Real Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Learn why the Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular diets for weight loss and health improvement.
In countries like Spain, France, Italy, Morocco, Greece, and many others that line the Mediterranean sea, the Mediterranean diet has been the way of life for thousands of years.
But it’s only in the past 50 years that it became one of the most popular diet recommendations for Americans and northern Europeans who wanted to be healthier.
Back in the 1960’s researchers noticed that while rates of heart disease and cardiac arrest were on the rise in America and northern Europe, the same wasn’t happening in the Mediterranean countries. So naturally, they wanted to figure out why.
And that’s when the huge health benefits of the Mediterranean diet started coming to light.
What are the benefits of the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet has been held up to intense scrutiny for over 50 years now. So what have researchers found that makes this diet worth trying?
Some of the most extensive studies done on the Mediterranean diet have found how good it is for your cardiovascular health. Which isn’t a surprise. It’s one of the reasons it started to gain popularity outside of the region.
So how does the diet improve your heart health?
- Improves your cholesterol levels by lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol
- Lowers your blood pressure
- Improves your blood sugar levels
There are also studies that looked into which specific foods in the Mediterranean diet provide targeted heart health benefits.
Nuts—which are a staple in the Mediterranean diet—can reduce improve cardiovascular health and improve overall mortality.
And since the diet includes fish a couple times a week, you also get a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids. One study found that omega-3 with a Mediterranean diet are less likely to experience a heart attack or die from heart disease-related factors.
The Mediterranean diet is also believed to prevent and help manage diabetes.
When the Mediterranean diet was compared with a low-fat diet, it was found to be more effective for managing diabetes. Both blood glucose and insulin levels improved while one the diet.
And another study found that it can prevent or reduce the need for drug therapy in people who already have type 2 diabetes.
But the diet does more than help people manage diabetes. It has the power to prevent diabetes from developing in the first place. In a study with 400+ individuals, the Mediterranean diet reduced the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes over a 4 year period by 52%.
The diet also has weight loss benefits.
Because the diet involves cutting out processed foods high in added sugar, it’s easier to lose weight. It also helps that many of the foods included in the diet are nutrient-dense and filling.
A group of studies found that it’s as effective as other popular diets, like low-carb diets for weight loss.
It’s also proven to be an effective diet to manage weight long-term. Sticking to the Mediterranean diet for a year or more prevents weight gain
So how do you do a Mediterranean diet?
When you think of the Mediterranean diet, what food comes to mind? Is it pizza? A hearty pasta in a meat sauce with red wine?
While these dishes are part of the regions’ cuisine, they aren’t the staples that make it heart-healthy or great for weight loss. Following the Mediterranean diet doesn’t mean eating pizza every day. Or even once a week.
So what would you eat on a regular basis on the Mediterranean diet?
Here’s a breakdown of what your diet would include:
- 7-10 servings of fruits and veggies every day.
- Plenty of carbs—whole-grain bread, pasta, and cereal
- Healthy fats like olive oil instead of butter or margarine
- Seafood twice a week. Tuna, salmon, trout, and shrimp are all on the menu. Ideally grilled rather than deep-fried.
- Limited red meat. Poultry, eggs, and beans are eaten far more than red meat on the Mediterranean diet. That’s not to say it’s never allowed. A few times a month is the norm.
- Enjoy some dairy. Eat low-fat Greek or plain yogurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses.
- Red wine in moderation. Want to enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner? A single glass a few nights a week is typical with the diet.
There’s also a Mediterranean diet food pyramid that was put together by the Harvard School of Public Health to give you a visual breakdown of the food groups.
Another key is to avoid highly processed foods full of artificial sugars. So just because the frozen food aisle has some mac and cheese mixed with broccoli doesn’t mean it’s Mediterranean diet-friendly. Buy food fresh and cook it yourself as much as you possibly can.
And if you’re looking for some meal inspo to try it out yourself, here’s a list of 27 Mediterranean diet meals.
Meal ideas to try
There isn’t any pizza, but there are so many delicious dishes in the Mediterranean diet. This means it’s a diet you can reap health benefits from and enjoy!
So here are three meal and snack ideas for you to try. Plus a link to more!
Lemon + Garlic Shrimp Pasta
Pasta is very much allowed on this diet. The key is to use whole-grain pasta. So next time you buy pasta at the store, opt for a whole-grain option over the standard.
All this dish requires is a serving of shrimp (for you and anyone else you’re cooking for), pasta, 1 lemon, and fresh minced garlic to taste. Cook the garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil, add the shrimp and the lemon juice, plus some salt and pepper to taste and you’re done! When it’s mixed with pasta it’s a perfect meal. And you can complete it by adding a mixed veggie side salad.
Hummus with veggies
Hummus is a staple in the Mediterranean diet. And while it’s easy to find it at the store, it’s so easy to make yourself and worth doing so you control everything that goes into it. You can have it with veggies and some pita for an afternoon snack. Or you can put it on toast with your breakfast in the morning. Its use is so flexible.
All you need to make the hummus is to put two cans of chickpeas into a blender. Add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, salt, and anything else you want to add to taste. It’s as easy as that! Plus, when you make two cans you’ll have enough for a few days.
The Greek salad is a classic. And like the other meals listed here, it’s easy to make. You just need a cucumber, Roma or grape tomatoes, feta cheese, bell pepper, black olives, and avocado (as a nice little add-on). And to make the dressing you mix red wine vinegar, olive oil, fresh lemon, garlic, and a bit of honey. Then chop up the ingredients, mix them together with the dressing and you’re done!
To make this a whole meal, you can add some chicken to the salad. Or you can just leave it as is for a side.
These are just some of the many ways to cook tasty and healthy dishes that fit this diet. You can find 50 more recipes here.
Looking for a diet and weight loss plan that’s right for you?
The Mediterranean diet is just one of many beneficial diet guides. Whether or not it’s right for you depends on your personal situation and dietary restrictions.
It’s always best to talk to a doctor when you decide to make major dietary changes and create a weight loss plan. Not only can they help you achieve it faster, but they also help you do so safely.
At Valley Medical Weight Loss our doctors help you create a diet and weight loss plan that’s right for you.
- Montserrat Fitó, MD. “Effect of a Traditional Mediterranean Diet on Lipoprotein Oxidation.” Archives of Internal Medicine, JAMA Network, 11 June 2007, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/486851.
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- Shai, Iris, et al. “Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet: NEJM.” New England Journal of Medicine, 13 Nov. 2008, www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0708681.
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- Agnoli, Claudia, et al. “Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Long-Term Changes in Weight and Waist Circumference in the EPIC-Italy Cohort.” Nutrition & Diabetes, Nature Publishing Group UK, 25 Apr. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5916888/.
By Jodi Jaffe
January 7, 2021
Nutrition, Weight Loss