The Mediterranean diet has recently exploded in popularity. Is there something to this trendy regimen and its focus on healthy fats and whole grains, or is it just another fad? Let’s dig into its origins and potential benefits to find out.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
Many people know of the Mediterranean diet as “the one where you can drink all the wine you want.” While wine is encouraged in moderation, there is much more to the diet than this beverage option.
This diet centers on the foods traditionally eaten in regions along the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, Greece, Spain, and France. While each of these countries certainly has its own unique cuisine, the Mediterranean diet finds commonalities among them to build a healthy eating pattern.
If you’ve seen coverage on the Mediterranean diet, you’ve probably noticed that the media has made salmon and olive oil the stars of the show. Along with healthy fats from avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seafood, the diet also emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Meat lovers and chocoholics beware: the Mediterranean diet recommends avoiding red meat and sweets as much as possible.
Is there science behind the diet?
Yes! The Mediterranean diet has been the subject of a variety of studies, and the evidence continues to reveal new benefits.
Still not sure if the Mediterranean diet is all that and a bag of nuts? We’ve broken down the reasons why you should consider trying this healthy way of eating.
Why you should try the Mediterranean diet
1. It’s ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report
Every Year, U.S. News & World Report releases their “best of” lists, which include everything from cars and law firms to hospitals and doctors. One annual list widely reported on is their ranking of the best diets.
According to U.S. News, a panel of health experts judged 41 of the most popular diets on benefits for weight loss, diabetes, and heart disease. The top diets also needed to be easy to follow, safe, and provide nutritional value.
This year, the Mediterranean diet beat out 40 other diets to take the #1 spot in the “Best Diets Overall” category.
2. It’s heart-healthy
In addition to its U.S. News ranking, the Mediterranean diet is also very similar to The American Heart Association’s (AHA) diet recommendations. Both nutritional regimens make fruits and vegetables the focus, and recommend whole grains, nuts, legumes, and fish over red meat and added sugars. One difference between the two diets is that the AHA puts an additional emphasises on eating less sodium (salt).
Scientists are continuing to study the Mediterranean diet in order to determine its heart-health benefits.
One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people at high risk for a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil or nuts had a lower rate of cardiovascular disease.
Another study looking at the diets of almost 26,000 women found that those who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet had 25% less risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the course of 12 years.
The heart-protective benefits of the diet could be due to the fact that it may help improve the function of HDL cholesterol (AKA good cholesterol), especially when supplemented with olive oil.
It sounds like it might be time to switch out your blue cheese salad dressing for olive oil and vinegar!
3. It may help those with diabetes control blood sugar
If you have diabetes, a balanced diet is essential for managing your blood sugar, and research shows that the Mediterranean diet may be one of your best options.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people with diabetes choose a diet that they can follow. A variety of eating patterns, such as low carb, vegetarian, and Mediterranean, can be healthy. The ADA does note that the Mediterranean diet may help improve blood sugar and support weight loss. The research also supports the use of a Mediterranean diet for those with diabetes.
If you have diabetes, it’s essential to discuss any changes to your eating habits with your healthcare provider. They can help you pick a diet that is right for you.
4. It’s easy to follow
Do you think all diets are too difficult to stick with? Think again!
One reason why the Mediterranean diet took U.S. News’ top spot is because it’s relatively easy to follow compared to other diets.
While many diets focus on what you can’t eat, the Mediterranean diet is all about abundance. The regimen encourages you to fill your plate with mostly fiber-rich plant foods and healthy fats that will leave you feeling full and satisfied.
One aspect of the diet that can make it a little tricky to follow is the recommendation of eating fish twice per week. While it can get pricey, choosing less expensive types of fish can help. The money you save on not buying red meat can also go towards your fish budget.
Ready to give it a try? Here’s how!
Once you start researching the Mediterranean diet on your own, you’ll find that there are few specific guides for following the diet. This gives the diet a lot of flexibility, but can also leave you feeling confused. Here is a template from Cleveland Clinic that we adapted into a table to help you successfully follow the diet:
|The Mediterranean Diet|
|Food Group||Serving Goal||Ways to Incorporate|
|Fruits||3 servings per day
(1 serving = 1/2 to 1 cup)
|Have 1 serving with each meal|
|Vegetables||3 or more servings per day
(1 serving = 1/2 cooked
or 1 cup raw)
|Have at least 1 serving at each meal or as a snack|
|Legumes||3 servings per week
(1 serving =1/2 cup)
|Add beans to a salad and add lentils to soups and stews|
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil||At least 1 Tbsp per day
(max 4 Tbsp per day)
|Add to salads or use to make sauces and dips|
|Fish||3 servings per week
(1 serving = 3-4 ounces)
|Choose fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, and mackerel|
|Nuts||At least 3 servings per week (1 serving = 1 ounce
or 1/4 cup
or 2 Tbsp nut butter)
|Add to hot or cold cereal or use in a trail mix|
and Starchy Vegetables
|3-6 servings per day
(1 serving = 1/2 cup cooked
or 1 slice of bread
or 1 ounce dry cereal)
|Choose whole grain pasta, bread, and cereal
Eat potatoes with the skin on
Try other grains such as oats, barley, quinoa, and brown rice
|Poultry||Choose white meat instead of dark meat||Bake, grill, or broil skinless, white-meat poultry|
|Eggs||No limit on egg whites;
eat egg yolks in moderation
|Make scrambled eggs or omelettes loaded with vegetables|
|Dairy||Limit to 3 servings per week||Choose fat-free or 1% milk, yogurt and cottage cheese
Choose light or part-skim cheese
Avoid whole milk and cream
|Red Meat||None, limit to 1 serving per week or less
(1 serving = 3 ounces)
|Choose lean cuts, such as tenderloin, flank, and sirloin|
|Wine||1-2 glasses per day
(glass =3 1/2 ounces;
one serving per day for women;
two servings for men)
|*Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should be consuming alcohol|
|Baked Goods and Desserts||Avoid commercial baked goods, sweets, and desserts
Limit homemade goods to less than 3 times/week
|If you bake at home, try cutting down on the amount of sugar or use fruits to sweeten treats instead|
As you can see, the Mediterranean diet is a highly-rated regimen supported by research. It has benefits for heart disease and diabetes, according to research, and is easy to follow. Ready to take your health into your own hands? Break out those wine glasses and use our chart to start incorporating healthy recommendations into your diet!
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