Mediterranean diet” is a nonspecific broad term based on the conventional eating habits in the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Since there are at least 16 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, there are variations in the dietary plan.

Eating styles in these countries differ because of differences in culture, religion, and agricultural produce. However, there are some dietary common factors. The modern-day Mediterranean Diet is a combination of Greek, Italian, and Spanish cuisines.

It combines the essentials of healthy eating with the traditional flavors and cooking techniques of the Mediterranean people.

This diet is not just about food recommendations; it is a way of life based on the food and lifestyles that are common to the people of Greece, Cyprus, Southern France, Spain, and coastal Italy.

The Mediterranean diet today comprises mainly health-promoting foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats found in olive oil, fish, and Omega-3 fatty acid foods such as seafood, nuts, beans, and dairy products.

It also focuses on the importance of enjoyable fun activities along with time shared with family and friends.

It is a highly recommended way to eat and live because, in addition to being healthy, it is extremely effective to help you lose weight and preventing or reversing many health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases, pre-diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

The diet gained prominence from the “Seven Countries Study”, which was initiated in the 1950s by Ancel Keys, a physiologist from the University of Minnesota.

He discovered that the island of Crete had the healthiest population with a very low incidence of heart disease. The Cretans consumed between 9-12 servings of seasonal fruits and vegetables a day and used only olive oil.

Its positive health implications can be judged by the fact that

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends the Mediterranean diet as a healthy diet along with the DASH diet and vegetarian diet.

According to the evidence published in 2017 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of heart disease and early death. It is associated with a reduction in all-cause mortality.

What is the Mediterranean diet? Food list

In general, the Mediterranean diet consists of:

Plenty of

  • Vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils and nuts
  • Whole grains, like whole-wheat bread and brown rice
  • The Mediterranean diet specifically recommends extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) because EVOO contains more healthy fat (unsaturated) than unhealthy fat (saturated) and is also high in antioxidants.

Moderate amount of

  • Fish, especially fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Low-fat dairy products, such as milk, cheese, or yogurt
  • One egg per day with yolk
  • Wine with meals; 5 ounces or less each day (that’s around one glass). However, if you don’t drink, don’t start.
  • Supplement your food with herbs and spices.

Little or no

  • Meat (No more than one serving per week)
  • Sweets, sugary drinks, or butter

Take the help of a dietitian to formulate your diet based on your medical history, existing health conditions, allergies, and preferences.

Basics of the Mediterranean dietary and lifestyle habits

To get the most benefits from your Mediterranean eating plan, adopt the following:

  • Exercise regularly in company. The people of the Mediterranean walk a lot.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Have your meals with family and friends as far as possible to make it enjoyable.
  • Be socially active.
  • Eat home foods more than eating out.
  • Eat your seasonal vegetables and fruits fresh
  • Eat in moderation. Don’t overeat.
  • As far as possible, eat locally sourced food
  • Follow a sleep pattern that gives you sufficient rest, a short mid-day siesta included.

About healthy fats in the Mediterranean diet

Unsaturated fats form the core strength of the Mediterranean diet. This diet has no place for saturated and trans fats, which are unhealthy fats and increase your risk of heart disease.

Olive oil, nuts, and seeds are the main sources of healthy unsaturated fat in the Mediterranean diet.

The unsaturated fats lower levels of total cholesterol as well as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) also called “bad” cholesterol.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize the need to consume polyunsaturated fats to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Seafood, seeds, nuts, legumes, and EVOO that form the main constituents of the Mediterranean diet have healthy fats, including the polyunsaturated type.

Fish form a key component of the Mediterranean diet. Some healthy fish choices will be:

  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Anchovies

These are known as fatty fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids. These are unsaturated fats that reduce inflammation in the body. They are also known to lower raised triglycerides and the risk of stroke and heart failure.

Calories in the Mediterranean diet

You don’t count calories in this diet. Instead, you need to swap out the unhealthy fats for healthy fats, which the Mediterranean diet does.

As the promoters of their diet advise, you have to eat in moderation. That should keep your calorie count low automatically.

Among the people who followed the Mediterranean diet, it was found that women consumed not more than 1,500 calories per day and the men’s calorie count was not more than 1,800 calories per day. Following the Mediterranean diet restricted your calorie intake to 35 percent of calories from fat.

Potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet

As explained above, the Mediterranean diet lays emphasis on consuming more fruits, vegetables, and olive oil, with a limitation on eating meat.

Several studies have shown that daily consumption of Mediterranean diet foods has a positive effect on cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoarthritis, cancer, and obstructive sleep apnea. It is also associated with a significant reduction in premature mortality.

Some other health benefits include:

Better sleep

Studies indicate that people who adopt the Mediterranean diet are associated with a sufficient duration of sleep and better sleep quality.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in abundance in the Mediterranean diet have been demonstrated to improve sleep. They help in regulating the body’s melatonin production, a hormone that is essential for promoting sleep.

Reduces inflammation

The Mediterranean diet exhibits antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that offer protection against diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and COVID-19.

Experts suggest that a diet high in plant-based foods, whole grains, and healthy fats helps reduce inflammation in the body. The research found that people who followed this diet had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.

Increases lifespan

According to a 36-year study, the Mediterranean diet is consistently associated with a reduced risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory disease.

The contents of the Mediterranean diet such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts are all rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. All these nutrients are known to reduce inflammation, improve immune function, and lower the risk of chronic diseases.

Secondly, healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil and nuts, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, which are known to improve heart health, lower cholesterol, and reduce inflammation.

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet calls for no or very little consumption of saturated fats, which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

Improves lipid profile

By limiting saturated and trans fats and encouraging the intake of healthy fats, the diet reduces raised LDL cholesterol levels. High LDL levels can cause atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. The healthy unsaturated fats in the diet fight inflammation and promote brain health.

Improves mental health

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, and low in saturated fats (red meat).

According to the UK Biobank prospective cohort study, people who consistently followed this diet had a lower risk of developing dementia and depression. It also protects the brain from cognitive decline.

It does this by reducing inflammation, fighting oxidative stress, and improving insulin resistance. It also improves cardiovascular and metabolic health.

What foods are avoided in the Mediterranean diet?

While the Mediterranean diet is not a restrictive diet, foods that are generally not allowed on the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Processed red meats
      • Hot dogs
      • Bacon
      • Sausage
  • Heavily processed foods
      • Aerated drinks
      • Sugary desserts and beverages
      • Processed cheeses
  • Refined grains
      • White bread
      • White pasta
      • White flour foods
  • Refined, processed, or hydrogenated oils
      • Soybean oil
      • Safflower oil
      • Corn oil
      • Vegetable oil
      • Canola oil
  • Whole fat dairy
  • Avoid fish that contain mercury. Too much mercury can harm the brain and nervous system over time. Fish that contain high levels of mercury include shark, swordfish, barramundi, gemfish, orange roughy, and southern bluefin tuna.
  • Alcohol (other than one glass of red wine a day)
  • Butter