The Revolutionary Diet Shift: Why Mediterranean Eating is the Gold Standard
Wellness the Mediterranean way: Nutrient-rich foods, transformative benefits, and lifelong health.
Origins and Vast History of the Mediterranean Diet
What’s in this article:
- Where is the Mediterranean diet from?
- Staples of Mediterranean Cuisine
- What do you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
- Impact and Transformative Effects on the Body
- Leveraging the Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss
- Health Benefits and Considerations
- Embracing the Mediterranean Way
Where is the Mediterranean diet from?
The Cradle of Life: The Mediterranean’s diet comes from the region’s rich history, painting a tapestry of tradition centered around healthy living, supported by aromatic, simple, and wholesome foods. The diet is named after the Mediterranean region, encompassing 23 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. This includes nations like Spain, Italy, Greece, and southern France, among others.
The region’s climate characteristics of hot dry summers and humid, cool winters and a generally, hilly, even mountainous, landscape surrounding the vast and bountiful Mediterranean Sea has provided a cornucopia of foods to the inhabitants for millennia.1
This diet isn’t based on a single cuisine from one of these countries but rather reflects a composite of traditional eating patterns found in this region. Although there are variations within these countries to the exact ingredients where for example, what one might eat in coastal Greece might differ from inland Spain, there are common elements like olive oil, fish, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that thread these diets together.2
Staples of Mediterranean Cuisine
What do you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet paints a vibrant mosaic of culinary delights. Farms not only produce the fruits, grains, vegetables, and meats, but local inhabitants also cultivate and share seasonally grown, prized foods, including knowledge of wild species. The Mediterranean diet encompasses this approach, valuing both cultivated products and wild species, and preserving the indigenous and traditional knowledge about their utilization.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Meals intricately layer the freshest of fruits like berries, citrus, and figs with a variety of vegetables such as leafy greens, tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, and the ever-essential olive oil. These fruits and vegetables, bursting with flavor and nutrients, form the bedrock of the diet.
- Nuts, Seeds and Whole Grains: You’ll find heart-healthy nuts, seeds, satiating whole grains, and fiber-rich legumes. The multi-prong roles of cereals like bread, polenta, couscous, soups, paella and pasta, allow the diet to provide the satisfying and delicious “ability to fill” and reduce hunger, especially if used for weight loss.3
- Meats: Central to this diet are lean proteins, with fish and poultry being staples, celebrated for their roles in promoting cardiovascular and overall health. 5 If this is a particular food you thoroughly enjoy the general recommendation is “Aim for no more than a single, 3-ounce serving per week, and stick to lean cuts like tenderloin, sirloin and flank steak.”6
- Red Wine: Let’ s celebrate together this fact. Another notable feature is the moderate intake of red wine, prized for its antioxidants, particularly resveratrol, known for numerous health advantages.7 (Yay!)
- Spice Things Up: Setting the Mediterranean menu apart is its generous use of aromatic herbs and spices such as basil, rosemary, and oregano. These not only elevate dishes with rich flavors, reducing the reliance on salt, but they also come teeming with health benefits, from anti-inflammatory properties to antioxidant richness. Herbs like oregano have a multitude of health benefits and we’re only beginning to understand like it’s role in gastrointestinal health, showing positive effects of lowering GI inflammation.8
Embracing this diet means enjoying a symphony of flavors, while also nurturing one’s health, allowing for adaptability and personalization.
Impact and Transformative Effects on the Body
How does the Mediterranean diet work and what happens to your body when you follow it?
The Mediterranean diet works by emphasizing heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, high fiber foods, and lean proteins. These components work together to regulate blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels, and promote overall cardiovascular health. When someone adopts this diet, their body experiences a shift. One might notice:
- Improved Digestion: Consuming dietary fiber from nuts and cereals improves digestion by increasing the gut content’s viscosity and promoting bulk to your diet, keeping you regular and thereby reducing risks of diseases like coronary heart conditions, diabetes, and obesity.9
- Better Skin Health: due to the antioxidants that help fight free radical damage as well as preventing wrinkles.10
- Decrease in Inflammation: with its balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, it plays a pivotal role in decreasing inflammation, helping to prevent chronic inflammatory skin conditions, and promoting overall skin health.11
Over time, adhering to this diet can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and promote long-term health and longevity.12 When paired with exercise it’s possible to see a boost to your aerobic performance and lower your running times after as little as four days on the diet.13
Leveraging the Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss
First, accelerating weight loss on the Mediterranean diet involves leveraging its nutrient-rich components for optimal metabolic function. Individuals who prioritize unsaturated fats from sources like olive oil and nuts not only experience increased fat burning due to enhanced fat oxidation, but these healthy fats also help you feel fuller for longer.14 The high fiber content of the Mediterranean diet, especially from legumes and whole grains, also promotes feelings of satiety, reducing overall caloric intake. This sense of fullness can lead to reduced cravings and fewer instances of overeating. The emphasis on a high protein diet with lean proteins, such as fish, is linked to muscle preservation during weight loss, ensuring that weight loss is primarily from fat stores rather than muscle tissue. 15
Second, maximizing weight loss potential by incorporating regular physical activity is essential. Pairing the Mediterranean diet with a consistent cardio routine, like Running, or turning it up to 11 with High Intensity Interval Training, can help in burning calories, increasing stamina, and promoting cardiovascular health, making the weight loss journey even more effective.16
Lastly, introducing Intermittent Fasting (IM) alongside the Mediterranean diet can further boost weight loss results. Fasting periods cause insulin levels to drop, prompting the body to use stored fat for energy. The essence of intermittent fasting reduces the time in the day allowed to eat, rewarding planned meals and discouraging snacking. However, when making lifestyle changes its best to incorporate them slowly and when pairing IM with workouts its very important to have enough nutrients and calories to fuel your body correctly. Our advice would be to pick two out of the three options here and stick with it before adding a third.
Health Benefits and Considerations
Is the Mediterranean diet healthy?
The Mediterranean diet is often touted as one of the healthiest diets globally and for good reasons. Positives include a reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation. It also promotes brain health, potentially reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders. Moreover, it’s a sustainable and flavorful way of eating and can lead to long-term adherence, which is especially important when trying to change habits, start a new diet, and lead a healthier life.17
While the Mediterranean diet primarily promotes lean proteins, fresh produce, and limited processed foods, it necessitates careful monitoring of caloric intake. Some might find it a bit costly due to its emphasis on fresh ingredients. Additionally, its recommendation for moderate wine consumption might not align with everyone’s health or personal choices.
- Reduced Inflammation: One of the standout features of the Mediterranean diet is its anti-inflammatory properties. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and nuts, have been known to reduce inflammation in the body. The diet’s abundance of fruits and vegetables means you’re consuming a lot of antioxidants, which combat inflammation and lower the risk of chronic oxidative stress-related diseases like cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and deaths from all causes.18,19,20,21 The regular consumption of olive oil, rich in polyphenols, also plays a role in reducing inflammation and promoting heart health.22
- Lower Cholesterol: The MedDiet is rich in heart-healthy foods like olive oil, nuts, and legumes, can reduce LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels. High in fiber from grains, fruits, and vegetables, it aids in cholesterol management. Meanwhile, avoiding saturated and trans fats, prevalent in some meats and processed foods, further promotes optimal cholesterol health.23 The combination of avoiding the bad foods while devouring the good delivers a one-two punch to this healthy routine, supercharging its benefits.
- Beneficial for Diabetics: The diet emphasizes foods that have a low to moderate glycemic index, which means they release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, preventing sharp spikes in blood sugar.24 Regular consumption of foods full of fiber like whole grains, legumes, and plenty of vegetables ensures steady energy and balanced blood sugar. For diabetes and prediabetes, healthy fats from olive oil and nuts can help improve insulin sensitivity, making it easier for the body to regulate blood sugar.25,26
- Lower BMI: Another gold star goes to the Med cuisine for the management and prevention of obesity so if you’re trying to shed weight or keep it off then look no further. Numerous studies not only show a greater reduction of one’s Body Mass Index (BMI) compared to other diets but other studies “found a reduced risk of becoming obese and gaining weight over time associated with a higher adherence to MedDiet”.Angela Parisi, Federica Tagliaferri, Stefano Ciriminna, Mario Barbagallo, Mediterranean diet in the management and prevention of obesity, Experimental Gerontology, Volume 174, 2023, 112121, ISSN 0531-5565, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2023.112121.%5B/efn_note%5D
- Awareness of Caloric Intake: When choosing a diet and meal plan you should be aware of the potential pitfalls and the Mediterranean cuisine is no different. Foods high in carbohydrates (carbs) are featured prominently like pasta, rice, and bread which can potentially be eaten without awareness of one’s daily caloric intake causing weight gain and spikes in blood sugar. The good news is that there are amazing healthy alternatives which can easily be substituted, especially with the help of Mediterranean-style cookbooks and easy to follow meal plans. Simple alternatives include choosing whole-grain pasta or vegetable noodles like zucchini noodles instead of regular pasta and brown rice or quinoa in place of white rice. Its important to adhere to proper portion sizes to limit the amount of carbs eaten.27
- Cost: There’s no denying in our current world no matter where you are the cost of grocery store bills have risen relentlessly and the choice of healthy eating has become a luxury for some. Organically produced fresh fruits and vegetables are now considered premium products, though they often come with shorter shelf lives.28 Buying foods in bulk like grains, nuts and frozen vegetables is a great way to cut costs. Weekly planning and meal prep paired with the storing of leftovers in containers for refrigerating or freezing prevents food waste; the only thing worse than expensive food is expensive food that spoils or is thrown out. However not all foods need to be purchased as organic and money can be saved while still eating well if you follow the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen guidelines.
Embracing the Mediterranean Way
The Mediterranean diet is a blend of tradition and health rooted in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It offers a mix of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats. Not only does it promise better digestion and reduced inflammation, but it also lowers the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. While there are some considerations, like watching caloric intake and the cost of fresh ingredients, the overall benefits are substantial. In essence, the Mediterranean diet isn’t just about food; it’s a lifestyle choice for better health and well-being.
- Coll, M., Piroddi, et al. The biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea: Estimates, patterns, and threats. PLOS ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0011842
- Dernini S, Berry EM, Serra-Majem L, et al. Med Diet 4.0: the Mediterranean diet with four sustainable benefits. Public Health Nutr. 2017;20(7):1322-1330. doi:10.1017/S1368980016003177
- Altomare R, Cacciabaudo F, Damiano G, et al. The mediterranean diet: a history of health. Iran J Public Health. 2013;42(5):449-457. Published 2013 May 1.
- Widmer RJ, Flammer AJ, Lerman LO, Lerman A. The Mediterranean diet, its components, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Med. 2015;128(3):229-238. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.10.014 Red meat, although not a mainstay, finds its way to the plate occasionally, advised to be consumed just a few times a month to maintain the diet’s balance.4Harvard School of Public Health. Diet Review: Mediterranean Diet. Last reviewed April 2023
- Milanowski, A. (2023, August 18). How to follow the Mediterranean Diet. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-get-started-on-the-mediterranean-diet-aka-the-healthiest-diet-for-your-heart
- Hrelia S, Di Renzo L, Bavaresco L, Bernardi E, Malaguti M, Giacosa A. Moderate Wine Consumption and Health: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2022;15(1):175. Published 2022 Dec 30. doi:10.3390/nu15010175
- Veenstra JP, Johnson JJ. Oregano (Origanum vulgare) extract for food preservation and improvement in gastrointestinal health. Int J Nutr. 2019;3(4):43-52. doi:10.14302/issn.2379-7835.ijn-19-2703
- P NPV, Joye IJ. Dietary Fibre from Whole Grains and Their Benefits on Metabolic Health. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):3045. Published 2020 Oct 5. doi:10.3390/nu12103045
- Nguyen G, Torres A. Systemic antioxidants and skin health. J Drugs Dermatol. 2012;11(9):e1-e4.
- Bali? A, Vlaši? D, Žužul K, Marinovi? B, Bukvi? Mokos Z. Omega-3 Versus Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Prevention and Treatment of Inflammatory Skin Diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(3):741. Published 2020 Jan 23. doi:10.3390/ijms21030741
- Romagnolo DF, Selmin OI. Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Nutr Today. 2017;52(5):208-222. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000228
- Michelle E. Baker, Kristen N. DeCesare, Abby Johnson, Kathleen S. Kress, Cynthia L. Inman & Edward P. Weiss(2019)Short-Term Mediterranean Diet Improves Endurance Exercise Performance: A Randomized-Sequence Crossover Trial,Journal of the American College of Nutrition,38:7,597-605,DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2019.1568322
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH.gov News in Health. “Weighing in on Dietary Fats: Some Fats Are Healthier Than Others” December 2011
- Moon J, Koh G. Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2020;29(3):166-173. doi:10.7570/jomes20028
- Foster-Schubert KE, Alfano CM, Duggan CR, et al. Effect of diet and exercise, alone or combined, on weight and body composition in overweight-to-obese postmenopausal women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012;20(8):1628-1638. doi:10.1038/oby.2011.76
- Harvard Health. Diet & Weight Loss.
- Miller V, Mente A, Dehghan M, Rangarajan S, Zhang X, Swaminathan S, Dagenais G, Gupta R, Mohan V, Lear S, Bangdiwala SI. Fruit, vegetable, and legume intake, and cardiovascular disease and deaths in 18 countries (PURE): a prospective cohort study. The Lancet. 2017 Nov 4;390(10107):2037-49.
- Aune D, Giovannucci E, Boffetta P, Fadnes LT, Keum N, Norat T, Greenwood DC, Riboli E, Vatten LJ, Tonstad S. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International journal of epidemiology. 2017 Jun 1;46(3):1029-56.
- Bhupathiraju SN, Wedick NM, Pan A, Manson JE, Rexrode KM, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Hu FB. Quantity and variety in fruit and vegetable intake and risk of coronary heart disease. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2013 Oct 2;98(6):1514-23.
- Joshipura KJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, Speizer FE, Colditz G, Ascherio A, Rosner B, Spiegelman D, Willett WC. The effect of fruit and vegetable intake on risk for coronary heart disease. Annals of internal medicine. 2001 Jun 19;134(12):1106-14.
- Bucciantini M, Leri M, Nardiello P, Casamenti F, Stefani M. Olive Polyphenols: Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021;10(7):1044. Published 2021 Jun 29. doi:10.3390/antiox10071044
- Mayo Clinic Staff, “Cholesterol: Top foods to improve your numbers.”
- Diabetes UK. “Glycaemic index and diabetes“
- Jurado-Ruiz E, Álvarez-Amor L, Varela LM, et al. Extra virgin olive oil diet intervention improves insulin resistance and islet performance in diet-induced diabetes in mice. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1):11311. Published 2019 Aug 5. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-47904-z
- Wien M, Bleich D, Raghuwanshi M, et al. Almond consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in adults with prediabetes. J Am Coll Nutr. 2010;29(3):189-197. doi:10.1080/07315724.2010.10719833
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthy Eating for People With Diabetes“
- Shelflifeadvice.com. “Does conventional food have a longer shelf life than organic?” Dec 07, 2010