the SAD and contribute to excessive sugar intake and health issues.1
MeDi: Water and Tea
In contrast, the MeDi encourages water and tea consumption, which not only hydrate but also offer brain health nutrients like l-theanine and catechins.6
SAD: Processed Vegetables
The SAD often features vegetables with added high-fat sauces or high-sodium that are commonly canned or boxed linking to obesity and chronic diseases.1
MeDi: Fresh/Frozen Vegetables and Fruits
Conversely, the MeDi champions a diet rich in vegetables and fruits in their pure form, with simple seasonings, providing essential nutrients for brain health including flavonoids from berries, magnesium, kaempferol, and quercetin from vegetables.6
The Importance of Nutritional Supplementation in Places Where the SAD is Dominant
A balanced, nutrient-dense diet is ideal, but studies reveal that Americans often fall short of key micronutrient needs.4 Combining dietary supplements with food has been associated with lower prevalence of nutrient inadequacies, emphasizing the role of supplementation in helping overall nutrient intake and addressing deficiencies effectively. Notably, a multivitamin/mineral supplement, when complementing a healthy diet, proves to be a valuable tool for helping adequate critical nutrient intake for general health. Multivitamin/multimineral supplements are commonly used, with almost 31% of U.S. adults relying on them for at least 10 micronutrients.4,7
The takeaway is that nutritional supplementation can help a person’s diet, but it shouldn’t be used to replace a healthy diet!
In the formulation of RELEVATE, our neurologists, researchers, and nutritionists recognized the urgent need for a supplement tailored specifically to combat nutrient inadequacies impacting brain health. With Alzheimer's-related deaths more than doubling from 2000 to 2019, our strategy involves addressing nutrient gaps prevalent in the Standard American Diet (SAD).8 By selecting 17 critical nutrients from the longevity-focused Mediterranean and MIND diets (adapted from the DASH diet for hypertension and the Mediterranean diet), we aimed to bridge nutritional gaps linked to cognitive health. Creating RELEVATE was about more than just finding important nutrients. We made sure to pick the best kinds of nutrient sources, like omega-3's from the roe of wild-caught herring, and concentrated anthocyanin extract from European blueberries. We put these nutrients in either capsules or a softgels, based on their absorption efficiency – whether through an oil medium or in their dry form. This helps you receive these important brain nutrients in an effective and bioavailable manner. RELEVATE is a proactive response to support cognitive health, offering a unique blend of nutrients designed to counterbalance SAD-related nutrient shortfalls, for your lifelong brain health. Learn more and order RELEVATE by visiting here.
The power to shape a future filled with vitality and longevity rests in your hands. Numerous risk factors influencing chronic disease are within the realm of change, and it's your daily choices that steer the course. Embrace the path of a long and healthy life by adopting the timeless dietary and lifestyle principles inspired by the Mediterranean diet.
For guidance on incorporating the MeDi diet into your life, with tips, recipes, meal plans and more, download our FREE e-guide “Learn to Eat the Mediterranean Way.”
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Examination of Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols; Wartella EA, Lichtenstein AH, Boon CS, editors. Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols: Phase I Report. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2010. 4, Overview of Health and Diet in America. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209844/
- Altomare, Roberta et al. “The mediterranean diet: a history of health.” Iranian journal of public health vol. 42,5 449-57. 1 May. 2013
- Poulain, M., Herm, A., & Pes, G. (2013). The Blue Zones: areas of exceptional longevity around the world. Vienna Yearbook of Population Research. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43050798
- Kiani, Aysha Karim et al. “Main nutritional deficiencies.” Journal of preventive medicine and hygiene vol. 63,2 Suppl 3 E93-E101. 17 Oct. 2022, doi:10.15167/2421-4248/jpmh2022.63.2S3.2752
- Zheng, Liwen et al. “Ultra-Processed Food Is Positively Associated With Depressive Symptoms Among United States Adults.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 7 600449. 15 Dec. 2020, doi:10.3389/fnut.2020.600449
- Finicelli, Mauro et al. “The Mediterranean Diet: An Update of the Clinical Trials.” Nutrients vol. 14,14 2956. 19 Jul. 2022, doi:10.3390/nu14142956
- Reider, Carroll A et al. “Inadequacy of Immune Health Nutrients: Intakes in US Adults, the 2005-2016 NHANES.” Nutrients vol. 12,6 1735. 10 Jun. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12061735
- Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures Report | Alzheimer’s Association. (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2024, from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures