Mediterranean Diet

What Is The Mediterranean Diet? Should You Do It?

While most diets focus on macronutrients and calorie-counting, the Mediterranean diet takes a different approach.

The Mediterranean diet primarily focuses on consuming high-quality, healthy foods while restricting the intake of nutrient-sparse products.

The diet is held in high regard by many and has been associated with remarkable changes in health and function.


 

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the traditional eating habits of Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. Unlike most westernized diets, meals are built around plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, herbs, legumes, nuts, and whole-grains.

Seafood is an important component of the Mediterranean diet and non-seafood meats are seldom eaten. The diet also involves consuming dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, and wine in moderate amounts.

The American researchers who created the diet noted that those from Mediterranean countries tended to have superior health.

The diet has been associated with a number of health benefits including reduced risk of disease and weight loss.


 

How Does It Work?

The Mediterranean diet primarily uses plant-based sources with each meal. Therefore, the body will be well-nourished with a range of health-promoting vitamins and minerals.

Additionally, many seafood products contain an essential fatty acid known as Omega-3. This acid appears plays a key role in heart and brain health and can help to reduce inflammation.

Considering seafood is a key component of the Mediterranean diet, large doses of Omega-3 are consumed on a regular basis.

Finally, the diet restricts the consumption of foods that can be detrimental to health. This includes trans fats, added sugar products and processed foods.

A combination of these things has the potential to significantly improve a number of health markers.


 

What Food Can I Eat in The Mediterranean Diet?

The following lists are not intended to be comprehensive. Rather they provide examples of foods that are commonly consumed in the Mediterranean diet.

Vegetables

  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes

Fruits

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Avocado
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Melon
  • Pears
  • Pomegranates
  • Strawberries

Herbs

  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic
  • Nutmeg
  • Paprika
  • Pepper
  • Rosemary
  • Sage

Legumes

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Pulses

Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Macadamias
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds

Whole-Grains

  • Brown Rice
  • Oats
  • Whole Wheat
  • Whole-Grain Bread
  • Whole-Grain Pasta

Seafood

  • Clams
  • Crab
  • Mackerel
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Tuna

Poultry

  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Eggs
  • Turkey

Dairy

  • Cheese
  • Yogurt

 

What Food Should I Avoid In The Mediterranean Diet?

When adhering to the Mediterranean diet, the following products should be avoided as far as possible.

Added Sugar

  • Confectionary
  • Desserts
  • Soda

Processed Meat

  • Bacon
  • Canned Meat
  • Ham
  • Sausages

Refined Grains

  • White Bread
  • White Pasta
  • White Rice

Refined Oils

  • Canola oil
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Soy oil

Trans Fats

  • Baked Goods
  • Margarine
  • Snack Foods

 

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Fish in Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a range of health benefits.

1. Reduces The Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

What the Science Says

There have been a number of studies conducted on the impact of the Mediterranean diet on heart health. The vast majority of studies have found a positive link.

One five-year-long study evaluated the effect of the Mediterranean diet on the health of approximately 7,500 individuals.

The results indicated that consuming a Mediterranean diet significantly decreased the risk of experiencing a serious cardiac event.

Those who exercised calorie-control and ate foods such as extra-virgin olive oil and nuts reduced their risk by 30% (1).

2. Positive Impact on Type 2 Diabetes

What the Science Says

The Mediterranean diet has also been linked with the greater prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetics have issues with a hormone known as insulin. This hormone plays a key role in regulating blood glucose (sugar) levels.

Consequently, diabetics must manually manage their blood glucose levels and keep it within certain parameters.

Specific nutritional approaches have been found to improve blood glucose management and reduce the risk of diabetes development.

One study reviewed a number of these nutritional approaches. The results advocated the use of a Mediterranean diet as it was found to effectively improve blood sugar control (2).

3. Facilitates Weight Loss and Maintenance

What the Science Says

As a result of the emphasis on nutritious whole foods, the Mediterranean diet can allow for sustainable weight loss.

Providing the Mediterranean diet is calorie-controlled, it may bring about more dramatic results than a number of other diets.

One particular study compared the effectiveness of the low-carb, low-fat, and Mediterranean diet on weight loss.

The results indicated that, although all three diets had an impact, the Mediterranean and low-carb diets were most effective.

This was primarily attributed to the impact that the diets had on lipids and blood glucose levels (3).

4. Improves Bone Health

What the Science Says

As we age, bones and joints begin to deteriorate. Additionally, there are a number of conditions that can impact the joints and bones including osteoporosis and arthritis.

Recent studies have established a link between the Mediterranean diet and enhanced bone health.

One particular year-long study investigated the impact of the diet on bone loss in older Europeans. For those with osteoporosis, the diet appeared to reduce the rate of bone loss (4).

A systematic review of the matter highlighted a link between the diet and improving osteoarthritis (5). However, more research is required to confirm these findings.

5. Protects Against Cancers

What the Science Says

There is growing evidence that the Mediterranean diet can protect from specific types of cancer.

A meta-analysis conducted into the topic suggested that it may specifically reduce the risk of breast and colorectal cancers. The study also linked it with preventing cancer-related deaths. (6)

This reduced risk is primarily attributed to the large intake of fruit, veg, and whole-grains associated with the Mediterranean diet.

6. Reduces Inflammation

What the Science Says

There are a number of foods that appear to cause inflammation when eaten. Chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, all have links with inflammation.

However, there are also foods that have anti-inflammatory properties. Many of these foods, such as tomatoes, oily fish, and green vegetables, are mainstays of the Mediterranean diet.

Studies have indicated that the diet can, therefore, reduce inflammation and consequently reduce the risk of chronic disease (7).

7. Enhances Brain Health and Function

What the Science Says

The Mediterranean diet has been linked with having an impact on brain health, function, and disease.

Studies have indicated that it may be an effective diet for those with Alzheimer’s and for reducing Alzheimer’s risk. (8)

Another study has established a positive relationship between diet and depression.

Results showed that older individuals were less likely to develop severe depressive symptoms by adhering to the diet. (9)

8. Increased Longevity

What the Science Says

One of the main driving forces behind the Mediterranean diet was that Europeans were living longer than their Western counterparts.

The researchers believed that their diet was the factor behind this. There are now a number of studies that support this hypothesis. (10)

Taking into consideration the extensive list of benefits associated with this diet, this should not come as a surprise.

Reducing disease risk, improving bone health, reducing inflammation, and improving brain function will evidently increase the chances of living longer.

9. Promotes Gut Health

What the Science Says

There are millions of microbes and bacterias that live within the digestive system and contribute towards gut health.

These organisms play a key role in breaking down food, boosting digestive health, and disease protection.

Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet can enhance the function of the microbes and bacteria thus boosting gut health (11).

Additionally, the nutritional approach has been linked with reducing the risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (12).


 

Will A Mediterranean Diet Help Me Lose Weight?

There are a number of studies that have established a link between the Mediterranean diet and weight loss (13).

Ultimately, however, the main driving force behind weight loss is calorie control. By restricting calories over a prolonged period of time, weight loss will occur.

Therefore, a calorie-controlled Mediterranean diet can certainly bring about weight loss. It may also promote weight maintenance and prevent weight gain.

With that being said, a number of foods that are commonly used in the diet are high in calories. Specific oils, nuts, seeds, and dairy products have health benefits yet are calorific.

If these foods are consumed in great quantities, it is possible that weight loss will be impeded. If calories are not controlled, it is possible that weight gain may occur.


 

Are There Any Health Risks?

Adhering to a Mediterranean diet is unlikely to pose any serious risk. With that being said, there are a few side effects that have been associated with this type of diet, including:

  • Fat gain due to high-calorie foods
  • Low levels of iron
  • Low levels of calcium
  • Implications of alcohol consumption

 

How To Start A Mediterranean Diet

The first requirement is to go to the store with a list of foods that are needed for the diet. Fight the urge to purchase processed and refined foods as these can interfere with progress.

Once we have purchased the foods, we can then begin to plan how to implement the diet. For those who are unsure about meal plans, visit the following “Typical Meal Plans” section.

The first few weeks may be a little challenging for some as it may involve radically changing eating habits. However, given time, it should begin to feel more normal and sustainable.

It’s important to remember that changes will not occur overnight. It is only through adhering to the diet over an extended time period that substantial change will be experienced.


 

Typical Meal Plans

In this section, we will cover what a typical week of nutrition may look like when following the Mediterranean diet:


 

FAQs

Is the Mediterranean diet good for type 2 diabetes?

It appears that the Mediterranean diet can be beneficial for those with diabetes. The diet may improve blood sugar control and allow the condition to be managed more easily.

Additionally, some people may be able to reverse it through weight loss and a healthy diet. However, this should always be done under the supervision of a medical professional.

What makes the Mediterranean diet heart-healthy?

The Mediterranean diet consists of consuming a large amount of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole-grains, and fish.

Therefore, the body receives an abundance of key nutrients that keep the heart healthy and reduce the risk of disease.

Additionally, under this nutritional approach, processed and refined foods are restricted which also positively impacts heart health.

Does the Mediterranean diet cause weight loss?

Calorie-control is of utmost importance for weight loss. Therefore, providing calories are controlled, the Mediterranean diet can certainly be an effective weight loss diet.

Studies have indicated that the Mediterranean diet is a healthy, well-balanced approach that can facilitate long-term weight loss.


 

Summary

It is clear that the Mediterranean diet can have a substantial impact on health and function.

Studies show that the diet can reduce disease risk by promoting bone, gut, heart, and brain health. Furthermore, it may facilitate weight loss and increase longevity.

Many of these benefits can be attributed to large consumptions of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids.

While it may not be suitable for all, the Mediterranean diet is highly recommended for those seeking to improve their overall health.

However, it is crucial that we speak to a physician or nutritionist prior to making any drastic dietary changes.

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