The Mediterranean diet has become popular over the past couple of years because of its proven health benefits and sustainability. Developers based the diet on traditional foods eaten in the 1960’s by those living in Italy and Greece. From heart disease prevention to boosting weight loss, the Mediterranean diet may be one of the most beneficial diets for overall health in recent years.
The Mediterranean diet is special from other diets in that it does not require eliminating any food groups or macronutrients, is full of nutrient rich foods, and every meal is full of robust flavor. It is not a diet that one gets tired of easily. The diet’s benefits can be accredited to its foundation in plant-based foods.
The variation between the different countries encompassing the Mediterranean region make the foods to include and exclude in the Mediterranean diet slightly controversial. At its base, it highlights fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, potatoes, bread, nuts, and seeds. It relies on extra virgin olive oil as the main dietary fat along with red wine. Proteins in the Mediterranean diet include fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy prepared using lean methods while significantly reducing red meat.
Foods to Eat
The diet is primarily plant-based and low in animal foods, but it is recommended to eat fish at least twice a week. Some of the more popular vegetables to integrate into Mediterranean dishes include cucumbers, carrots, spinach, onions, kale, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts.
Snacks typically consist of fruit and nuts, but fruit can also be cooked into recipes to add sweet flavor without the added sugar. These fruits include apples, oranges, bananas, pears, grapes, strawberries, dates, figs, peaches, and melons to name just a few.
- Brussel Sprouts
- Oranges & Lemons
- Brown Rice
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole-grain bread
Fats & Others
- Olive Oil
Nuts and seeds are added to just about any recipe possible and legumes are a primary source of plant-based protein. Whole grains are essential for fiber and to complete the amino acid makeup of many plant-based meals including brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and other whole grain foods. The Mediterranean diet’s heart health benefits should be predominantly accredited to the fiber from a focus on whole grains.
Foods to Avoid
Certain types of food should be avoided when wanting to follow the Mediterranean diet. These foods include those made with refined grains and oil, added sugar, trans fat, processed meat and other highly processed foods. Foods labeled as low-fat or marketed as diet food is highly processed and should be avoided. As a general rule, err on the side of whole foods.
- Red Meat
- Processed Meat
- White bread
- White pasta
Fats & Others
- Low-fat dairy
- Trans fat
- Refined oil
A Mediterranean meal plan should integrate whole fruit and vegetables in their natural form or prepared with healthy fats or extra virgin olive oil. Carbohydrates and fat are the main macronutrients in a Mediterranean meal plant with proteins coming primarily from fish or plants. Carbohydrates should come from whole grain sources like brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, and barley.
What to Drink
Beverages on the Mediterranean diet are easy; water and red wine. These two drinks of choice are another reason the Mediterranean diet is heart healthy. Coffee and tea are acceptable beverages also, but without the added sugar and sweeteners.
The Mediterranean diet is meal-heavy at three meals a day, but a snack or two are also welcomed. Snacks are simple and typically include a handful of nuts, raw fruit, berries, Greek yogurt, almond butter, or carrots.
Unlike most other diets, eating out doesn’t have to be difficult when following the Mediterranean diet. Most restaurants have a fish option, choose this when available or lean poultry. Ideally, it is important to avoid red meat when dining out if at all possible. Request exchanging any oils for extra virgin olive oil and refined carbohydrates for whole-grain alternatives.
Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
Our Registered Dietician has created a 29-page full week of meals for the ideal Mediterranean Diet meal plan, including:
- Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, & Snacks for each day of the 7-Day meal plan
- Full Macronutrients for each day of the week including calories, protein, fats, and carbs
- Mediterranean Diet recipes
- Shopping List
The supported life-altering benefits of the Mediterranean diet are the main reason this eating pattern is rising in popularity. It is more than a diet in the traditional sense, but a way of life.
Prevents Heart attacks and strokes
The rich antioxidants, healthy fats, and whole grains in the Mediterranean diet make it effective in preventing heart attack and stroke. Fiber works in the body to flush out cholesterol in the blood which would otherwise cause blockages and increased risk of cardiovascular issues.
A significant study looking at the heart health benefits of the Mediterranean diet followed 7,447 participants for five years, all of which were at risk for heart disease. Participants followed one of three diets; Mediterranean diet with EVOO, Mediterranean Diet with nuts, and a low fat diet group.
The study found those who followed either form of the Mediterranean diet had significantly less risk of heart attack, stroke, and even heart disease related death than those who followed a traditional low fat diet. The Mediterranean with EVOO group had 31% less risk and the Mediterranean with nuts group had a 28% less risk of these potential outcomes.
Prevents Type 2 Diabetes
A 2009 study found that the Mediterranean diet can alter interventions necessary for type 2 diabetes. It concluded that after 4 years only 44% of those in the Mediterranean diet group required medication while 70% of those in the low fat group still required medication. This could indicate a potential type 2 diabetes prevention benefit.
Metabolic Syndrome refers to a cluster of conditions present that increase one’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. These conditions include high blood pressure, insulin resistance, obesity (especially fat around the waist), and high cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
A 2004 study followed 180 participants with metabolic syndrome over 2.5 years. The study found that after 2.5 years that 86% participants in the control group still had metabolic syndrome while just 44% of those in the Mediterranean diet group still had this diagnosis.
Additional studies may point to why this diet pattern is able to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. A 2008 study showed the Mediterranean diet was just as effective for weight loss as low carb diets and more effective than low fat diets.
The Mediterranean diet has proven over time and through research studies to be effective at preventing heart disease and conditions associated with metabolic syndrome. The diet is full of nutrient-dense produce, whole grains, and healthy fats and legumes that give it it’s heart-healthy benefits. Being primarily plant-based and full of flavor make the Mediterranean diet easy to start and sustain.
Trista K. Best, RD
Trista Best is a Registered Dietitian and has worked in Public Health for 10 years focusing on nutrition and health promotion. As a Dietitian she seeks to provide her clients with the skills necessary to take control over their health, one decision at a time.