The Mediterranean diet is a one that is inspired by the eating habits of people who live near the Mediterranean Sea. When initially formulated in the 1960s, it drew on the cuisines of Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Spain. In decades since, it has also incorporated other Mediterranean cuisines, such as those in the Levant and North Africa.
The principal aspects of this diet include proportionally high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables, moderate to high consumption of fish, moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), moderate wine consumption, and low consumption of non-fish meat products. Olive oil has been studied as a potential health factor for reducing all-cause mortality and the risk of chronic diseases.
Healthy fats instead of unhealthy ones
Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat. Fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore, and salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats help fight inflammation in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure.
The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a long list of health benefits.
It may help reduce the risk of heart disease
The Mediterranean diet has been studied extensively for its ability to promote heart health. Following a Mediterranean diet limits your intake of refined bread, processed foods, and red meat, and encourages drinking red wine instead of hard liquor, all factors that can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat with high amounts of monounsaturated fat and dietary fiber. One possible factor is the potential health effects of olive oil in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid, which is under clinical research for its potential health benefits.
Protecting against type 2 diabetes
Emerging evidence suggests that eating this way may offer protective effects for those with or at risk for type 2 diabetes. For one, Mediterranean eating improves blood sugar control in those already diagnosed with the condition, suggesting it can be a good way to manage the disease.
There may be health concerns with this eating style for some people, including:
- You may gain weight from eating fats in olive oil and nuts.
- You may have lower levels of iron. If you choose to follow the Mediterranean diet, be sure to eat some foods rich in iron or vitamin C, which helps your body absorb iron.
- You may have calcium loss from eating fewer dairy products. Ask your health care provider if you should take a calcium supplement.
- Wine is a common part of the Mediterranean eating style, but some people should not drink alcohol. Avoid wine if you are prone to alcohol abuse, pregnant, at risk for breast cancer, or have other conditions that alcohol could worsen.
There is also a risk of excess calorie intake because specific amounts of foods and portion sizes are not emphasized, which could lead to weight gain. It might be helpful to use the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, which provides guidance on specific types of foods to choose from, along with a balanced plate guide that gives a better indication of the proportions of food to eat per meal. However, it is important to note that the Mediterranean dietary pattern provides satiety and enables long-term adherence.