The Mediterranean diet is mainly based on the eating habits of Southern European countries and the diet mainly focuses on plant-based foods, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans and grains .
There is no one-size-fits-all Mediterranean diet, but this concept includes common types of food and healthy habits; It brings together the traditions of many different regions, including Crete, Greece, Spain, Southern France, Portugal and Italy. The diet is known to be largely free of trans fat sources, processed meat and refined foods. All these features have been associated with reductions in conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease .
What foods include the Mediterranean diet:
- High amounts of vegetables in season such as tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, carrots, cucumbers and onions
- Fresh fruits such as apples, bananas, figs, dates, grapes and melons
- High consumption of oilseeds and pulses such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds and cashews
- Soluble and insoluble fiber sources such as whole wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, corn and brown rice
- Olive oil, which is the main source of dietary fat alongside olives, avocados and avocado oil
- Mainly cheese and yoghurt from dairy products
- Moderate amounts of fatty fish and poultry, such as chicken, duck, turkey, salmon, sardines, and oysters
- Eggs, including chicken, quail, and duck eggs
- Limited amount of red meat and sweets
- About one glass of wine per day; water as the main drink
The focus on plant-based foods and natural sources means that the Mediterranean diet includes the following types of food sources:
Healthy fats: The Mediterranean diet is known to be low in saturated fat (usually margarine-type oils, which are solid fats) and high in monounsaturated fats (usually olive-oil-type oils, which are liquid oils). The World Health Organization states that saturated fat consumption should be less than 10% of daily energy intake.
Fiber (Fiber Sources): The diet promotes healthy digestion and is high in types of fiber believed to reduce the risk of bowel cancer/cardiovascular disease.
High vitamin and mineral content: Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals that regulate vital processes in the body. Additionally, the presence of lean and limited meats ensures the intake of vitamins such as B-12 that are not found in plant foods.
Low sugar: The diet is healthy because of the natural sugars from fresh fruit. Added and refined sugars increase calorie intake with no nutritional benefit. It is also linked to diabetes and high blood pressure. It is present in most processed foods.
Benefits of the Mediterranean diet:
The Mediterranean diet is not specifically a weight loss diet, but cutting out red meats, animal fats, and processed foods can result in weight loss.
Regions where the diet is consumed have lower mortality and heart disease rates . Reductions in red meats and added sugars have been associated with reductions in stroke and coronary heart disease in the population , although other factors such as a more active lifestyle may have influenced this.
Research dedicates this to focusing on the monounsaturated fats and fruits and vegetables found in the Mediterranean diet. Trusted sources of these fats have been observed to increase the concentration and function of “good cholesterol” or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in the blood (balancing cholesterol and working homeostasis of the heart).
Because the Mediterranean diet cannot be reduced to a specific meal plan or food group, it is important to follow the guiding principles for maximum benefits.
To start the Mediterranean diet:
- Focus on fruits and vegetables and make them a staple of the diet.
- Eat beans, legumes, nuts, and fibrous grains daily.
- Mix food with spices instead of salt, oil, and sugar.
- Instead of cooking food with butter; Prefer olive or avocado oil.
- Focus on lean protein, especially fish, and eat less than 3 servings of chicken or red meat per week.
- Limit your intake of sweet and high-sugar foods and switch most sweet intakes to fruit.
- Make sure to choose foods that are as fresh and unprocessed as possible.
The highest health benefits have been seen when these steps are combined with an active lifestyle.