Is The Mediterranean Diet Right For You?


Looking for a diet that not only helps you lose weight but also reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and maybe even cancer? Think that a do-it-all diet like this is just the stuff of fairy tales? Surprisingly, there’s one diet that ticks off all of these boxes and more! The Mediterranean diet, which focuses on foods eaten in countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain, has long been considered one of the healthiest ways of eating. (1)

Unlike other popular diets, like keto or paleo, the Mediterranean doesn’t eliminate food groups. It also doesn’t focus heavily on a particular macronutrient like fat or protein. Instead, it provides a wide array of fresh, nutrient-rich, minimally-processed foods. Best of all, it’s flexible enough to accommodate food sensitivities and dietary choices. But the benefits of the Mediterranean diet aren’t simply limited to the food. It’s actually a way of eating and living similar to what you would find in countries that sit along the Mediterranean coast. It also includes an emphasis on daily exercise, sharing meals with others, and a deep appreciation for life.

The benefits of a Mediterranean diet

If you think you’re eating the Mediterranean way because you’ve swapped out the butter in favor of olive oil or added a glass of wine to your meals, you’re missing out. The Mediterranean diet pyramid is singular: the diet is a balanced way of eating based on a wide variety of real foods, from vegetables to seafood to whole grains. While each individual component of the diet matters, genuine magic happens when you put all the pieces together. In fact, one of the largest studies ever done on the Mediterranean diet and longevity found that the real bang of the Mediterranean diet comes from a combination of all the foods included in the diet. The researchers also found that the participants who followed the key principles of the Mediterranean diet most closely had significantly lower death and disease rates than those who didn’t—up to 25 percent lower! (2)

One of the biggest draws of the Mediterranean diet is its positive impact on a variety of chronic health issues. The most influential study ever conducted on the diet’s health benefits—the PREDIMED study—involved 7447 participants at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Each person taking part in the five-year study was assigned to one of three diets: A Mediterranean diet with added extra virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with added nuts, and a low-fat diet. By the end of the study, the risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or death from any type of heart disease was slashed by 30 percent in the Mediterranean group eating extra olive oil and 28 percent in the group eating added nuts. (3) Teasing out the details from the original study, researchers also found that eating a Mediterranean diet improved the ratio of total cholesterol and HDL, reduced blood pressure, and lowered C-reactive protein (a sign of chronic inflammation that can damage arteries). (4) But this study was about more than heart health. Data from the study also showed that eating a Mediterranean diet reduced the odds of developing type 2 diabetes by 52 percent. (5) Plus, those following the diet lost nearly 10 pounds—which was on par with the results seen among those following a low carb diet. (6)

man reading a book sitting on a couch

The Mediterranean diet can help improve your brain health.

Other studies have made a connection between eating a Mediterranean diet and both mood, and brain power. One recent study found that eating a Mediterranean diet filled with colorful fruits and vegetables cut the risk of depression by 33 percent. (7) And it doesn’t take long to improve your mood—just 10 days according to a group of Australian researchers. (8) A Mediterranean diet also improves brain function and protects against age-related cognitive decline. (9) (10)

Nutrition facts: the Mediterranean diet

Unlike many other diets, the Mediterranean diet is extremely flexible and can be modified to fit your lifestyle, whether it’s low-carb, vegetarian, or pescatarian (a vegetarian diet that includes fish). What stays constant is that it’s filled with fresh foods that pack a heavy-duty nutritional punch.

two plates with legumes, avocados, tomatoes, meats in a meal form with cut up bread and limes

The Mediterranean diet is extremely flexible and can be modified to fit your lifestyle!

Here’s a quick cheat sheet on the core foods included in the Mediterranean diet:

  • Olive oil: Opt for extra-virgin olive oil instead of standard olive oil for an extra boost of antioxidant-rich polyphenols.
  • Vegetables: Fill half your plate with a rainbow of colorful vegetables at every meal. The more the veggies—and the greater the variety—the better. Just be aware that potatoes don’t count because of their adverse effect on blood sugar.
  • Fruit: Add a piece of fruit or two. Again, the more colorful, the better.
  • Seafood: Focus on sustainable, preferably wild-caught fish and shellfish that is low in mercury. Try to include omega-3 rich fatty fish like halibut, salmon, or sardines at least twice a week to lower chronic low-level inflammation.
  • Meat and poultry: Poultry and eggs are good, versatile sources of protein. Limit red meat to an occasional treat as high intakes can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and other chronic diseases. (11) Avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats as they have been linked to an uptick in heart disease and cancer. (12)
  • Dairy: Moderate amounts of cheese, yogurt, and milk are encouraged. If you’re dairy-free, you can substitute a plant-based milk alternative.
  • Whole grains: Eat a variety of whole grains like whole wheat, barley, brown rice, or quinoa. Unrefined grains have been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and premature death from all causes. (13)
  • Beans and legumes: Add beans and legumes as an excellent fiber-rich source of vegetarian protein. Experiment with building a meal around black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, lentils, or peas for a meatless change of pace.
  • Nuts and seeds: These tiny nutritional powerhouses are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats. Plus, a recent study also found that a diet that includes nuts and seeds actually slows biological aging. (14) But because they are high in calories, limit yourself to one handful daily.

What about wine? Wine is an important part of the Mediterranean diet—and not just because it’s a part of the culture. Moderate wine consumption has been found to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and possibly, cognitive decline. It has also been shown to promote a longer life. These benefits can be credited in part to two important antioxidants—resveratrol and quercetin—found in red wine.15 But the key word here is “moderate.” That means no more than two glasses of wine per day for men, and one glass per day for women.

woman making a meal with raw ingredients surrounding her in a kitchen

Incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your life can be very simple.

Real life eating on the Mediterranean diet

Here’s a sample from the Club Med Menu to get you started.

Breakfast

Omelet with spinach, tomatoes, and onions. An orange.

Snack

A small handful of almonds.

Lunch

A large vegetable salad topped with roasted chicken.

Snack

4 oz. Greek yogurt with berries.

Dinner

Grilled salmon served with quinoa and broccoli. A glass of red wine.

Reap the benefits of adopting a Mediterranean diet . . . no passport required! For any diet questions, we advise you to consult with your healthcare practitioner.

  1. The Mediterranean Diet Expert Reviews. U.S. News and World Report. January 2019. Available at: https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/mediterranean-diet/reviews
  2. Trichopoulou A, Costacou T, Bamia C, et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and survival in a Greek population. N Engl J Med. 2003;348(26):2599-608.
  3. Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med. 2018; 378(25):e34.
  4. Estruch R, Martínez-González MA, Corella D, et al. Effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on cardiovascular risk factors. Ann Intern Med. 2006 Jul 4;145(1):1-11.
  5. Salas-Salvadó J, Bulló M, Babio N, et al. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with the Mediterranean diet: results of the PREDIMED-Reus nutrition intervention randomized trial. Diabetes Care. 2011 Jan;34(1):14-9.
  6. Shai I, Schwarzfuchs D, Henkin Y, et al. Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. N Engl J Med. 2008; 359(3):229-41.
  7. Lassale C, Batty GD, Baghdadi A, et al. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Psychiatry. 2018 Sep 26. Doi:10.1038/s41380-018-0237-8.
  8. Lee J, Pase M, Pipingas A, et al. Switching to a 10-day Mediterranean-style diet improves mood and cardiovascular function in a controlled crossover study. Nutrition. 2015;31(5):647-52.
  9. Martinez-Lapiscina EH, Clavero P, Toledo E, et al. Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIED-NAVARRA randomized trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2013;84(12):1318-25.
  10. Valis-Pedret C, Sala-Vila A, Serra-Mir M, et al. Mediterranean diet and age-related cognitive decline: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(7):1094-1103.
  11. Ekmekcioglu C, Wallner P, Kundi M, et al. Red meat, diseases, and healthy alternatives: A critical review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2018;58(2):247-61.
  12. Wang X, Lin X, Ouyang YY, et al. Red and processed meat consumption and mortality: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Public Health Nutr. 2016;19(5):893-905.
  13. Zhang B, Zhao Q, Guo W, et al. Association of whole grain intake with all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: a systemic review and dose-response meta-analysis from prospective cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018; 72(1):57-65.
  14. Tucker LA. Consumption of nuts and seeds and telomere length in 5,582 men and women of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). J Nutr Health Aging. 2017;21(3):233-40.
  15. Artero A, Artero A, Tarin JJ, et al. The impact of moderate wine consumption on health. Maturitas. 2015;80(1):3-13.