The Mediterranean Diet - HelpGuide.org (2023)

healthy eating

A Mediterranean diet can help fight against heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and cognitive decline. Here's how to make the switch.

The Mediterranean Diet - HelpGuide.org (1)

What is a “Mediterranean diet?”

When you think about Mediterranean food, your mind may go to pizza and pasta from Italy, or lamb chops from Greece, but these dishes don’t fit into the healthy dietary plans advertised as “Mediterranean.” A true Mediterranean diet is based on the region’s traditional fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seafood, olive oil, and dairy—with perhaps a glass or two of red wine. That’s how the inhabitants of Crete, Greece, and southern Italy ate circa 1960, when their rates of chronic disease were among the lowest in the world and their life expectancy among the highest, despite having only limited medical services.

And the real Mediterranean diet is about more than just eating fresh, wholesome food. Daily physical activity and sharing meals with others are vital elements. Together, they can have a profound effect on your mood and mental health and help you foster a deep appreciation for the pleasures of eating healthy and delicious foods.

Of course, making changes to your diet is rarely easy, especially if you’re trying to move away from the convenience of processed and takeout foods. But the Mediterranean diet can be an inexpensive as well as a satisfying and very healthy way to eat. Making the switch from pepperoni and pasta to fish and avocados may take some effort, but you could soon be on a path to a healthier and longer life.

Health benefits of a Mediterranean diet

A traditional Mediterranean diet consisting of large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil—coupled with physical activity—can reduce your risk of serious mental and physical health problems by:

Preventing heart disease and strokes. Following a Mediterranean diet limits your intake of refined breads, processed foods, and red meat, and encourages drinking red wine instead of hard liquor—all factors that can help prevent heart disease and stroke.

Keeping you agile. If you're an older adult, the nutrients gained with a Mediterranean diet may reduce your risk of developing muscle weakness and other signs of frailty by about 70 percent.

Reducing the risk of Alzheimer's. Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and overall blood vessel health, which in turn may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

Halving the risk of Parkinson's disease. The high levels of antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet can prevent cells from undergoing a damaging process called oxidative stress, thereby cutting the risk of Parkinson's disease in half.

Increasing longevity. By reducing your risk of developing heart disease or cancer with the Mediterranean diet, you're reducing your risk of death at any age by 20%.

Protecting against type 2 diabetes. A Mediterranean diet is rich in fiber which digests slowly, prevents huge swings in blood sugar, and can help you maintain a healthy weight.

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Myths and facts about the Mediterranean diet

Following a Mediterranean diet has many benefits, but there are still a lot of misconceptions on exactly how to take advantage of the lifestyle to lead a healthier, longer life. The following are some myths and facts about the Mediterranean diet.

Myths and facts of a Mediterranean diet
Myth 1: It costs a lot to eat this way.

Fact: If you're creating meals out of beans or lentils as your main source of protein, and sticking with mostly plants and whole grains, then the Mediterranean diet is less expensive than serving dishes of packaged or processed foods.

Myth 2: If one glass of wine is good for your heart, then three glasses is three times as healthy.

Fact: Moderate amounts of red wine (one drink a day for women; two for men) certainly has unique health benefits for your heart, but drinking too much has the opposite effect. Anything more than two glasses of wine can actually be bad for your heart.

Myth 3: Eating large bowls of pasta and bread is the Mediterranean way.

Fact: Typically, Mediterraneans don't eat a huge plate of pasta the way Americans do. Instead, pasta is usually a side dish with about a 1/2-cup to 1-cup serving size. The rest of their plate consists of salads, vegetables, fish or a small portion of organic, grass-fed meat, and perhaps one slice of bread.

Myth 4: The Mediterranean diet is only about the food.

Fact: The food is a huge part of the diet, yes, but don't overlook the other ways the Mediterraneans live their lives. When they sit down for a meal, they don't sit in front of a television or eat in a rush; they sit down for a relaxed, leisurely meal with others, which may be just as important for your health as what's on your plate. Mediterraneans also enjoy plenty of physical activity.

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How to make the change

If you're feeling daunted by the thought of changing your eating habits to a Mediterranean diet, here are some suggestions to get you started:

Eat lots of vegetables. Try a simple plate of sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese, or load your thin crust pizza with peppers and mushrooms instead of sausage and pepperoni. Salads, soups, and crudité platters are also great ways to load up on vegetables.

Always eat breakfast. Fruit, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods are a great way to start your day, keeping you pleasantly full for hours.

(Video) Ep 5. Exercise, fish oil and the Mediterranean Diet

Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, salmon, herring, sablefish (black cod), and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish like mussels, oysters, and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.

Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week. If it's helpful, you can jump on the “Meatless Mondays” trend of foregoing meat on the first day of the week. Or simply pick a day where you build meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Once you get the hang of it, try two nights a week.

Enjoy dairy products in moderation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 10% of your daily calories (about 200 calories for most people). That still allows you to enjoy dairy products such as natural (unprocessed) cheese and Greek or plain yogurt.

For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Instead of ice cream, cake or other baked goods, opt for strawberries, fresh figs, grapes, or apples.

Use good fats. Extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados are great sources of healthy fats for your daily meals.

What to do about mercury in fish

Despite all the health benefits of seafood, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of pollutants, including the toxic metal mercury. These guidelines can help you make the safest choices.

  • The concentration of mercury and other pollutants increases in larger fish, so it's best to avoid eating large fish like shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel.
  • Most adults can safely eat about 12 ounces (two 6-ounce servings) of other types of cooked seafood a week.
  • Pay attention to local seafood advisories to learn if fish you've caught is safe to eat.
  • For women who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and children aged 12 and younger, choose fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, or catfish. Because of its higher mercury content, eat no more than 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

Make mealtimes a social experience

The simple act of talking to a friend or loved over the dinner table can play a big role in relieving stress and boosting mood. Eating with others can also prevent overeating, making it as healthy for your waistline as it is for your outlook. Switch off the TV and computer, put away your smartphone, and connect to someone over a meal.

Gather the family together and stay up to date with each other's daily lives. Regular family meals provide comfort to kids and are a great way to monitor their eating habits as well.

Share meals with others to expand your social network. If you live alone, cook a little extra and invite a friend, coworker, or neighbor to join you.

Cook with others. Invite a friend to share shopping and cooking responsibilities for a Mediterranean meal. Cooking with others can be a fun way to deepen relationships and splitting the costs can make it cheaper for both of you.

Quick start to a Mediterranean diet

The easiest way to make the change to a Mediterranean diet is to start with small steps. You can do this by:

  • Sautéing food in olive oil instead of butter.
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables by enjoying salad as a starter or side dish, snacking on fruit, and adding veggies to other dishes.
  • Choosing whole grains instead of refined breads, rice, and pasta.
  • Substituting fish for red meat at least twice per week.
  • Limit high-fat dairy by switching to skim or 1% milk from 2% or whole milk
Instead of this:Try this Mediterranean option:
Chips, pretzels, crackers and ranch dipCarrots, celery, broccoli and salsa
White rice with stir-fried meatQuinoa with stir-fried vegetables
Sandwiches with white bread or rollsSandwich fillings in whole-wheat tortillas
Ice creamPudding made with skim or 1% milk

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A.

(Video) PART 1: EASIEST WAY to Follow the World's Best MEDITERRANEAN Diet

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    Last updated: October 21, 2022

    (Video) The Mediterranean Diet and Heart Health

    FAQs

    How many eggs a day on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Based on their high cholesterol content, the Mediterranean Diet Foundation recommends to consume up to 4 eggs per week, as a healthy alternative to fish or meat [7], and the same amount (2–4 eggs per week) was indicated in the latest Italian dietary guidelines [8].

    Can you have a cheat day on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Yes, you can cheat on the Mediterranean Diet. Why? Because this is a diet of moderation, it is a lifestyle. Even if you just start working the principles of the diet into your life a few meals each week, you are improving your eating habits, and in fact, you are doing the Mediterranean Diet.

    What foods can you eat on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, healthy fats and oils. Avoid: Processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, grains, most dairy products, legumes, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, margarine and trans fats.

    Is peanut butter OK on Mediterranean diet? ›

    And as plant-based protein sources that are high in good and unsaturated fats, peanuts and peanut butter are a natural fit within Mediterranean and Flexitarian ways of eating.

    What kind of cheese is allowed on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    Cheese & Yogurt

    Dairy products common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: brie, chevre, corvo, feta, haloumi, manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino, ricotta, yogurt (including Greek yogurt).

    Can you eat potatoes on Mediterranean diet? ›

    What kinds of foods are included in the Mediterranean diet? You will eat mostly plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, potatoes, whole-grains, beans, nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil.

    Which bread is best for Mediterranean diet? ›

    You can still enjoy bread as part of the Mediterranean Diet, just swap your white bread for whole grains. Whole grain breads and pastas contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat pitas are a healthier option as they are usually lower in calories.

    What is a typical breakfast in the Mediterranean? ›

    Spain and Italy: toasted bread + soft cheese + fresh fruit or freshly squeezed fruit juice. Greece: paximadia (bread made from whole wheat, chickpea, and barley flour) + olives + cheese. Syria: tahini yogurt with chickpeas + pickles + sliced radishes. Morocco: fried egg in olive oil + soft cheese + olives + flatbread.

    Is oatmeal OK on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Oats are a whole grain, which is encouraged on the Mediterranean diet. Low or moderate amounts of cheese, such as brie, feta, ricotta, and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), are also allowed. All types of fresh fruits, including bananas, are a go on the diet.

    Can you drink almond milk on a Mediterranean diet? ›

    Milk is not traditionally part of a Mediterranean diet. If you're new to this way of eating and are struggling to cut down your dairy, you can substitute it with unsweetened almond or soy milk, since nuts and legumes are staples of the diet.

    Is Rice OK on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Is rice on the Mediterranean diet? Yes, rice is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. It's often eaten as a pilaf with herbs and spices rather than plain. For example, you can try Mediterranean Yellow Rice or Chickpea Rice Pilaf.

    Can you eat chocolate on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    The Mediterranean diet is all about moderation, which means indulging in dark chocolate sometimes is A-OK! In addition to being Mediterranean-approved, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and has been linked to better heart health.

    Does canned tuna count in Mediterranean diet? ›

    Canned tuna is a great Mediterranean Diet food. It is rich in protein, low in fat and calories, and is an excellent source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which science has shown to improve heart health and brain function.

    Is Pizza OK on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    Can you eat pizza on a Mediterranean diet? Yes you can! As long as you make a whole wheat pizza dough and use many vegetables and some feta cheese. This whole wheat Mediterranean pizza and this Greek pizza are two of my favorite recipes.

    Can I have cream cheese on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    Cheeses, eggs, milk and other low-fat dairy products are included in the Mediterranean diet. Choose fat-free or 1% milk options, and try not to eat more than three servings a week.

    Is mayonnaise OK on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Just make sure you're eating healthy monounsaturated fats like avocado and not inflammatory vegetable fats found in mayonnaise. You won't find that creamy spread on the list of 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.

    Can you have canned tomatoes on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    Canned Tomatoes

    Tomatoes are a cornerstone of Mediterranean cuisine for their rich umami flavor and a healthy dose of the antioxidant lycopene. Canned tomatoes make it easy to incorporate tomatoes into sauces, sautés, and stews.

    Can you eat pork chops on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Two to three servings of lean pork will be added to the traditional Mediterranean diet, while subjects will also be encouraged to consume additional pork in place of the standard recommended intakes of chicken and red meat.

    Can you eat spaghetti on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Can you have Pasta on a Mediterranean Diet? The Mediterranean diet encourages upping your intake of vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and extra-virgin olive oil. Therefore, pasta (whole grain pasta, in particular), can absolutely be part of a Mediterranean diet.

    Is popcorn allowed on a Mediterranean diet? ›

    Popcorn itself is simply a whole grain, which are recommended when following a Mediterranean diet. They contain lots of fiber, low-calorie and contain other nutrients and minerals. This makes them a great snack. If you're buying popcorn, go for air-popped, unflavored popcorn.

    Are onions on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    Mediterranean diet has got a favourable effect on life expectancy. One of the crucial components of the diet are onions.

    Is Baked Potato on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Potatoes definitely shouldn't be avoided on the Mediterranean diet. Potatoes may seem like a "bad carb" sometimes, but they aren't viewed that way on this diet. They can be a great source of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, fiber, and more. Try eating white potatoes and sweet potatoes without going overboard.

    What are the 2 most recognized ingredients in Mediterranean diet? ›

    Olive oil and red wine figure prominently. However, there is very little meat and dairy products. Not surprisingly, the Mediterranean diet follows a similar dietary structure to science-backed eating advice, and does NOT include foods that are high in sugar, salt, and fat.

    Are carrots allowed on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    Vegetables common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: artichokes, arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, celeriac, chicory, collard greens, cucumbers, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, kale, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mache, mushrooms, mustard greens, nettles, okra, onions (red, ...

    What would be a good Mediterranean lunch? ›

    PureWow
    • 26 Quick and Easy Mediterranean Diet Lunch Ideas. ...
    • Tomato Salad With Grilled Halloumi And Herbs. ...
    • Harissa Chickpea Stew With Eggplant And Millet. ...
    • Grilled Lemon-herb Chicken And Avocado Salad. ...
    • Five-minute Heirloom Tomato Toast. ...
    • Greek Chicken And Rice Skillet. ...
    • Mini Chicken Shawarma. ...
    • Eggplant And Herb Flatbread.
    12 Oct 2021

    What do Mediterraneans drink? ›

    Which drink does the Mediterranean diet feature? Water is the main drink you should consume. Staying hydrated comes with numerous health benefits. You can also drink red wine, tea, and coffee on this diet.

    Are blueberries OK on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Berries. Although there are several essential fruits in the Mediterranean diet, berries — especially blueberries and strawberries — rank high on my list of favorites, due to their rich levels of antioxidants. Berries also have lots of anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid.

    What meats are not allowed on Mediterranean diet? ›

    On the Mediterranean diet, you should minimize your intake of red meat, such as steak. What about processed red meat, such as hot dogs and bacon? You should avoid these foods or limit them as much as possible.

    Can you lose belly fat on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    The Mediterranean diet has been shown in studies to produce greater weight loss than low-fat diets. It also may reduce the accumulation of belly fat specifically.

    Can you eat for breakfast on a Mediterranean diet? ›

    With a strong focus on fruits and vegetables, the Mediterranean diet doesn't lack in the nutrition department, especially when it comes to breakfast. You'll find morning-worthy meals filled with healthy protein sources, like eggs or Greek yogurt, fit into this way of eating.

    What does a week of Mediterranean diet look like? ›

    Eat SOME seafood and omega-3-rich foods (2 to 3 times per week) – Fish (preferably fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, but you can use white fish varieties as well), nuts, and seeds. If it works for you, try to eat these 2 to 3 times a week. Eat SOME poultry, eggs, and dairy (1 to 2 times per week).

    What kind of coffee creamer can I use on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    A Mediterranean diet coffee creamer is usually steamed whole milk. (a good source of calcium) They savor their morning café au lait or cappuccino without artificial ingredients. If you're lactose intolerant, almond or coconut milk are good coffee creamer options if they aren't pre-sweetened.

    What kind of yogurt can you eat on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Opt for nutrient-dense foods, like Greek yogurt

    The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating foods in their most nutrient-dense forms, which makes Greek yogurt a particularly good option for those seeking protein.

    Is mozzarella cheese OK on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Ricotta, mozzarella, fetta and haloumi are all vitamin rich dairy options that fit within the Mediterranean diet. Best of all, you can easily incorporate these into breakfast, lunch or dinner.

    Is the Mediterranean diet actually healthy? ›

    Research supports the use of the Mediterranean diet as a healthy eating pattern for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, increasing lifespan, and healthy aging. When used in conjunction with caloric restriction, the diet may also support healthy weight loss.

    Do doctors recommend the Mediterranean diet? ›

    Study after study supports the diet's heart benefits, and an analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults has demonstrated that following the Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health, as well as a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality and overall mortality.

    Is the Mediterranean diet inflammatory? ›

    The Mediterranean diet (MD) as anti-inflammatory properties. The MD is rich in antioxidants, trace elements, minerals and vitamins which have anti-inflammatory properties.

    What diet is better than the Mediterranean diet? ›

    A new study suggests that a low-fat vegan diet may be more effective than the Mediterranean diet for promoting healthy weight loss. In the study, the Mediterranean diet did not cause significant changes in weight, insulin sensitivity or resistance, or cholesterol levels.

    What is the healthiest Mediterranean diet? ›

    It stresses eating fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week, consuming poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation and limiting sweets and red meat for special occasions. It also gives priority to healthy fats, such as olive oil over butter and using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.

    Is the Mediterranean diet good for seniors? ›

    New research shows the Mediterranean diet is a healthy choice for adults at any age. Even if you're in your golden years, it's never too late to consider changing your diet.

    What do Mediterraneans eat for breakfast? ›

    Spain and Italy: toasted bread + soft cheese + fresh fruit or freshly squeezed fruit juice. Greece: paximadia (bread made from whole wheat, chickpea, and barley flour) + olives + cheese. Syria: tahini yogurt with chickpeas + pickles + sliced radishes. Morocco: fried egg in olive oil + soft cheese + olives + flatbread.

    What kind of bread can you eat on Mediterranean diet? ›

    You can still enjoy bread as part of the Mediterranean Diet, just swap your white bread for whole grains. Whole grain breads and pastas contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat pitas are a healthier option as they are usually lower in calories.

    Is oatmeal on the Mediterranean diet? ›

    Oats are a whole grain, which is encouraged on the Mediterranean diet. Low or moderate amounts of cheese, such as brie, feta, ricotta, and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), are also allowed. All types of fresh fruits, including bananas, are a go on the diet.

    What is the best book to buy for the Mediterranean diet? ›

    "The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook" tops our list thanks to its 500-recipe collection and supplemental meal planning suggestions, recipe tags for quick or vegetarian meals, essential pantry ingredients, and more.

    What are the top 3 anti-inflammatory foods? ›

    Anti-inflammatory foods

    green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards. nuts like almonds and walnuts. fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines.

    Is Rice allowed on Mediterranean diet? ›

    Is rice on the Mediterranean diet? Yes, rice is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. It's often eaten as a pilaf with herbs and spices rather than plain. For example, you can try Mediterranean Yellow Rice or Chickpea Rice Pilaf.

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