Baked Dorado fish, sea bream with grilled vegetables, herbs and seasonings, top view

What is the Mediterranean diet? What are the benefits of doing it?

What is the Mediterranean diet? How to follow the Mediterranean diet? Which food to eat and which food to avoid? Click here for more

The Mediterranean diet, another optional diet plan, refers to the eating habits of people living along the Mediterranean coast, such as Italy, Spain, southern France, and Greece. This diet focuses on consuming whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and legumes, while minimizing the intake of highly processed and convenient foods.

Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet offers numerous health advantages, including lowering the risk of heart disease and supporting weight management.

Continue reading to discover more about the Mediterranean diet, including its potential benefits, recommended foods, foods to avoid, and tips on adopting this eating style for better overall health.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisines of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, Greece, Spain, and southern France. It’s characterized by an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, moderate consumption of fish and poultry, and limited intake of red meat and sweets.

Key components of the Mediterranean diet include:

  1. Plant-based foods: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes form the foundation of the diet.
  2. Healthy fats: Olive oil is the primary source of fat, providing monounsaturated fats which are beneficial for heart health.
  3. Fish and poultry: Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, is consumed regularly. Poultry is also included but in moderation.
  4. Moderate dairy: Dairy products like cheese and yoghurt are consumed in moderate amounts, often in the form of fermented products like Greek yoghurt.
  5. Limited red meat: Red meat is consumed infrequently, typically in smaller portions.
  6. Red wine in moderation: Red wine, enjoyed in moderation, is often considered part of the Mediterranean diet, though it’s not necessary for its health benefits.

Numerous studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is associated with various health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer, as well as promoting weight loss and overall longevity.

fish and poultry

What are the benefits of doing the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet offers a wide range of health benefits, supported by numerous scientific studies. Some of the key benefits include:

  1. Heart health: The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. It promotes healthy cholesterol levels, lowers blood pressure, and reduces inflammation, all of which contribute to cardiovascular health.
  2. Weight management: Following a Mediterranean diet can aid in weight loss and weight management. The emphasis on whole, minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help individuals feel satisfied while consuming fewer calories.
  3. Improved cognitive function: Some research suggests that the Mediterranean diet may protect against cognitive decline and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. The diet’s high intake of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods may play a role in preserving brain health.
  4. Reduced risk of certain cancers: Studies have found that adhering to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers, including breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. The abundance of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals likely contributes to this protective effect.
  5. Better control of blood sugar levels: The Mediterranean diet can help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, making it beneficial for individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition.
  6. Longevity: Following a Mediterranean diet is linked to a longer lifespan and reduced mortality from all causes. The combination of nutrient-rich foods, healthy fats, and lifestyle factors like regular physical activity and social engagement likely contribute to overall longevity.
  7. Improved mood and mental well-being: The Mediterranean diet’s focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods provides essential nutrients that support mental health. Additionally, research suggests that adherence to the diet may reduce the risk of depression and improve overall mood and well-being.

Overall, the Mediterranean diet offers a balanced approach to eating that not only promotes physical health but also supports mental and emotional well-being.

Healthy Vegetarian Natural Raw Food Legumes Uncooked

How to follow the Mediterranean diet?

Following the Mediterranean diet involves incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods into your daily meals and adopting certain dietary patterns and lifestyle habits. Here’s how to follow the Mediterranean diet:

  1. Base your meals on plant foods: Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Aim to fill at least half of your plate with these foods at each meal.
  2. Use olive oil as your primary fat: Replace butter and other saturated fats with extra virgin olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. Use it for cooking, salad dressings, and drizzling over dishes.
  3. Eat fish and seafood regularly: Include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout in your diet at least twice a week. These fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health.
  4. Moderate consumption of poultry and eggs: Choose poultry like chicken and turkey over red meat, and limit intake to a few times per week. Eggs can be enjoyed in moderation, but avoid excessive consumption.
  5. Include dairy in moderation: Opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy products like yoghurt and cheese, and consume them in moderate amounts. Greek yoghurt is a staple in the Mediterranean diet and can be eaten plain or mixed with fruits and nuts.
  6. Limit red meat and processed foods: Red meat should be consumed sparingly, and processed meats like bacon, sausage, and deli meats should be avoided or minimized due to their high saturated fat and sodium content.
  7. Eat plenty of nuts and seeds: Incorporate a variety of nuts and seeds into your diet for healthy fats, protein, fibre, and essential nutrients. Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and flaxseeds are good choices.
  8. Season with herbs and spices: Flavor your meals with herbs, spices, garlic, and onions instead of salt to reduce sodium intake while adding depth of flavour.
  9. Enjoy fruits for dessert: Instead of sugary desserts, opt for fresh fruits as a naturally sweet and nutritious way to end your meals.
  10. Stay physically active: Regular physical activity is an important component of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
  11. Share meals with others: Meals are often enjoyed in the company of family and friends in Mediterranean cultures. Sharing meals can enhance social connections and promote mindful eating.
  12. Drink plenty of water: Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. Limit sugary beverages like soda and opt for water, herbal tea, or red wine in moderation.

Which food to eat and which food to avoid?

To follow the Mediterranean diet effectively, it’s helpful to know which foods to include and which foods to limit. Here’s a breakdown:

Foods to Eat:

Balanced diet food concept. Assortment of healthy food low cholesterol, spinach avocado red wine green tea salmon tomato berries flax chia seeds turmeric garlic nuts olive oil. Copy space background
  1. Fruits and Vegetables: Include a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables in your meals. Berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, leafy greens, bell peppers, eggplant, and zucchini are all excellent choices.
  2. Whole Grains: Opt for whole grains like whole wheat, barley, oats, quinoa, brown rice, and bulgur. These grains provide fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
  3. Legumes: Incorporate beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas into your diet for plant-based protein, fibre, and nutrients.
  4. Nuts and Seeds: Enjoy a variety of nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds. They’re rich in healthy fats, protein, and fibre.
  5. Olive Oil: Use extra virgin olive oil as your primary source of fat for cooking, salad dressings, and dipping bread. It’s high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.
  6. Fish and Seafood: Include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Other seafood options include shrimp, mussels, clams, and squid.
  7. Poultry: Choose lean cuts of poultry such as chicken and turkey, and remove the skin to reduce saturated fat content.
  8. Dairy: Consume dairy products in moderation, opting for low-fat or fat-free options like Greek yoghurt, feta cheese, and skim milk.
  9. Herbs and Spices: Flavor your meals with herbs, spices, garlic, and onions to enhance taste without adding extra salt.
  10. Red Wine (optional): Enjoy red wine in moderation if you drink alcohol. Limit consumption to one glass per day for women and up to two glasses per day for men.

Foods to Limit or Avoid:

  1. Red Meat: Limit consumption of red meat such as beef, lamb, and pork. When consumed, choose lean cuts and keep portions small.
  2. Processed Meats: Avoid or minimize intake of processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and deli meats, which are high in sodium and saturated fats.
  3. Refined Grains: Limit refined grains like white bread, white rice, and pasta made from refined flour. Choose whole grains instead for added fibre and nutrients.
  4. Sweets and Sugary Foods: Limit consumption of sweets, desserts, pastries, sugary drinks, and processed snacks, which can contribute to weight gain and metabolic health issues.
  5. Saturated and Trans Fats: Reduce intake of foods high in saturated and trans fats, such as fried foods, butter, margarine, and processed snacks.
  6. Excess Salt: Avoid adding excessive salt to your meals, and limit your intake of salty processed foods like chips, crackers, and canned soups.

Potential risks of doing the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is a well-rounded and nutritious way of eating that doesn’t restrict any specific foods, so it’s generally not associated with health risks. It can be adjusted to fit various dietary preferences, including vegan and vegetarian diets.

However, plant-based diets may lack certain nutrients like iron, zinc, B12, and iodine. If you’re following a plant-based Mediterranean diet, it’s important to plan your meals carefully to ensure you’re getting all the necessary nutrients. You may also need to consider taking supplements to make up for any deficiencies.

While wine is a part of many traditional Mediterranean diets, it’s not necessary to increase your alcohol intake if you’re following this eating pattern. While low to moderate alcohol consumption is generally considered safe, drinking too much alcohol, including red wine, can have negative effects on your health. It’s important to consume alcohol in moderation or avoid it altogether if you have health concerns.

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