The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of eating that is based on the traditional cuisine and lifestyles of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – Spain, France, Italy and Greece.
This diet is characterized by being high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and olive oil. Instead of highly restrictive recommendations or complete eliminations, the Mediterranean diet focuses on frequency of foods and food types. For consumer ease, the main components of the diet are outlined as follows:
Daily: vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
Weekly: fish, poultry, beans and eggs
Moderate portions of dairy products
Monthly: red meat
This pattern is considered plant-based (note: this does not mean vegetarian or vegan) as it focuses on a variety of produce, beans, nuts and seeds. Although animal sources such as chicken, fish and dairy are included, they are not recommended on a daily basis and red meat is suggested even less often.
You may notice that nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish are all significant sources of dietary fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (ex. omega 3 fatty acids) are major components of the Mediterranean diet due to their health benefits, compared to a high intake of saturated and/or trans fats.
One of the major lifestyle benefits of this diet is the sustainability. As mentioned before, this diet doesn’t promise weight loss or require a strict commitment. It includes most foods in varying frequency, which is helpful in the overall maintenance. PLUS, it’s tasty – incredibly important if you ask me!
So what exactly are the health benefits that have been seen in the research?
Associated with reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease (heart health). Data from the Women’s Health Study demonstrated that those who followed a Mediterranean Diet had 25% less risk of developing cardiovascular disease over 12 years. This reduction was attributed to changes in inflammation, blood sugar, and weight.
Recognized and recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to help promote health and prevent chronic disease as well as by the World Health Organization as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern.
A study showed individuals who followed the Mediterranean Diet may have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with those who don’t follow it1.
A systematic review of the Mediterranean Diet showed that participants with type 2 diabetes saw better improvements in blood sugar control compared to those following a low-fat, low-carbohydrate diet2.
Some studies have tried to find a link between the Mediterranean-style diet and a lower risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease – further research is still needed3.
The Mediterranean diet may contribute to reduced inflammation levels, resulting in fewer flare-ups for those with Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis. Research is still in progress.
“Preliminary data suggest that if Americans were to make their diets just 20% more Mediterranean, the United States would save $25.7 billion per year—significant savings with a realistic shift in diet quality. If Americans shifted their eating patterns to consist of an 80% MedDiet, an estimated $135 billion per year savings would occur”. Excerpt taken from this article.
The Mediterranean lifestyle doesn’t eliminate foods and instead focuses on moderation and balanced portion sizes. On top of eating habits, some lifestyle habits include sharing meals surrounded by loved ones and good conversation as well as daily physical activity.
Can improve cardiovascular risk factors such as HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides
Reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer and type 2 diabetes
Beneficial to reduce processed foods
May be expensive and difficult to access some recommended foods
May require a learning period to build skills to cook new foods
Ways to incorporate the MedDiet:
Give tofu, chickpeas or black beans the spotlight for dinner at least once per week
Pair raw veggies with hummus for a snack
Mix plain Greek yogurt with dill and garlic powder to create your own tzatziki
Try grilling or baking salmon at least once per week
Use olive oil in place of butter when you can
Purchase whole grain bread, wraps or bagels to try out
Sample dinner meals:
Salmon with broccoli and quinoa
Tofu, brown rice and leafy salad
Greek salad with chickpeas with olive oil and balsamic dressing
Chicken with roasted potatoes and peppers
1Rossi M, Turati F, Lagiou P, et al. Mediterranean diet and glycaemic load in relation to incidence of type 2 diabetes: results from the Greek cohort of the population-based European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Diabetologia. 2013;56(11):2405-2413.
2Mancini JG, Fillion KB, Atallah R, Eisenberg MJ. Systematic review of the Mediterranean diet for long-term weight loss. Am J Med. 2016;129(4):407-415.e4.
3Ahmad S, Moorthy MV, Demler OV, et al. Assessment of risk factors and biomarkers associated with risk of cardiovascular disease among women consuming a Mediterranean diet. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(8):e185708.
Scrafford C. Healthcare costs and savings associated with increased adherence to healthy dietary patterns among adults in the United States. Paper presented at: American Society for Nutrition Nutrition 2018; June 10, 2018; Boston, MA.
Food for a happy and healthy life