The Mediterranean diet is the way of eating healthy traditional foods followed by the people in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Spain, and Italy in 1960. This diet was recognized by a physiologist, Ancel Keys, in 1950. The Mediterranean diet varies by religion, country, culture, ethnic background, economy, agricultural production, and geography. Typically, it is high in fruits, legumes, veggies, bean, nuts, grains, cereals, fish, and unsaturated fats like olive oil (1). It includes less meat and dairy than a typical Western diet. This diet is strongly plant-based but not exclusively vegetarian. The average Mediterranean diet comprises a high percentage of calories from fat. This diet can cause weight loss and help reduce the change of developing conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, premature death, high blood pressure, obesity, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers (2).
Foods to Eat and Avoid on the Mediterranean Diet
What to Avoid
- Refined grains such as white bread, white pasta, and pizza made with refined wheat.
- Foods with added sugar like ice creams, sodas, candies, table sugar, and many others.
- Refined oils include soybean oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil.
- Packaged or processed foods.
- Hot dogs, deli meats, and processed sausages.
What to Eat
- Vegetables like kale, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, spinach, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, etc.
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, pulses, chickpeas, etc.
- Fruits include oranges, pears, bananas, apples, grapes, strawberries, figs, dates, peaches, and melons.
- Tubers such as sweet potatoes, turnips, potatoes, yams.
- Nuts and seeds include macadamia nuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
- Poultry like a duck, turkey, and chicken.
- Eggs and dairy include quail, chicken, duck eggs, yogurt, cheese, and Greek yogurt.
- Whole grains.
- Fish and seafood like salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, shrimp, clams, crab, mackerel, etc.
- Herbs and spices.
- Healthy fats like olives, extra virgin oil, avocado oil, and avocados.
However, water and sparkling water are common drink choices, and also moderate amounts of red wine. Fruits are a common dessert instead of sweets (3). Single-ingredient and whole foods are the keys to better health.
A Sample Meal Plan of the Mediterranean Diet
Breakfast: Greek yogurt topped with strawberries and oats.
Lunch: Whole grain sandwich with veggies like tomato, broccoli, onions.
Snack: Handful of almonds or Small bowl of olives.
Dinner: Warm grain salad made with tomato, zucchini, sautéed, and faro over a small chicken breast.
Breakfast: A soft-boiled egg with whole-grain toast and a piece of fruit.
Lunch: Leftover tuna salad from the night before.
Snack: Hummus with dipping veggies or a handful of pistachios.
Dinner: Salad with olives, tomatoes, and feta cheese.
Breakfast: Omelet made with tomatoes, vegetables, and onions.
Lunch: Tabouli salad with whole-grain pita.
Snack: Apple slice with almond butter.
Dinner: Roasted chicken, gnocchi, and a salad with vinaigrette.
Breakfast: Yogurt with sliced nuts and fruits.
Lunch: Vegetable with a whole-grain roll.
Snack: Cashews and dried fruits.
Dinner: Fish cooked in olive oil and spiralized zucchini, garlic, and sweet potato.
Breakfast: Vegetables and eggs, fried in olive oil.
Lunch: A salad topped with veggies, white beans, and a small piece of chicken.
Snack: A peach and yogurt.
Dinner: Grilled lamb, with salad and baked potato.
Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins, nuts, and an apple.
Lunch: A quinoa bowl topped with veggies, sliced chicken, and feta.
Snack: Greek yogurt.
Dinner: Mediterranean pizza made with whole wheat, topped with vegetables, cheese, and olives.
Breakfast: Omelet with olives and veggies.
Lunch: A plate of smoked capers, salmon, whole grain crackers, lemon, and raw vegetables.
Snack: Handful of berries.
Dinner: Pasta with red sauce and mussels.
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
1. Improves Heart Health
The Mediterranean-style diet reduces the risk of heart diseases, including heart attack, stroke, and premature death, because it is abundant in omega-3 foods, as well as antioxidants from all those fruits and vegetables (4). Besides, high levels of fiber and antioxidants from vegetables, fruits, and red wine have cardioprotective effects. This diet reduces the intake of processed foods, red meat, and hard liquor that helps to prevent heart diseases and stroke (5).
2. Weight Loss
The Mediterranean diet may help people lose weight as it is abundant in healthy fats and relatively low in carbs, which helps manage fullness. However, consume more satiating foods higher in fiber, which helps with healthy weight loss and metabolism.
3. Decreases Cancer Risk
The Mediterranean diet helps to reduce the risk of a certain type of cancer and prevent cancer-related death (6). Because it comprises a high amount of antioxidants from various plant foods, it helps to slow down the oxidative damage and reduces inflammation throughout the body. In particular, this diet is especially effective in preventing the development of postmenopausal breast cancer.
The Mediterranean diet is a healthy way to eat, as it is associated with numerous health benefits. People who follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to develop diabetes, heart health, and some cancer risks.
It is an amazing eating plan and easy for everyone to follow. It also involves making long-term, sustainable dietary changes when followed right.