What is the Mediterranean Diet?

As the end of 2019 approaches, it’s time for everyone to start coming up with 2020 resolutions. Every year, the most common resolution is to eat healthier and/or lose weight. With so many diet trends, it’s hard to pick the one that’s right for you, but one that many pick is the Mediterranean Diet. What is the Mediterranean Diet and how does it work?

Mediterranean Background

Mediterranean sea in Italy
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In the 1960s, health studies showed that people in countries like Greece and Italy had fewer deaths from heart-related issues. Experts believed that the overall healthiness of the people in the Mediterranean region was due to their traditional diet. With the rising rates of cardiovascular disease in the United States, adopting a similar diet became a popular suggestion for Americans to increase their heart health.

Today, the Mediterranean Diet is still going strong. It’s recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and recognized by the World Heath Organization (WHO) as a healthful, sustainable diet.

Mediterranean Eating

Up close view of Mediterranean salad with olive oil and tomatoes
Credit: Marian Weyo/ Shutterstock

People in the Mediterranean region enjoy a natural diet that consists of mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beneficial fats. Avoid things like added sugars, refined oils and grains, trans fats, and any processed foods. If it looks like it came from a factory, stay away. An easy way to tell if a food is processed is if the packaging says something along the lines of “diet” or “low-fat.” Chances are it has been processed and shouldn’t be a part of a Mediterranean diet.

Stick to foods like:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Tubers such as potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, and turnips
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, whole oats, rye, corn, and whole wheat
  • Fish and seafood
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy such as cheese and yogurt
  • Herbs and spices
  • “Good” fats such as those found in avocados, extra virgin olive oil, and olives

There is no hard and fast rule for the Mediterranean Diet, so think of these suggestions as guidelines rather than actual rules. The diet can be adjusted based on need and preference. For instance, poultry and eggs contain more fats than seafood but can still be eaten in moderation according to the Mediterranean Diet. It also allows some red meat, but eat it sparingly.

As for beverages, water, of course, is the preferred option, but what would Italians do without wine!? The Mediterranean Diet suggests one glass of red wine per day, but that suggestion is optional. It also allows coffee and tea as long as they aren’t sweetened with added sugar.

Benefits

People preparing vegetables to cook in kitchen
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The original benefit of the Mediterranean Diet is the prevention of cardiovascular disease, which is a leading cause of death in the United States. By reducing the amount of fats introduced into your system, the Mediterranean Diet can reduce buildup in the arteries and help to prevent many of the common heart and circulatory issues like blood pressure problems, heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes.

Probably the most desired benefit of any diet — especially for New Year’s resolutions — is weight loss. Most people who follow the Mediterranean Diet show greater weight loss and, more importantly, better long-term weight management compared to other diets. Since it is more well-rounded than most diets that cut specific things like fats or carbs, the Mediterranean Diet is easier to stick to because it offers more flavorful and fulfilling options, which means fewer cravings.

One of the most surprising benefits of following the Mediterranean Diet is better sleep. A study conducted in 2018 showed that the Mediterranean Diet improved sleep quality in older adults. By providing a more well-balanced diet, it helps your body enjoy its natural rhythm.

Mediterranean Recipes

Classic Mediterranean foods including leaves, olive oil, and seeds on a rustic wooden table
Credit: Aleksandra Voinova/ Shutterstock

Being on a diet doesn’t mean that food has to be bland and tasteless. The Mediterranean Diet easily lends itself to hundreds of full-flavored recipes that are sure to satisfy every eater. You can still eat pastas, desserts, and even pizza! As long as you stick to natural, low-fat ingredients, the sky’s the limit. Substituting whole grains for any refined ingredients in your favorite recipes, such as a whole grain crust for a pizza, is a quick and easy way to start introducing some Mediterranean aspects into your current diet. Of course, as with any change to your healthcare regimen, be sure to consult your doctor before diving into the Mediterranean diet (or any other diet).

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