The Mediterranean Diet has gained popularity among health experts and dieters for its healthy eating habits.
The diet, which focuses on plant-based foods and lean proteins like fish and chicken, has been said to support everything from weight loss to reduced cancer risk to improved heart health. But is the Mediterranean Diet really worth the hype?
If you’re wondering what it is that makes the Mediterranean Diet so dang healthy, or if you’d like to learn more about its benefits and potential pitfalls, here’s what experts and the evidence say about it.
What to Eat on the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is a diet that focuses on heart-healthy foods like nuts, fish, and olive oil, and limits intake of red meat, butter, and added sugar. If you typically eat Seamless or frozen dinners, it might be difficult to adapt the Mediterranean diet.
The good news is, you don’t have to commit to the Mediterranean diet to get benefits from it. Dr. Sean Heffron, a preventive cardiologist at NYU Langone Health, believes that eating a more healthy, nutrient-rich diet similar to the Mediterranean Diet, is better for you than a diet full of refined foods.
To improve your diet, you could start by eating more vegetables or by switching from eating refined grains to whole grains. A Mediterranean diet typically includes the following foods: -Fruits -Vegetables -Whole Grains -Beans, Legumes, Nuts -Herbs and Spices -Seafood -Poultry, Eggs, Dairy -Natural Fats, such as Olive Oil.
At every meal, one to two servings of whole grain bread, pasta, rice, and couscous are eaten.
You should include two servings of vegetables in your diet every day, at both lunch and dinner. Try to include a variety of different colors of vegetables in your meals to get the most benefit. A traditional Mediterranean diet contains kale, eggplant, artichoke, beets and sweet potatoes.
Fruit can be eaten as a dessert, with 1-2 servings being recommended after lunch and dinner. Choose fruits like apples, apricots, dates, figs and pomegranates, which are common in the Mediterranean region.
Heart-healthy fats like olive oil and nuts are a much better alternative to processed snacks and chips. You should consume no more than four tablespoons of olive oil per day. (That includes oil used for cooking.)
Meat and Fish
You should be getting your protein from sources like salmon, tuna mackerel, and anchovies that are rich in omega-3. You should only eat red meat a few times each month.
On the Mediterranean Diet, you are allowed to eat three servings of low-fat yogurt, cheese, or milk per week.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Improved Heart Health
The findings of numerous studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet provides significant protection for your heart. Having access to a heart health program is an important benefit, as heart disease is the number one cause of death for men in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A study by the American College of Cardiology looked at 2,500 Greek adults aged 18 to 89 over 11 years. They found that 20% of the men either developed or died from heart disease.
The diet recommended by the Mayo Clinic emphasizes canola oil, walnuts, and fatty fish, all of which contain omega-3 fatty acids. These fats have been shown to lower triglycerides, keep blood pressure stable, and improve blood vessel health, all of which benefit the heart.
You can Last Longer in Bed
If you’re experiencing erection difficulties, it may be a sign of underlying heart disease. That’s because the same process that leads to blocked arteries in your heart can also affect blood flow to your penis.
Research supports this idea: In one study, Italian scientists asked 35 men diagnosed with ED and metabolic syndrome—a term used to describe a cluster of risk factors associated with heart problems—to eat lots of Mediterranean staples, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish.
Instead of following a control diet, another 30 men with just metabolic syndrome followed a different diet.
After two years of eating the Mediterranean diet, one-third of the men in the study regained their normal sexual function.
According to the study authors, the researchers hypothesize that foods rich in fiber and antioxidants help to reduce inflammation in the body, which in turn promotes healthy blood flow.
Improved Brain Function
The journal Frontiers in Nutrition published a review that suggests that “brain food” is a real thing.
After looking at 18 studies, Australian researchers found that people who stick to a Mediterranean diet experience slower rates of age-related cognitive decline and have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Eating foods from the Mediterranean region was found to be associated with better working memory and attention.
Consuming a diet rich in Mediterranean foods may help to protect brain cells from deterioration, according to research from Spain. The anti-inflammatory properties of many Mediterranean diet foods are thought to play a role in this Neuroscience-related benefit.
Eating foods like dark leafy greens, oranges, peppers, and sweet potatoes that are approved by the Mediterranean diet is great for your vision, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
People who eat fish weekly have a lower risk of developing early age-related macular degeneration.
The reason? Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, either from fish or nuts, could help reduce cell damage in your retina.
Reduced Risk of Colon Cancer
Men in the United States are twice as likely to die from colorectal cancer than women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Certain foods may reduce your odds of developing cancer, according to preliminary research from the European Society for Medical Oncology.
800 people were surveyed who were either screening for disease or undergoing colonoscopies. The results showed that those with advanced colon polyps reported eating fewer Mediterranean diet foods and more red meat.
Whole grains contain fiber which helps to regulate the digestive system and may help to prevent cancer-causing mutations.
Although your diet is important, it is not the only factor that affects your health. The best way to catch colon cancer early is by getting screened for it regularly.
May Help with Weight Loss and Maintenance
Likely because of its focus on whole, fresh foods, the Mediterranean diet may help you lose weight in a safe, healthy, and sustainable way; on the other hand, it probably won’t lead to fast weight loss.
In its 2022 rankings, U.S. News & World Report rated the Mediterranean diet as No. 1 in its overall category, yet the diet is tied with several other plans for 12th place in the website’s Best Weight Loss category.
According to a randomized crossover trial, it may be because the Mediterranean diet encourages fish and other animal products, oil, and nuts, which can work against weight loss efforts if consumed in large quantities compared with a low-fat vegan diet. But you probably will lose weight if you restrict calories too.
According to previous research, 322 moderately obese middle-aged participants in Israel, who were mostly men, followed one of three diets: a calorie-restricted low-fat diet, a calorie-restricted Mediterranean diet, and a calorie-unrestricted low-carb diet.
Among the Mediterranean diet followers, women ate a maximum of 1,500 calories per day and men’s calorie count was restricted to 1,800 calories per day, with the goal of having no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat. The calorie restrictions were the same for those on the low-fat diet.
The mean weight loss was 4.4 kilograms (kg) (9.7 pounds [lb]) for the Mediterranean diet group, 2.9 kg (6.4 lb) for the low-fat group, and 4.7 kg (10.3 lb) for the low-carbohydrate group. And the diet may help you keep the pounds off. A study found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet were twice as likely to maintain weight loss.
A Mediterranean Diet May Stave off Type 2 Diabetes
A recent study has shown that a Mediterranean diet may help to manage type 2 diabetes and prevent the disease.
Using participants from PREDIMED, scientists randomized a subgroup of 418 people ages 55 to 80 without diabetes and followed up with them after four years to see if they had developed the disease.
Participants who followed the Mediterranean diet, whether they were provided with free olive oil or nuts, had a 52 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes during the four-year follow-up, and they didn’t necessarily lose weight or exercise more.
Furthermore, previous research found that the Mediterranean diet improved blood sugar control more than low-carbohydrate, low-glycemic index, and high-protein diets in people with type 2 diabetes.
This finding suggests that a Mediterranean diet may be an effective way to help ward off type 2 diabetes–related health complications.
People with Rheumatoid Arthritis May Benefit from the Mediterranean Diet
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, creating pain and swelling in and around them.
Certain properties of the Mediterranean diet, including its richness in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, may help relieve RA symptoms. Research thus far suggests that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish) may be helpful in relieving RA symptoms on top of medication, though more research is needed.
A systematic review and meta-analysis found that anti-inflammatory diets such as the Mediterranean diet reduced pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis more than other diets.
Some Foods in the Mediterranean Diet May Ease Depression
An analysis of 41 observational studies has linked the Mediterranean way of eating to a lower incidence of depression.
According to an analysis of four longitudinal studies, a diet rich in processed meats, sugar, and trans fats is associated with a 33 percent increased risk of depression.
The Importance of Moderation when Following a Mediterranean Diet
The evidence is clear and abundant that a Mediterranean way of eating can be healthful, however it’s still important to watch your portions and avoid unhealthy foods if you want to reap all the benefits.
Keep in mind that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a daily calorie intake range of 1,600 to 3,200 for an adult, depending on age, gender, and level of physical activity.
We want people to be at a healthy weight in order to help prevent diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It is possible to follow the Mediterranean diet whilst controlling your calorie intake.