People living in countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey tend to have a lower incidence of chronic diseases and higher than average life expectancy. Diet is believed to be one of the main reasons for this.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the eating habits of people who live near the Mediterranean Sea. It consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, grains, olive oil, legumes, seeds, and nuts with moderate consumption of fish, seafood, poultry, dairy products, and wine. Sweets and red meat are eaten occasionally.
The Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer. In addition, researches show that this nutritional approach has beneficial effects on aging and cognitive function. For example, the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of developing age-related cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. This eating pattern is linked with improvements in cognitive function, attention, memory, and processing speed in older people.
The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern rather than a strict diet. Mediterranean Diet Pyramid describes general guidelines, which are:
- include to every meal: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, olive oil, herbs, and spices;
- eat at least twice a week: fish, seafood;
- eat daily to weekly in moderate amounts: poultry, eggs, dairy products, cheese, red wine;
- eat less often: sweets, red meat, saturated fats.
Notably, the Mediterranean eating approach emphasizes making olive oil a primary fat source in your diet.
As was mentioned, this eating pattern allows the consumption of red wine with meals in moderation. Guidelines suggest that it should be limited to one glass of wine per day for females and two glasses for males.
In addition to some nutritional suggestions, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes being physically active and enjoying your meals with others.
Consult your physician if you have diabetes or cancer. Though the Mediterranean diet can decrease the risk of developing these conditions, if you already have them, you should talk with your doctor before trying this nutritional approach.
Moderate consumption of red wine is a part of the Mediterranean diet. However, some people should avoid alcohol, including:
- pregnant and breastfeeding women
- individuals prone to alcohol abuse
- people at risk of breast cancer and other conditions that may worsen due to alcohol intake
How to avoid possible nutritional deficiencies
Overall, the Mediterranean diet is a healthy and balanced nutritional approach. Still, some people may encounter deficiencies in some nutrients, including iron and calcium. To ensure you are getting enough of them, add some of the following foods to your diet:
- iron: shellfish, fish (tuna, sardines, haddock), tofu, legumes, quinoa, spinach, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, turkey, dark chocolate;
- calcium: cheese, yogurt, almonds, seeds (poppy, sesame, chia, celery seeds), amaranth, leafy greens, rhubarb, salmon, sardines, tofu, lentils, beans, edamame, fortified foods;
If you experience difficulties getting enough of these nutrients, you can take them in the form of supplements. Consult with the doctor or nutritionist to be advised about specific supplements you may need.
Tips on improving your dieting experience
The Meditteranean diet is a healthy and easy-to-follow eating approach. However, it still can be challenging for some people to stick with this diet without proper knowledge. So here we provide some tips for the Mediterranean diet:
- choose olive oil instead of butter or other vegetable oil
- eat more fish
- give preference to fruits and honey instead of cakes, cookies, and chocolate
- enjoy healthy fats like nuts and olives
- introduce a variety of vegetables to your diet
- switch to whole grains and whole-grain bread
- use homemade salad dressings
- opt for lean meat and fish instead of red meat
- plan your meals ahead
- choose red wine in moderation instead of other alcoholic beverages
- enjoy your meals with others
Remember that the Meditteranean diet is not only about what you eat. It is a lifestyle that includes making healthy food choices, enjoying the process of eating and staying active.
According to the U.S. News, the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest nutritional approach. It promotes eating whole foods, choosing healthy fats instead of saturated ones, being physically active, and enjoying your food. The Mediterranean diet has many health benefits. For example, it lowers the risks of developing chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart diseases. In addition, this eating pattern has an advantageous effect on cognitive function.
While promoting various benefits, the Mediterranean diet isn’t strict. Instead, it allows for flexibility and food enjoyment.