For years, the Mediterranean diet has been seen as the gold standard in healthy eating. Rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and healthful fats such as olive oil, it’s been associated with reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers and improved cognitive function and mood. But despite its reputation, the original Mediterranean diet was not completely dairy-free. That’s about to change with the introduction of the MedDairy diet, which ditches all dairy except low-fat yogurt (2 cups per day) and includes plenty of other healthful foods instead of replacing them.

What's Behind This Update?

Back in 2002, people who adhered to a version of what’s often referred to as the Mediterranean diet were found to have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. A decade later, results from another study showed that people following similar eating habits (though with an emphasis on plant-based foods) were significantly less likely to develop diabetes or die from any cause than their peers who ate more red meat and dairy.

How do I start?

To start, take out your pen and paper (or open up your word processor) and draft a rough outline of your plan. Write down some basic guidelines for yourself on how many meals you’ll eat per day, what types of foods you’ll have in each meal and any dietary restrictions you may have. You don’t need to include recipes; just jot down what types of food will be included in each meal.

Does this mean I can have all the cheese?

You can have it but in moderation. Food that makes up an important part of any diet is cheese—which is why it’s good news that scientists have developed a modified version of one of America’s favourite diets. The Mediterranean diet has long been heralded for its health benefits and ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as curb risk factors for heart disease.

What about other dairy products, like yogurt?

Yogurt is great for your health and your waistline. It’s full of protein, calcium, probiotics, and more. A recent study has revealed that people who regularly consume yogurt are less likely to have hypertension or be overweight than those who don’t eat yogurt. The best way to ensure you get enough healthy dairy in your diet? Eat it with every meal! Use nonfat Greek yogurt as a base for homemade sauces or dressings.

Do dairy foods raise my cholesterol levels?

There are two kinds of cholesterol to be aware of: HDL, or high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol, and LDL, or low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol. It is bad for your health when there is an excess amount of LDL in your bloodstream, as it can lead to plaque buildup that can clog up arteries and cause heart attacks.

What can't I eat on this diet?

Some foods are verboten on any diet, and dairy products seem to be high on that list. You won’t find many dairy recipes in other modern diets like South Beach or Paleo—although Paleo does allow for raw, fermented dairy. The reason dairy is banned in these diets is simple: milk sugars aren’t easy to digest. When they enter your bloodstream, they spike your insulin levels—leading to weight gain and disease over time.

Are there any side effects to eating lots of dairy foods on this plan?

While including dairy in your diet might seem like a deviation from traditional Mediterranean eating, it’s not. One of the hallmarks of traditional Med diets is their inclusion of cheese and yogurt as well as other fermented dairy products, such as kefir and other cultured pints of milk.

Can women who are pregnant or breastfeeding follow this plan?

Yes, pregnant and breastfeeding women can follow MedDairy; however, they should consult with their doctors first. It’s also important to note that because dairy products are high in calcium, you may need to take an additional supplement if you’re following MedDairy while pregnant or breastfeeding. Calcium is crucial for bone health and your baby’s growth—but too much calcium can be dangerous. The recommended daily intake of calcium for adults 19-50 years old is 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day; for adults 51-70 years old it’s 1,200 mg per day, and for adults over 70, it’s 1,500 mg per day.

Are older adults more likely to follow this kind of diet?

The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) is well known for its health benefits, but it may not be best for everyone. A new study finds that adding dairy to some aspects of MedDiet may help older adults improve their eating habits, which could reduce their risk of chronic diseases. For example, improving calcium intake by reducing cheese and switching to yogurt in place of milk has been shown to help fight osteoporosis by increasing bone density and reducing falls.

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