The Mediterranean diet describes the traditional diets of countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Following the Mediterranean diet is linked to lower rates of chronic disease, particularly heart disease. While this diet varies from country to country, it’s generally high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish, and olive oil.

 

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet describes the traditional diet of countries that border the Mediterranean Sea — including France, Italy, Spain, and Greece. While this type of diet varies by country, it’s typically high in:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • legumes — like lentils and chickpeas
  • nuts
  • beans
  • cereals
  • grains
  • fish

It’s also high in unsaturated fats, like olive oil. And usually includes low amounts of meat, dairy, and alcohol.

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Research into the benefits of the Mediterranean diet began in the 1960s. As it was noted that people living along the Mediterranean Sea had much lower rates of heart disease.

Following a traditional Mediterranean diet might reduce your risk of:

The Mediterranean diet might also help to prevent weight gain and increase your life expectancy.

One reason the Mediterranean diet can be really effective is that, unlike many other diets, it doesn’t restrict a lot of foods or food groups. So it’s a lot easier for you to follow and stick to long-term.

How to follow the Mediterranean diet

A traditional Mediterranean diet varies between countries, but it typically includes eating:

  • lots of fruit and vegetables — aim for 7-10 servings a day
  • wholegrains — opt for wholegrain bread, rice, pasta and so on over refined carbohydrates
  • healthy fats — olive oil, fish, nuts, and seeds are good sources
  • fish — aim for two portions of fish a week
  • some dairy — like Greek yoghurt and cheese
  • herbs and spices — reduces the need for salt

Try to avoid eating too much red meat. And while no food is off-limits, a Mediterranean diet is low in sugar, trans fats, refined oils, processed meat, and high-fat, sugary foods.

A traditional Mediterranean lifestyle also involves regular exercise and sharing meals with other people.

 

References

Estruch, R., Ros, E., Salas-Salvadó, J., Covas, M. I., Corella, D., Arós, F., … & Lamuela-Raventos, R. M. (2013). Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 368(14), 1279-1290.

Knoops, K. T., de Groot, L. C., Kromhout, D., Perrin, A. E., Moreiras-Varela, O., Menotti, A., & Van Staveren, W. A. (2004). Mediterranean diet, lifestyle factors, and 10-year mortality in elderly European men and women: the HALE project. Jama, 292(12), 1433-1439.

Scarmeas, N., Stern, Y., Tang, M. X., Mayeux, R., & Luchsinger, J. A. (2006). Mediterranean diet and risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Annals of Neurology: Official Journal of the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society, 59(6), 912-921.

Shai, I., Schwarzfuchs, D., Henkin, Y., Shahar, D. R., Witkow, S., Greenberg, I., … & Tangi-Rozental, O. (2008). Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 359(3), 229-241.

Sofi, F., Cesari, F., Abbate, R., Gensini, G. F., & Casini, A. (2008). Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. Bmj, 337, a1344.

Trichopoulou, A., Costacou, T., Bamia, C., & Trichopoulos, D. (2003). Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and survival in a Greek population. New England Journal of Medicine, 348(26), 2599-2608.

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