Mediterranean Diet – How Does It Work, What Foods To Eat & Avoid?

Mediterranean Diet

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Did you know that the Mediterranean diet has been touted as one of the healthiest diets in the world? Inspired by the dietary patterns of Spain, Lebanon, Portugal, Southern Italy, Palestine and Greece, the diet is based on the notion that people living in the Mediterranean region live longer and suffer less from cancer and cardiovascular ailments in spite of eating rich, fatty foods. The secret to the success of the Mediterranean diet lies in the active lifestyle, weight control and consumption of nuts and healthy foods.


Varying between 16 Mediterranean countries and between the regions within a country, the Mediterranean diet is influenced by the region’s culture, ethnic backgrounds, religion, agricultural production and economy.

How does Mediterranean diet work?

The main feature of this diet is that it includes a high consumption of legumes, olive oil, unrefined cereals, fruits, vegetables, moderate consumption of fish, cheese, and low consumption of red meat. Top it with red wine to stay fit and active!

Features of the Mediterranean diet:

1. Vegetables:

The Mediterranean diet prescribes 6 to 12 servings of vegetables a day. Pick vegetables in a variety of colors to get a wide range of antioxidants and vitamins. Some of the most nutritious vegetables are carrots, cucumber, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, garlic, cauliflower and peppers. A big bowl of green salad is a great way to include vegetables in the diet. You can also cook a vegetarian meal by combining beans, whole grains, herbs and vegetables.

2. Grains:

The Mediterranean diet advises 4 to 6 servings of whole grains and its products every day. Refined carbs lack all the essential nutrients and can wreak havoc on one’s blood sugar. Eat whole grains with healthy fats and proteins for best results. Try to include sprouted and fermented grains for better nutrient absorption and digestion. Supplement your intake with whole wheat bread, muesli, spaghetti, porridge, polenta and pasta to obtain the benefits.

3. Milk and milk products:

The Mediterranean diet provides 1 to 3 servings of low fat milk and milk products like yogurt and hard cheese daily. Yogurt is easier to digest and supplies the beneficial bacteria that contribute to gastrointestinal health.

4. Herbs and spices:

Include sufficient amount of herbs and spices in your Mediterranean diet. They are full of plant compounds and antioxidants that help to fight inflammation and ageing.

5. White meat:

The Mediterranean diet prescribes 1 to 2 servings of poultry, fish and shellfish. Aim to eat at least four servings of fish two to three times a week. White fish like cod, hake, halibut, turbot, crab, lobster, trout and sardines are some of the best options. A mix of oily and white fish will reduce the risk of heart diseases and irregular heartbeat. Lean, skinless chicken is extremely high in protein, Vitamin 12 and minerals, while being low in fat. Put small strips of chicken in your salad or add diced prosciutto to your pasta. You can also consume eggs, but in moderation.

6. Seeds and legumes:

Legumes and seeds are excellent sources of fiber. Nuts and seeds like almonds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts are rich in healthy fats and antioxidants. A daily serving of legumes is recommended in the Mediterranean diet.

7. Fruits:

Fruits are a healthy way to indulge your sweet tooth. They are a good source of fiber, Vitamin C and antioxidants that are highly beneficial for the health. Fruits like grapes, apples, bananas, pears, melons, olives, figs and tomatoes are excellent choices for the Mediterranean diet.

8. Drinks:

The Mediterranean diet also recommends moderate consumption of wine with every meal. Research has indicated that people who consume wine in moderate quantities are less likely to have heart diseases. It raises good cholesterol and thins out the blood, making it less prone to clotting. It also contains antioxidants that prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. Do not drink more than 3 small glasses of red wine if you are a man and not more than 2 glasses if you are a woman. Also, do not forget to drink 2 liter of water every day. You can also drink antioxidant-rich green tea to aid digestion.

9. Take your time:

The Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle than a diet. Instead of gobbling up the foods, eat slowly and savor what you are eating. Eating slowly allows one to stay in tune with the body’s hunger and fullness signals.

10. Exercise:

Along with the diet, it is also recommended to indulge in 30 minutes of daily exercise to sustain the levels of fitness. Exercise could be anything from taking long walks to jogging, cycling or swimming. Exercise and regular physical activities can also help to burn off excess calories and fat.

11. Replace butter with margarine and olive oil:

Olive oil, a healthier alternative to butter, is considered as a very important part of the Mediterranean diet. It contains high levels of monounsaturated fat and oleic acid, which may help in the reduction of coronary heart risk. The antioxidants present in olive oil help to improve good cholesterol and reduce bad cholesterol. High quality extra virgin olive oil, seasoned with balsamic vinegar will make a delicious dip for bread. Other healthy alternatives include canola and walnut oil.

Restricted foods:

1. Cream and butter:

Milk products like cream and butter, which are high in fat, should be avoided as excess intake can raise the bad cholesterol, leading to heart and vascular diseases.

2. Red meat:

Red meat like beef, lamb and pork must be avoided while following a Mediterranean diet. Red meat contains high levels of saturated and trans fats that can cause major damage to the body.

3. Potatoes:

The high starch content in potatoes can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

4. Sweets:

Sweets and desserts like cakes, biscuits, sweets, and chocolates should not be consumed in high quantities. Excess intake can damage the teeth and increase the risk of vascular diseases.


1. Cardiovascular benefits:

The Mediterranean diet can help to lower the risk of heart diseases. A research has found that the Mediterranean diet is far more effective than low fat diets in bringing about long term changes in cardiovascular diseases. The diet can reduce the risk of heart disease in people by about 30%. It is also known to reduce bad cholesterol and improve good cholesterol in the blood.

2. Weight loss:

Some researchers have also linked the Mediterranean diet to weight loss. According to the journal, “Obesity Reviews”, following a Mediterranean diet along with regular exercise can lower the likelihood of obesity. Packed with fruits, vegetables and grains, the Mediterranean diet which is quite filling, rreduces the desire to overeat, preventing obesity.

3. Diabetes:

The Mediterranean diet is also proven to prevent and control diabetes. The diet is rich in fiber, which slows down digestion and prevents spikes in blood sugar levels. According to a study, people who supplemented their diet with extra virgin olive oil were 40% less likely to develop diabetes as compared to those who followed a low fat diet.

4. Agility:

The nutrients provided by the Mediterranean diet reduce the risk of muscle weakness and other signs of frailty in the elderly people by about 70%.

5. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease:

Researchers have speculated that the Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol and blood vessel health, reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The diet also provides high levels of antioxidants that prevent the cells from oxidative stress, preventing Parkinson’s disease.

6. Improved longevity:

Apart from reducing the risk of heart diseases and cancer, Mediterranean diet also reduces 20% risk of death at any age.

Nutritional value:

1. Fat:

The Mediterranean diet provides 20 to 35% of daily calories from fat, as recommended in MyPlate.

2. Fiber:

The Mediterranean diet provides 22 to 33 grams of fiber, which keeps you full for longer times and promotes good digestion.

3. Potassium:

An ample amount of potassium is very important to counter salt’s ability to raise blood pressure and reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. The sample Mediterranean diet falls a little short of the daily recommended amount.

4. Calcium:

Calcium is required to build strong bones and to enable the muscles to function properly. Eating high amounts of yoghurt, tofu and fortified cereals can help you meet your daily recommended amount of calcium.

5. Vitamins:

The Mediterranean diet can easily help you to meet 2.4 micrograms of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin B12. The diet comprises of foods like cereals, meat, yoghurt and milk to help you to get closer to the goal. Low fat dairy products and fortified cereals can help you to meet your daily amount of Vitamin D to lower the risk of bone fracture.

6. Protein:

The Mediterranean diet recommends the consumption of skinless chicken, fish and turkey, which can help you meet the daily levels of protein. Aim to eat fish twice a week. Fatty fishes like salmon and tuna are excellent options as they contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat that improves heart health.

Side Effects:

There are generally no side effects of the Mediterranean diet as long as you create a sensible plan. People suffering from severe health conditions should consult their doctor before making any dietary changes.

To conclude, the western and Mediterranean diets have a similar fat content, but the latter is high in healthy monounsaturated fats, which makes it healthier compared to many other diets.

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