A Mediterranean diet can help fight against heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and cognitive decline. Here's how to make the switch.
What is a “Mediterranean diet?”
When you think about Mediterranean food, your mind may go to pizza and pasta from Italy, or lamb chops from Greece, but these dishes don’t fit into the healthy dietary plans advertised as “Mediterranean.” A true Mediterranean diet is based on the region’s traditional fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seafood, olive oil, and dairy—with perhaps a glass or two of red wine. That’s how the inhabitants of Crete, Greece, and southern Italy ate circa 1960, when their rates of chronic disease were among the lowest in the world and their life expectancy among the highest, despite having only limited medical services.
And the real Mediterranean diet is about more than just eating fresh, wholesome food. Daily physical activity and sharing meals with others are vital elements. Together, they can have a profound effect on your mood and mental health and help you foster a deep appreciation for the pleasures of eating healthy and delicious foods.
Of course, making changes to your diet is rarely easy, especially if you’re trying to move away from the convenience of processed and takeout foods. But the Mediterranean diet can be an inexpensive as well as a satisfying and very healthy way to eat. Making the switch from pepperoni and pasta to fish and avocados may take some effort, but you could soon be on a path to a healthier and longer life.
Health benefits of a Mediterranean diet
A traditional Mediterranean diet consisting of large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil—coupled with physical activity—can reduce your risk of serious mental and physical health problems by:
Preventing heart disease and strokes. Following a Mediterranean diet limits your intake of refined breads, processed foods, and red meat, and encourages drinking red wine instead of hard liquor—all factors that can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
Keeping you agile. If you're an older adult, the nutrients gained with a Mediterranean diet may reduce your risk of developing muscle weakness and other signs of frailty by about 70 percent.
Reducing the risk of Alzheimer's. Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and overall blood vessel health, which in turn may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
Halving the risk of Parkinson's disease. The high levels of antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet can prevent cells from undergoing a damaging process called oxidative stress, thereby cutting the risk of Parkinson's disease in half.
Increasing longevity. By reducing your risk of developing heart disease or cancer with the Mediterranean diet, you're reducing your risk of death at any age by 20%.
Protecting against type 2 diabetes. A Mediterranean diet is rich in fiber which digests slowly, prevents huge swings in blood sugar, and can help you maintain a healthy weight.
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Myths and facts about the Mediterranean diet
Following a Mediterranean diet has many benefits, but there are still a lot of misconceptions on exactly how to take advantage of the lifestyle to lead a healthier, longer life. The following are some myths and facts about the Mediterranean diet.
|Myths and facts of a Mediterranean diet|
|Myth 1: It costs a lot to eat this way.|
Fact: If you're creating meals out of beans or lentils as your main source of protein, and sticking with mostly plants and whole grains, then the Mediterranean diet is less expensive than serving dishes of packaged or processed foods.
|Myth 2: If one glass of wine is good for your heart, then three glasses is three times as healthy.|
Fact: Moderate amounts of red wine (one drink a day for women; two for men) certainly has unique health benefits for your heart, but drinking too much has the opposite effect. Anything more than two glasses of wine can actually be bad for your heart.
|Myth 3: Eating large bowls of pasta and bread is the Mediterranean way.|
Fact: Typically, Mediterraneans don't eat a huge plate of pasta the way Americans do. Instead, pasta is usually a side dish with about a 1/2-cup to 1-cup serving size. The rest of their plate consists of salads, vegetables, fish or a small portion of organic, grass-fed meat, and perhaps one slice of bread.
|Myth 4: The Mediterranean diet is only about the food.|
Fact: The food is a huge part of the diet, yes, but don't overlook the other ways the Mediterraneans live their lives. When they sit down for a meal, they don't sit in front of a television or eat in a rush; they sit down for a relaxed, leisurely meal with others, which may be just as important for your health as what's on your plate. Mediterraneans also enjoy plenty of physical activity.
How to make the change
If you're feeling daunted by the thought of changing your eating habits to a Mediterranean diet, here are some suggestions to get you started:
Eat lots of vegetables. Try a simple plate of sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese, or load your thin crust pizza with peppers and mushrooms instead of sausage and pepperoni. Salads, soups, and crudité platters are also great ways to load up on vegetables.
Always eat breakfast. Fruit, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods are a great way to start your day, keeping you pleasantly full for hours.
Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, salmon, herring, sablefish (black cod), and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish like mussels, oysters, and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.
Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week. If it's helpful, you can jump on the “Meatless Mondays” trend of foregoing meat on the first day of the week. Or simply pick a day where you build meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Once you get the hang of it, try two nights a week.
Enjoy dairy products in moderation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 10% of your daily calories (about 200 calories for most people). That still allows you to enjoy dairy products such as natural (unprocessed) cheese and Greek or plain yogurt.
For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Instead of ice cream, cake or other baked goods, opt for strawberries, fresh figs, grapes, or apples.
Use good fats. Extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados are great sources of healthy fats for your daily meals.
What to do about mercury in fish
Despite all the health benefits of seafood, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of pollutants, including the toxic metal mercury. These guidelines can help you make the safest choices.
- The concentration of mercury and other pollutants increases in larger fish, so it's best to avoid eating large fish like shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel.
- Most adults can safely eat about 12 ounces (two 6-ounce servings) of other types of cooked seafood a week.
- Pay attention to local seafood advisories to learn if fish you've caught is safe to eat.
- For women who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and children aged 12 and younger, choose fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, or catfish. Because of its higher mercury content, eat no more than 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
Make mealtimes a social experience
The simple act of talking to a friend or loved over the dinner table can play a big role in relieving stress and boosting mood. Eating with others can also prevent overeating, making it as healthy for your waistline as it is for your outlook. Switch off the TV and computer, put away your smartphone, and connect to someone over a meal.
Gather the family together and stay up to date with each other's daily lives. Regular family meals provide comfort to kids and are a great way to monitor their eating habits as well.
Share meals with others to expand your social network. If you live alone, cook a little extra and invite a friend, coworker, or neighbor to join you.
Cook with others. Invite a friend to share shopping and cooking responsibilities for a Mediterranean meal. Cooking with others can be a fun way to deepen relationships and splitting the costs can make it cheaper for both of you.
Quick start to a Mediterranean diet
The easiest way to make the change to a Mediterranean diet is to start with small steps. You can do this by:
- Sautéing food in olive oil instead of butter.
- Eating more fruits and vegetables by enjoying salad as a starter or side dish, snacking on fruit, and adding veggies to other dishes.
- Choosing whole grains instead of refined breads, rice, and pasta.
- Substituting fish for red meat at least twice per week.
- Limit high-fat dairy by switching to skim or 1% milk from 2% or whole milk
|Instead of this:||Try this Mediterranean option:|
|Chips, pretzels, crackers and ranch dip||Carrots, celery, broccoli and salsa|
|White rice with stir-fried meat||Quinoa with stir-fried vegetables|
|Sandwiches with white bread or rolls||Sandwich fillings in whole-wheat tortillas|
|Ice cream||Pudding made with skim or 1% milk|
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, 9th Edition. (2020). https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. (2020). Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/2020-advisory-committee-report
Skerrett, P. J., & Willett, W. C. (2010). Essentials of Healthy Eating: A Guide. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 55(6), 492–501. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmwh.2010.06.019
McMillan, L., Owen, L., Kras, M., & Scholey, A. (2011). Behavioural effects of a 10-day Mediterranean diet. Results from a pilot study evaluating mood and cognitive performance. Appetite, 56(1), 143–147. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2010.11.149
Caprara, G. (2021). Mediterranean-Type Dietary Pattern and Physical Activity: The Winning Combination to Counteract the Rising Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Nutrients, 13(2), 429. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13020429
Morris, M. C., Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., Sacks, F. M., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Aggarwal, N. T. (2015). MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, 11(9), 1015–1022. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011
Conner, T. S., Brookie, K. L., Carr, A. C., Mainvil, L. A., & Vissers, M. C. M. (2017). Let them eat fruit! The effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on psychological well-being in young adults: A randomized controlled trial. PLOS ONE, 12(2), e0171206. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171206
Liao, Y., Xie, B., Zhang, H., He, Q., Guo, L., Subramaniapillai, M., Fan, B., Lu, C., & Mclntyer, R. S. (2019). Efficacy of omega-3 PUFAs in depression: A meta-analysis. Translational Psychiatry, 9, 190. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0515-5
Veronese, N., Solmi, M., Caruso, M. G., Giannelli, G., Osella, A. R., Evangelou, E., Maggi, S., Fontana, L., Stubbs, B., & Tzoulaki, I. (2018). Dietary fiber and health outcomes: An umbrella review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 107(3), 436–444. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqx082
Song, M., Wu, K., Meyerhardt, J. A., Ogino, S., Wang, M., Fuchs, C. S., Giovannucci, E. L., & Chan, A. T. (2018). Fiber intake and survival after colorectal cancer diagnosis. JAMA Oncology, 4(1), 71–79. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaoncol.2017.3684
Larrieu, T., & Layé, S. (2018). Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety. Frontiers in Physiology, 9, 1047. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.01047See AlsoProfessionalism in nursing 2: working as part of a teamPSP: Frontotemporal DementiaTell me about Dementia Friendly Dentistry20 Benefits of Learning Online | Kajabi
Marx, W., Moseley, G., Berk, M., & Jacka, F. (2017). Nutritional psychiatry: The present state of the evidence. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 76(4), 427–436. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665117002026
Around the web
Last updated: October 21, 2022
In 2022, U.S. News & World Report also ranked the Mediterranean Diet the Best Plant-Based Diet, the Best Heart-Healthy Diet, Best Diabetes Diet, Best Diet for Healthy Eating, and the Easiest Diet to Follow. The rankings are determined by a panel of nutrition, heart health, diabetes, and weight loss specialists.How many eggs a day on Mediterranean diet? ›
Based on their high cholesterol content, the Mediterranean Diet Foundation recommends to consume up to 4 eggs per week, as a healthy alternative to fish or meat , and the same amount (2–4 eggs per week) was indicated in the latest Italian dietary guidelines .How long does it take to see results from the Mediterranean diet? ›
In one study, following a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts or olive oil for 3 months led to significant improvements in cholesterol and systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease ( 4 ).What foods are not allowed on the Mediterranean diet? ›
The Mediterranean diet is high in plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Foods not allowed include processed red meats, heavily processed foods, refined grains, alcohol, butter, and refined/processed/hydrogenated oils.What is the number 1 healthiest diet? ›
Mediterranean Diet, DASH Diet, and Flexitarian Diets Remain the Best Diets of 2022. All three diets are also highly recommended by doctors because of their known health benefits. “The Mediterranean eating plan doesn't have a set calorie range or portion guidelines, which is why it can fit almost anyone's needs.What do Mediterraneans eat for breakfast? ›
Spain and Italy: toasted bread + soft cheese + fresh fruit or freshly squeezed fruit juice. Greece: paximadia (bread made from whole wheat, chickpea, and barley ﬂour) + olives + cheese. Syria: tahini yogurt with chickpeas + pickles + sliced radishes. Morocco: fried egg in olive oil + soft cheese + olives + ﬂatbread.Is peanut butter OK on Mediterranean diet? ›
And as plant-based protein sources that are high in good and unsaturated fats, peanuts and peanut butter are a natural fit within Mediterranean and Flexitarian ways of eating.Can you have coffee on Mediterranean diet? ›
Coffee and tea are also healthy beverage choices on the Mediterranean diet. Be mindful of adding lots of added sugar or cream. You'll want to limit sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda or sweet tea, which are very high in added sugar.What can I put in my coffee on the Mediterranean diet? ›
Can I Drink Coffee On The Mediterranean Diet? - YouTubeAre potatoes OK on Mediterranean diet? ›
Potatoes definitely shouldn't be avoided on the Mediterranean diet. Potatoes may seem like a "bad carb" sometimes, but they aren't viewed that way on this diet. They can be a great source of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, fiber, and more. Try eating white potatoes and sweet potatoes without going overboard.
Oats are a whole grain, which is encouraged on the Mediterranean diet. Low or moderate amounts of cheese, such as brie, feta, ricotta, and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), are also allowed. All types of fresh fruits, including bananas, are a go on the diet.Which bread is best for Mediterranean diet? ›
You can still enjoy bread as part of the Mediterranean Diet, just swap your white bread for whole grains. Whole grain breads and pastas contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat pitas are a healthier option as they are usually lower in calories.Is Rice OK on Mediterranean diet? ›
Is rice on the Mediterranean diet? Yes, rice is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. It's often eaten as a pilaf with herbs and spices rather than plain. For example, you can try Mediterranean Yellow Rice or Chickpea Rice Pilaf.Is oatmeal OK on Mediterranean diet? ›
Oatmeal is a safe option that can be dressed up for breakfast to make it better. Try adding a variety of nuts and fruit to improve the taste of plain oatmeal. Consider making it with honey, diced apples and chopped walnuts. Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries are also good options.What is the simplest diet you can live on? ›
Under the diet, each meal should consist of four handfuls of food — one handful of protein, one of carbohydrates, and two of vegetables — plus a spoonful of fat. This means no calorie counting or weighing food portions, which can be difficult if you're on the go or don't own kitchen scales.What cheese is OK on Mediterranean diet? ›
Cheese & Yogurt
Dairy products common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: brie, chevre, corvo, feta, haloumi, manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino, ricotta, yogurt (including Greek yogurt).
Hot Millet Breakfast Cereal
The Mediterranean diet encourages consuming plenty of whole grains—and there's no shortage of good-for-you grains to experiment with. Millet, for example, provides a unique alternative to the usual oats or whole wheat toast you might normally turn to at breakfast.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on fresh vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, beans, and eggs. A chicken wrap with apples and nuts is a filling Mediterranean-inspired lunch. Almond-stuffed dates are a sweet and crunchy way to get protein and fiber.Can you eat pizza on Mediterranean diet? ›
Can you eat pizza on a Mediterranean diet? Yes you can! As long as you make a whole wheat pizza dough and use many vegetables and some feta cheese. This whole wheat Mediterranean pizza and this Greek pizza are two of my favorite recipes.Can I have cream cheese on the Mediterranean diet? ›
Cheeses, eggs, milk and other low-fat dairy products are included in the Mediterranean diet.
Opt for nutrient-dense foods, like Greek yogurt
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating foods in their most nutrient-dense forms, which makes Greek yogurt a particularly good option for those seeking protein.
White fish and shellfish are also good lean protein sources, but aren't as high in omega-3s. Red and processed meats are eaten rarely. Chicken, turkey, eggs, cheese and yogurt can be enjoyed weekly or daily but in moderate portions.What milk can you drink on Mediterranean diet? ›
You can drink dairy on the Mediterranean diet, including cow's dairy and dairy alternatives (e.g. almond milk or soy milk). This also means that you can consume yogurt and cheese, although it still makes sense to reduce your consumption of these foods as they are high in calories and fats.Can you eat dark chocolate on the Mediterranean diet? ›
The Mediterranean diet is all about moderation, which means indulging in dark chocolate sometimes is A-OK! In addition to being Mediterranean-approved, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and has been linked to better heart health.Is diet Coke OK on Mediterranean diet? ›
The Mediterranean Diet does not recommend artificial sweeteners. The focus of this way of eating is on real, whole foods and avoiding chemicals and processed foods.Are tacos OK on Mediterranean diet? ›
Tacos can be Mediterranean Diet friendly. Going out for Taco Tuesday is an excuse to expand my menu choices beyond tacos. Burritos, fajitas, quesadillas, chips, salsa and guacamole are all included.Can you eat English muffins on the Mediterranean diet? ›
Another easy breakfast on the Mediterranean diet is opting for an English muffin piled high with hearty toppings. Yautz recommended smearing a whole-grain English muffin with bean spread before adding a handful of potassium-packed spinach and a poached egg.Can you eat canned tuna on the Mediterranean diet? ›
Canned tuna is a great Mediterranean Diet food. It is rich in protein, low in fat and calories, and is an excellent source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which science has shown to improve heart health and brain function.Can you eat chips on Mediterranean diet? ›
Thanks to Olive Tomato, chips are fair game on the Mediterranean diet.What is the unhealthiest meat? ›
- hot dogs.
- corned beef.
- beef jerky.
- canned meat.
- meat-based preparations and sauces (e.g. certain kinds of Bolognese)
- Raw or undercooked eggs, meat and poultry. ...
- Grapefruit. ...
- High-sodium foods. ...
- Caffeine. ...
- Sodas and sugary drinks. ...
- “Sugar-free” drinks. ...
- Alcoholic beverages. ...
- Foods with empty calories.
“Avoid any foods that have the words 'trans,' 'hydrogenated,' or 'partially hydrogenated' on the label [indicating bad fats], often found in commercially fried foods, donuts, cookies and potato chips,” advises Dr. DeVane. “Also, be aware of how many calories are coming from sugar.Can you eat mayo on Mediterranean diet? ›
Just make sure you're eating healthy monounsaturated fats like avocado and not inflammatory vegetable fats found in mayonnaise. You won't find that creamy spread on the list of 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.Is the Mediterranean diet the healthiest in the world? ›
US News ranks healthy diet as best in several categories. US News & World Report recently weighed in on the best diets for 2022. The Mediterranean diet topped the scale as the best diet overall in the annual best diet rankings for the fifth consecutive year.What are the long term consequences of the Mediterranean diet? ›
Conclusion: Adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced odds of having hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, diabetes and obesity among elderly people.Are eggs on Mediterranean diet? ›
The diet also includes moderate amounts of lean poultry, fish, seafood, dairy and eggs. You should avoid fried foods, sweets, red meats and white flour products.Are sweet potatoes allowed on the Mediterranean diet? ›
Ideally, you should base your diet on these healthy Mediterranean foods: Vegetables: tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips. Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches.What kind of bread can you eat on Mediterranean diet? ›
You can still enjoy bread as part of the Mediterranean Diet, just swap your white bread for whole grains. Whole grain breads and pastas contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat pitas are a healthier option as they are usually lower in calories.What is the simplest diet you can live on? ›
Under the diet, each meal should consist of four handfuls of food — one handful of protein, one of carbohydrates, and two of vegetables — plus a spoonful of fat. This means no calorie counting or weighing food portions, which can be difficult if you're on the go or don't own kitchen scales.Can you eat oatmeal on Mediterranean? ›
Oatmeal is a safe option that can be dressed up for breakfast to make it better. Try adding a variety of nuts and fruit to improve the taste of plain oatmeal. Consider making it with honey, diced apples and chopped walnuts.
In 2020, WW was ranked #1 Best Diet for Weight Loss by U.S. News and World Report* for the tenth consecutive year and #4 for Best Diet Overall. The Mediterranean diet was ranked #15 for Weight Loss and #1 Overall. Sounds like a winning combination toward weight loss and reaching your goals.Is almond milk on Mediterranean diet? ›
Milk is not traditionally part of a Mediterranean diet. If you're new to this way of eating and are struggling to cut down your dairy, you can substitute it with unsweetened almond or soy milk, since nuts and legumes are staples of the diet.Is peanut butter Mediterranean diet? ›
And as plant-based protein sources that are high in good and unsaturated fats, peanuts and peanut butter are a natural fit within Mediterranean and Flexitarian ways of eating.What cheese is OK on Mediterranean diet? ›
Cheese & Yogurt
Dairy products common to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include: brie, chevre, corvo, feta, haloumi, manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino, ricotta, yogurt (including Greek yogurt).
Canned tuna is a great Mediterranean Diet food. It is rich in protein, low in fat and calories, and is an excellent source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which science has shown to improve heart health and brain function.Can I eat french fries on the Mediterranean diet? ›
Finally, potatoes are also low in saturated fat. This makes them a great food to choose if you're following a Mediterranean diet, which generally encourages foods with less saturated fat. Combined with their good nutritional profile, potatoes are a healthy food to include within a Mediterranean diet.