What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

Updated: Jan 11


If you want to get on board with a diet that tastes good, sustainable and has health benefits, then the Mediterranean diet is the way to go.

This diet is ranked as the best diet overall in 2019 by U.S. News and World Report for being sensible and putting a smart emphasis on good-for-you foods without restriction, but it’s a traditional diet that’s been around for centuries — and it’s delicious, too. The Mediterranean diet is all-inclusive, sustainable, and something that you really can follow.



The Mediterranean diet is an eating approach that is rich in fresh, whole foods (olive oil, nuts, seeds, veggies, fruit, and fish) and low in red meat and little or no processed foods. It is one of the healthiest diets around the globe is also good for keeping your weight down. When you look at a plate, it should be bursting with color; traditional proteins like chicken may be more of a side dish compared with produce, which becomes the main event.

Fill half of your plate with fruit and vegetables, and then devote one each of the remaining two quarters to lean proteins and whole grains.

Plant based, not meat based

The foundation of the Mediterranean diet is vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, beans and whole grains. Meals are built around these plant-based foods. Moderate amounts of dairy, poultry and eggs are also central to the Mediterranean Diet, as is seafood. In contrast, red meat is eaten only occasionally.

Healthy fats


Healthy fats are a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet. They're eaten instead of less healthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats, which contribute to heart disease.

Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which has been found to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat.


Fish are also important in the Mediterranean diet. Fatty fish — such as mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon and lake trout — are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat that may reduce inflammation in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and decrease the risk of stroke and heart failure.

What about wine?


The Mediterranean diet typically allows red wine in moderation. Although alcohol has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease in some studies, it's by no means risk free. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans caution against beginning to drink or drinking more often on the basis of potential health benefits.


Eating the Mediterranean way


Interested in trying the Mediterranean diet? These tips will help you get started:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for 7 to 10 servings a day of fruit and vegetables.

  • Opt for whole grains. Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta. Experiment with other whole grains, such as bulgur and farro.

  • Use healthy fats. Try olive oil as a replacement for butter when cooking. Instead of putting butter or margarine on bread, try dipping it in flavored olive oil.

  • Eat more seafood. Eat fish twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices. Grilled fish tastes good and requires little cleanup. Avoid deep-fried fish.

  • Reduce red meat. Substitute fish, poultry or beans for meat. If you eat meat, make sure it's lean and keep portions small.

  • Enjoy some dairy. Eat low-fat Greek or plain yogurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses.

  • Spice it up. Herbs and spices boost flavor and lessen the need for salt.


The Mediterranean diet is a delicious and healthy way to eat. Many people who switch to this style of eating say they'll never eat any other way.


What Are the Potential and Known Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is most famous for its benefit to heart health, decreasing the risk of heart disease by, in part, lowering levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and reducing mortality from cardiovascular conditions. It’s also been credited with a lower likelihood of certain cancers, like breast cancer, as well as conditions like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Following a Mediterranean diet can be an incredibly well-rounded way to lose weight that ditches gimmicks and doesn’t require calorie or macronutrient counting as other diets do.

Many popular diets, such as keto, paleo, or Whole30, can help people lose weight temporarily,


Generally speaking, that isn’t the case with the Mediterranean diet, which calls for eating whole foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish, as well as drinking a little red wine. It’s one of the few diets that finds general favor. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommend following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern to help improve health and prevent chronic disease.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Mediterranean Diet?

Pros


It’s easy to stick with. A diet works only if it’s doable. That means everyone in your family can eat it and you can eat in this style no matter where you go (to a restaurant for dinner, to a family event). With its flavors and variety of foods that don’t cut out any food group, this is one such eating plan. "It is an appealing diet that one can stay with for a lifetime.

You can eat what you love. It’s evident that with such a variety of whole, fresh foods available to you as options, it’s easy to build meals based on the diet. And you don’t have to eliminate your favorites, either. Filling up on fresh foods like fruit and vegetables will allow you to build volume into meals for fewer calories.

It’s low in saturated fat. You’re not going to feel hungry eating this way, because you can build in a variety of healthy fats. But by limiting large amounts of red or processed meats and relying heavily on monounsaturated fatty acids, like avocado, nuts, or olive oil, you’ll keep saturated fat levels low. These fats don't lead to high cholesterol the same way saturated fats do. Healthful sources of fat include olive oil, fish oils, and nut-based oils, Cohen explains.

It reduces risk of disease. A growing number of studies suggest that people who follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to die of heart disease than people who follow a typical American diet. What’s more, evidence is emerging that shows people who eat this way have a lower risk of colon cancer, prostate cancer, and some head and neck cancers, according to studies published in September 2016 in the British Journal of Cancer, in February 2018 in the Journal of Urology, and in September 2017 in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention. Cons

Milk is limited. You may be put off if you’re big on eating a lot of milk and rely on it to get all the calcium you need. You’ll get to eat cheese and yogurt but in smaller amounts.

Fat isn’t unlimited either. It's possible to get too much of a good thing when it comes to healthy fats. While the Mediterranean diet meets heart-healthy diet limits for saturated fat, your total fat consumption could be greater than the daily recommended amount if you aren't careful.

You have to find time to cook. While you don’t have to spend hours in your kitchen, you will need to cook because the diet is all about working with delicious fresh food.


Research shows that people who eat more raw fruit and veggies (particularly dark leafy greens like spinach, fresh berries, and cucumber) have fewer symptoms of depression, a better mood, and more life satisfaction.




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