The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest and most nutrient-rich diets in the world. The cuisine has evolved over the centuries, fusing traditional favorites from Greece, Croatia, and Italy. It’s fresh, easy to follow, and packed with anti-inflammatory foods, making it especially beneficial for those managing inflammatory bowel disease.
The cuisine style is less diet, more a structure for healthy eating and different foods will work best for your body and condition. There are thousands of recipes from different regions in the Mediterranean, all consisting of clean, affordable, and sustainable ingredients.
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Of the five healthiest regions in the world, two are located in Italy and Greece. Residents of these “blue zones” have the longest longevity, are less prone to disease, and have the lowest rates of age-related health issues. It’s no coincidence that two blue zones are found in the Mediterranean, where residents lean on vegetables, seafood, and healthy fats. Both regions consume minimal red meat and sugary, processed food, and limit alcohol intake to a glass of red wine at dinner.
The Mediterranean diet appears to keep a myriad of diseases at bay, lowering the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic inflammatory disease. And when it comes to IBD, studies show adherence to the diet can lower the risk of late-onset Crohn’s disease. Additionally, the diet significantly improves malnutrition and liver steatosis in patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Even short-term adherence can make a huge difference to the quality of life for those with Crohn’s disease. A recent trial had participants with mild-to-moderate symptoms of Crohn’s follow the Mediterranean diet for 12 weeks. Participants reported improved symptoms and quality of life, reduced pain and fatigue, fewer sleep disturbances, and less social isolation.
While the Mediterranean diet has not been found to induce remission, it is especially beneficial for the maintenance of remission. The research so far shows that it is well tolerated by quiescent IBD patients, and quite easy to stick to thanks to the relatively unrestricted nature of the diet, which is really more a lifestyle.
Mediterranean Diet Benefits for Crohn’s Disease
The Mediterranean diet is especially beneficial for those with IBD due to a number of factors, including:
- High levels of nutrients, antioxidants, and healthy fats ward off malnutrition.
- Foods rich with prebiotic fibers feed, diversify, and strengthen the microbiome, the foundation of gut health and the immune system.
- Fish and seafood deliver plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, linked to decreased inflammation from IBD.
- Minimal dairy is included and kept mainly to yogurt and cheese which is easier on the digestive system
- Processed meats, additives, and sugary foods are nearly avoided altogether, preventing further agitation.
Eliminating processed foods, in general, is highly recommended for IBD patients or anyone suffering from digestive conditions. Research has linked ultra-processed foods to higher risk of IBD development, as they contribute to gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria) which can lead to further intestinal inflammation.
Mediterranean Cuisine 101
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was developed by Oldways in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health and the WHO. The pyramid breaks down the ideal food intake, providing a guide to a healthier, cleaner diet, recommending:
- High intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, nuts, and healthy fats like olive olive
- Two weekly servings of fish and/or seafood
- Moderate intake of dairy (yogurt and cheese), eggs, and poultry
- Limited servings of red meat, processed meats, and sweets
Remember, it’s important to discuss your diet with your physician and dietician to find the best balance for your condition. For instance, when managing Crohn’s disease, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation recommends limiting fiber intake to ease cramping and bowel movements, which means limiting whole grains, nuts, and fruit with seeds.