The Mediterranean diet is patterned after the eating habits of people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, like Italy, Greece, and Spain. The focus is on primarily eating plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, as well as seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids a few times a week.
Some benefits of a Mediterranean diet include lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Additionally, people who follow a Mediterranean diet often have a longer lifespan and better mental health.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is better defined as a way of eating rather than a diet and primarily consists of plant-based foods, fresh fruit, vegetables, and lots of olive oil rich in healthy fats.
Though it’s based on the Mediterranean eating style, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was formally established in 1993 in a partnership between Oldways, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the World Health Organization as a healthier response to the food pyramid developed by the USDA.
How does the Mediterranean Diet Work?
The Mediterranean diet has no strict rules but rather general guidelines that encourage the consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole-grain bread and cereals, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, and beans), nuts, seeds, and olive oil with moderate amounts of seafood, chicken, eggs, dairy, and red meat once a week or less.
What makes this diet stand out from the rest is the emphasis on consuming healthy fats from olive oils, oily fish, and nuts — foods typically avoided in fad diets. Fish is the primary protein source, and one glass of red wine a day is even allowed.
The Diet Plan
Inconsistencies surround the true definition, diet plan, number of servings, and serving size of the proper Mediterranean diet. A traffic light system is commonly used to outline the diet guidelines, and green foods should be eaten daily, orange moderately, and red foods occasionally.
Green: Frequent Consumption
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains, cereals, and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil, avocado oil, avocado
Orange: Moderate Consumption
- Dairy products
- Red wine
Red: Limit Consumption
- Red meat
At the end of the day, adopting the core aspects of the Mediterranean-style diet will positively impact your health.
There is no cost when it comes to starting the diet.
As it is widely publicized, many example meal ideas and plans are readily available on the internet. The diet is very straightforward to follow, but books are available to purchase if you’re after further information.
Dos and Don’ts
Following the diet guidelines is a critical step toward adopting the diet pattern.
Other aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle are encouraged to match their traditional ways and take a holistic approach to health. These social and cultural factors influence the good health of the Mediterranean region.
The diet does not have set restrictions, but it does discourage sugary foods, refined grains (white bread, chips), processed meats (ham, salami), trans fats (margarine), and refined oils (canola, vegetable) where possible.
Sample Diet Plan
When planning lunches and dinners, cover the three key components of vegetables, grains, and healthy fats, and you have got yourself a nutritious and delicious meal.
The simple to follow guidelines and lack of portion sizes or quantities make meals versatile and achievable below are a few options for getting started.
- Whole grain toast with tomato and avocado
- Muesli with yogurt and fresh fruit
- Tuna and feta couscous salad
- Whole-grain chicken and vegetable sandwich
- Grilled fish with roasted vegetables
- Chicken on brown rice with mixed salad
- Green smoothie with spinach, kiwifruit, banana, avocado oats, and peanut butter
- Vegetable sticks and hummus
- Fruit salad
- Nuts and seeds
- Yogurt and fruit
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
It is no secret that the Mediterranean diet offers numerous health benefits and is protective against major and chronic diseases, with the seven countries’ studies pioneering these findings. Those who live in the Mediterranean countries have a longer life expectancy and lower risk of suffering from many chronic diseases than those who do not live in the Mediterranean region.
Robust research concludes that a Mediterranean diet is crucial for a healthy heart.
Participants who follow the Mediterranean diet have better heart health than those who do not. This is due to eating from food groups that avoid processed foods and “bad” saturated fats, consequently lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which dictate a healthy heart.
Further research shows a clear link between the Mediterranean diet and the prevention of heart disease due to the overall healthy dietary pattern the diet provides. It is now common for medical professionals to advise those with increased risk of heart disease to adopt this dietary pattern.
A diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients protects against cancer. Research shows the potential role in lowering the risk of colorectal, breast, gastric, prostate, liver, head, and neck cancer in those who constantly adapt the diet pattern through high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet is now a tool used to prevent type two diabetes due to managing blood sugar levels.
It seems surprising that a diet so calorie-dense and with no recommended serving sizes can aid weight loss. A review of 16 studies found that participants who adopted the dietary pattern compared to the control group saw significantly more significant weight loss.
As with any diet, there are always drawbacks due to reducing food groups, nutrients, or portion size.
The nutritional adequacy of the Mediterranean diet has also been questioned, especially iron levels which is an essential nutrient. Iron can be sourced in many foods, but it is found in red meat in its best form. This leads to the myth that following the diet may lead to lower iron levels.
However, research proves the inclusion of typical Mediterranean foods results in a better nutrient profile for children and adults to the point where the diet should even be used in public health policies to prevent deficiencies!
The diet does not provide strict food lists, calorie intake, or portion sizes. The lack of restrictions on portion size and high consumption of calorie-rich high-fat foods, specifically olive oil, nuts, and oily fish, may lead to excess calorie intake and potentially cause weight gain. But there is no scientific evidence to back this assumption.
The Bottom Line: Is the Mediterranean Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The Mediterranean-style diet is backed by science to be a nutritious and sustainable way to lose weight while creating healthy habits that last a lifetime.
The diet pattern accommodates a variety of taste buds. If you are looking to lose weight and improve your overall health, follow in the footsteps of an exceptionally healthy and happy region and reap the benefits.