5 Fast Facts on the Mediterranean Diet

Co-Created by Molly Pelletier, Nutrition Student & Yoga Instructor at Boston University.

It seems like everywhere we turn, there’s a ton of diet talk floating around. With abundant social media influences, diet and nutrition information can be confusing and often misleading. The Mediterranean Diet is a lifestyle diet that has been widely researched and shown to provide extensive health benefits. What are the main components of the Mediterranean Diet? Here are 5 fast facts to get more informed!
Fish and sprouts on a plate

1. It’s one of the most widely researched diets.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the Mediterranean diet is “possibly the best diet ever.”1 Research suggests that the benefits of following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern can include improved weight loss, better control of blood sugar levels, and even a reduced risk of depression. Eating Mediterranean has also been associated with reduced levels of inflammation, reduced incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease. In fact, a meta-analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality.

2. You can enjoy all food groups.

Unlike other popular diets, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t emphasize the removal of entire food groups. Rather, the Mediterranean diet suggests incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein sources, and heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods; such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish at least twice a week
  • Enjoying meals with family and friends
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional of course!)
  • Getting plenty of exercise

Check out the Mediterranean food pyramid below; all food groups are included, with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and physical activity setting the foundation for a healthy lifestyle.2

Mediterranean food triangle

3. May be linked to better brain health!

Eating Mediterranean in the aging population has also been linked to a lower risk for memory difficulties and better overall cognitive health. According to a study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, foods like green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, olive oil are considered “brain-healthy” and can improve cognitive function later in life.3

Radishes on a plate

4. You don’t have to love olives!

Although olives are a big part of the Mediterranean diet for many, there are other ways to incorporate the benefits of olives. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes olive oil as a primary source of fat {and antioxidants!}. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat — a type of fat that has been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels when used in healthy consumption levels. Extra-virgin olive oils have been the least processed and therefore contain the highest levels of chlorophyll and other antioxidants which help protect cells against oxidative damage. Nuts and fish also contain unsaturated fat, as well as beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and help moderate blood pressure.4

Some of the best sources of omega-3:

  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds & Flaxseed oils
  • Salmon
  • Avocados
  • Chia seeds
  • Chia seeds

Veggies and avocado

5. Cheers to good health!

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes moderation and sustainability. Modeled after European lifestyle trends, the diet encourages enjoying mealtimes with friends and families. Moderate consumption of red wine is also encouraged, due to its antioxidant and polyphenol content. According to the Dietary Guidelines of America, 1 glass a day for women and 2 glasses per day for men is considered moderate. For many European families, enjoying long (seated!) meals with a glass of red wine is a component of living a healthy lifestyle. At the same time, this opportunity to slow down and spend time with friends and family is also a large component of living a happy and less stressful life.

Food on the table
I hope these fast facts have helped you understand more deeply the elements of the Mediterranean Diet. Its foundational principles, including incorporating more vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and choosing unsaturated fat sources, are key concepts that have been proven to increase heart health, lower risk for chronic disease, as well as improve cholesterol levels. The Mediterranean Diet is an example of how suggesting abundance, rather than restriction of certain food groups, can improve health and wellbeing.

Stay healthy,

Food groups in the Mediterranean diet

1 Nutrition News: Widely studied Mediterranean diet linked to good health. Harvard School of Public Health. (2011) Retrieved March 10th 2019. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/nutrition-

2 OldWays: Cultural Food Traditions. In partnership with Harvard School of Public Health and WHO. (1993).Retrieved March 14th, 2019. https://oldwayspt.org/resources/oldways-mediterranean-diet-pyramid

3 Mediterranean-style diets linked to better brain function in older adults. American Geriatrics Society. ScienceDaily, 25 July 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170725154208.htm>

4 Salge-Blake. J. 2015. Nutrition & You, 3rd Edition. Pearson Education Inc. Illinois.

5 Jennifer Bowers. Everyday Wellness. Reader’s Digest. Retrieved March 21, 2019. https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/mediterranean-diet-infographic/

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