Why you should start a Mediterranean Diet

16th November, 2022 • 5 min read

Learn how to start the Mediterranean diet and reap its multiple health benefits.

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Whether it’s a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on your tomato salad, a plate of grilled fish with greens, or a lentil curry with rice, the ingredients of a Med-style diet are easy to pick up at your local supermarket.

Healthily doctor

Dr Adiele Hoffman
says: “There’s not one standard Mediterranean-style diet – the ingredients vary from country to country, but the core elements are the same, namely minimally processed food, plenty of fruit and vegetables, fish and monounsaturated olive oil, as well as beans, pulses and grains, and not much red meat.

“It’s not about just one ‘magic’ ingredient but rather their combined effects and how they work together. Experts say this is probably due to the combined anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of the ingredients.

“It’s a very healthy diet and studies have shown it can protect your heart, and is associated with other benefits too, including protection against stroke, some cancers and it can help you live longer.”

The good news is that you don’t have to live near the Mediterranean to enjoy the same health benefits – studies have shown people living in the US who follow the diet can get all the same goodness.

What is Mediterranean food?

There are no official guidelines about exactly what to eat and in what quantities when it comes to the Mediterranean diet, but the American Heart Association recommends the following key components:

The American AHA also recommends you limit how much processed meat and red meat you eat as well as sugary candy, processed foods and dairy.

The US government’s

dietary guidelines
also emphasize basing your diet on nutrient-dense foods, and limiting food high in added sugar, saturated fat, salt and alcoholic drinks.

Dr Adiele says: “The majority of the Mediterranean diet is plant-based – the main protein source is fish and beans rather than meat (including chicken and red meat), which are high in fiber.

“You should aim to base your meals around vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, which also contain important nutrients.”

The evidence on alcohol and red wine in particular is conflicting, but it seems the possible harms may outweigh the benefits. Federal guidelines say those who don’t drink shouldn’t start, and those who do should stick to moderate amounts.

Watch this video for more information on the Mediterranean diet.

Benefits of olive oil

A study in the US has found those with the highest intakes of olive oil (a key ingredient of the Med diet) had lower risks of premature death from conditions such as heart disease and a lower risk of neurodegenerative disease, such as dementia.

Another study found replacing 5g a day of other fats with olive oil was enough to make a difference.

What about portions?

There are no set rules about portions, but the

Mediterranean Diet Foundation
, an international organization based in Greece, recommends following a pyramid eating plan, which can help work out how many portions of each food group you should eat at each meal.

Under this approach, you eat more of the foods at the bottom of the pyramid, such as fruit and vegetables, and smaller amounts of those in the middle or the top of the pyramid, such as red meat, potatoes and sugary foods.

What are the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet?

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet include the following:

Lower risk of death from heart disease and stroke

Numerous studies have found an association between the Mediterranean diet and a lower rate of heart disease.

One study of more than 25,000 US women found that sticking to a Mediterranean style diet for 12 years was associated with up to a 28% lower risk of heart attack and stroke.

Protective against cancer

Multiple studies suggest the Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of overall cancer deaths, as well as a reduction in the risk of several specific types of cancer. These include:

Living longer

Recent studies have also estimated that switching to an optimal diet (with Med-style ingredients) could increase life expectancy.

The researchers calculated that switching from a typical Western diet to an optimized diet could add 10 years to the life expectancy of a 20-year-old woman, and 8 years to a 60-year-old woman.

How to get started with a Mediterranean diet

Here are some easy ways to start introducing Mediterranean diet fruits and vegetables to your meals:

  • swap desserts and snacks for fruit and nuts
  • have meat-free days every week
  • ditch butter and other saturated fats for olive oil
  • use extra virgin olive oil to make salad dressings
  • eat green leafy vegetables every day
  • add salad or vegetables to every meal – aim to have vegetables taking up the largest space on your plate
  • substitute meat with beans and lentils in stews and curries
  • swap red meat for oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, sardines or anchovies, twice a week

Read more Mediterranean diet

recipe
ideas.

Eat more of these foods

  • olive oil, rapeseed and sunflower oils
  • olive oil and sunflower spreads
  • whole grain breads, brown pasta and brown rice
  • porridge, oat-based cereal and muesli
  • oatcakes and digestives
  • unsalted nuts, dried and fresh fruits
  • lean meat, seafood and oily fish
  • reduced fat dairy, soya and other dairy alternatives

Eat less of these foods

  • lard, margarine and butter
  • white bread, pasta and rice
  • candy and biscuits
  • milk chocolate
  • pastry
  • burgers, fatty meats and pies, sausages
  • high fat cheese

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.