Traditionally, Western Europe has two broad nutritional approaches – the Northern European and Southern European. The Mediterranean Diet is Southern European, and more specifically focuses on the eating habits of the people of Crete, much of Greece, and southern Italy. Today, Spain, southern France.
The emphasis is on lots of plant foods, fresh fruits as dessert, beans, nuts, cereals, seeds, olive oil as the main source of dietary fats, cheese and yogurts are the main dairy foods, moderate amounts of fish and poultry, up to about four eggs per week, small amounts of red meat, and low/moderate amounts of wine.
The Mediterranean diet includes
• Lots of plant foods.
• Fresh fruit as dessert.
• High consumption of beans, nuts, cereals (in the form of wheat, oats, barley, corn or brown rice) and seeds.
• Olive oil as the main source of dietary fat.
• Cheese and yogurt as the main dairy foods.
• Moderate amounts of fish and poultry.
• No more than about four eggs each week.
• Small amounts of red meat each week (compared to northern Europe).
• Low to moderate amounts of wine.
• 25% to 35% of calorie intake consists of fat.
• Saturated fat makes up no more than 8% of calorie intake.
The Mediterranean diet was not purposely developed as a diet for weight loss or heart disease prevention, but rather evolved naturally over centuries based on the foods available in the region.
Even so, research suggests that the Mediterranean diet is protective against heart disease and can improve the way your body handles blood sugar and insulin.
Advantages of the Mediterranean Diet
Positive aspects of a Mediterranean diet include:
The Mediterranean diet offers varied flavors and food options, and it covers all major food groups.
It’s low in saturated fat. While the Mediterranean diet isn’t low in fat, most of the fats in the diet are monounsaturated, or “good” fats.
These fats don’t raise cholesterol levels the same way saturated fats do. Healthful sources of fat include olive oil, fish oils, and nut-based oils.
It’s heart-healthy. A growing number of studies suggest that people who follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to die of heart disease than people who follow a typical American diet.
It may help prevent cancer. Numerous studies have also shown that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of colon, prostate, and some head and neck cancers.
Keep up your calcium intake. The Mediterranean diet doesn’t include a lot of milk or dairy products, other than some cheese and yogurt.
As a result, people who follow it should pay attention to their calcium intake.
To get enough calcium in the diet without milk, one would need to eat enough yogurt and cheese, or seek non-dairy calcium sources.
Researchers in the United Kingdom compared the Mediterranean diet to vegetarian, vegan, low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fiber, and low-glycemic index diets and found that the Mediterranean diet came out on top.
The Mediterranean diet positively affects blood sugar and blood pressure as well as cholesterol,” Sheth says. “It typically replaces saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats, and this might explain the positive effect on insulin sensitivity.
Try some easy ways to mesh this diet into your life – like swapping high-fat meats for beans, lentils, and fish, adding more fruits and vegetables, and making most of your grains whole – and you should see big benefits in your health.