What is the Mediterranean diet? - Health Channel


What is the Mediterranean diet? |

The Mediterranean Diet

Maybe you’ve heard of the Mediterranean Diet and you want to know more?  In the 1960s, researchers noticed that there were significantly fewer deaths from heart disease in Mediterranean countries than in the U.S. and northern Europe.  One of the more likely causes for this inequality is the difference in our dietary habits.


What exactly is the Mediterranean Diet?


While there is no single definition for this diet, studies began to find that eating primarily vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats each day along with fish, poultry, beans, and eggs each week is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  In addition, the traditional diet of this region includes moderate portions of dairy products and limited intake of red meat.


Meals are built around plant-based foods and use healthy fats like olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, instead of saturated or trans-fats which contribute to heart disease.


The Mediterranean diet typically includes fatty fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon and lake trout. These fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  These polyunsaturated fats may reduce inflammation in the body.  They also decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and decrease the risk of stroke and heart failure.


Fruit is often served as a dessert, rather than desserts with high levels of refined sugar and other highly refined carbohydrates.


Other components of the Mediterranean Diet


People in this region also tend to share meals with family and friends.  When you are socializing during meals, you tend to eat more slowly, and recognize that you are full earlier in the meal.


People in this region also tend to be more physically active than people in the U.S. and northern Europe.


They often have a glass or two of red wine with meals.  While alcohol has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease in some studies, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans caution against starting to drink if you don’t already. They also recommend not increasing how much alcohol you drink now.


What do health organizations say about this eating plan?

  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the Mediterranean Diet as a healthy eating plan to promote health and prevent chronic disease.
  • The World Health Organization considers it a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern.
  • U. S. News and World Report lists it as one of the best diets year after year in their annual ranking by experts of popular diets.  This is based on how healthy the diets are and how easy they are to follow.
  • The American Heart Association says that a Mediterranean-style diet can help you achieve their recommendations for a healthy dietary pattern.  They note, too, that this diet is low in sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and fatty and processed meats so the risk of stroke, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure is reduced.  It is also low in added sugar.

How do you get started on the Mediterranean Diet?


Some people are ready to jump right in to protect their health by following this style of eating.  But it is okay to start slowly.  Take a look at what you are eating – and drinking – and find one or two changes you can make.  Maybe cut out, or at least cut down, on sugary drinks.  Just don’t substitute juice, which can have more calories than soda.  Water is the best choice.


Choose whole fruits instead of drinking juice.  Whole fruit has fiber, which most juice doesnt, so it helps to keep your blood sugar in check and keeps you full longer, among other health benefits.  One thing you might try is eating an orange with breakfast, rather than drinking orange juice.


Find recipes to try using beans, lentils or other legumes.  Search the American Heart Association website, the DASH diet, or the Bean Institute website, but there are many other good sites, too.

If you have any more questions just Ask Hanna, our health advisors are here to help.

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