9 Reasons to Try the Mediterranean Diet

Dieting doesn't always have to mean deprivation. This eating plan is simple, delicious, nonrestrictive, and benefits your whole body.

Mediterranean sample plate
1 / 11

The Mediterranean-style diet has been all the rage in recent years. This eating pattern is built on the fundamentals of healthy eating—emphasizing fresh produce, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats—and is colorful, delicious, and satisfying. No wonder it perennially lands atop U.S. News & World Report's list of outstanding diets. There are loads of factors that earn this eating pattern its strong ranking, including simplicity and heart-health benefits.

"When compared to a low-fat diet, it has a moderate impact on weight loss, but I think there are more health benefits people can reap, like lower blood pressure and reduced risk for heart disease and diabetes," says Lauren Zimmerman, RD, a registered dietitian in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

A wealth of research backs this up, too. Read on to learn about the serious advantages to adopting a Mediterranean-style diet.

a mix of healthy foods
2 / 11
The eating plan

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. According to the USDA, foods high in saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium are best left off your plate.

Proponents of the Mediterranean diet adhere to these principles, as well. This style of eating is plant-heavy and mainstays include plenty of produce, beans, peas, nuts, and other protein-rich legumes as well as nontropical cooking oils like olive and canola. Devotees use herbs and spices as much as possible, thus reducing the amount of salt they sprinkle into dishes.

Red meats should be eaten sparingly—just a few times each month—and fish should be the protein of choice once or twice each week.

Consider these easy ways to introduce Mediterranean-style cooking into your kitchen:

  • Make plant proteins, like lentils or quinoa, the stars of your dish.
  • Sauté your veggies in olive oil, rather than butter.
  • Scale back your dairy consumption and opt for low-fat milk or yogurt.
  • Swap your steak for a freshly grilled filet of salmon, tuna, or mackerel.
couple cooking together
3 / 11
It may lower your risk of developing depression

Depression affects roughly 18 percent of U.S. adults at some point in their lives, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Several factors can increase your risk, including a family history of the condition, a traumatic event, and medical problems or medication. Research also suggests a link between diet and depression.    

Healthy, anti-inflammatory eating patterns—particularly ones that resemble a Mediterranean diet—are linked to a lower risk of depression, according to a systematic review published in Molecular Psychiatry in 2018. The review analyzed results from 41 observational studies. Evaluation of four of those studies in particular found that people who adhered most closely to a Mediterranean diet had a 33 percent lower risk of developing depression compared to those whose eating patterns least matched the Mediterranean diet. 

More research is needed to draw a conclusive link between a Mediterranean-style diet and reduction in depression risk, but the associations are compelling.

man sleeping peacefully
4 / 11
It's linked to better sleep quality in older adults

The relationship between diet and sleep might be a two-way street. Research shows that getting less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep might increase the amount of fatty foods you crave. On the flip side, a Mediterranean-style diet has been linked to better sleep quality.

A 2018 study published in Geriatrics & Gerontology International  suggests a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, beans, and healthy fats—like the Mediterranean diet—is linked to better sleep quality.

The study looked at 1,639 Greek adults over the age of 65. Volunteers completed questionnaires detailing their diet and quality and duration of sleep over a four-week period. Mediterranean eaters up to age 75 reported better sleep quality compared to those who didn’t follow the diet as closely. One caveat: Even strictly following this eating plan wasn't linked to longer periods of sleep, according to the study.

If you struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, try eating a Mediterranean-style diet. You could also adopt some sleep hygiene tactics like:

  • Keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
  • Going to bed at the same time each night
  • Skipping large meals, alcohol, and caffeine before bed

If you wake up tired or get drowsy during the day, try tracking your sleep. The Sharecare app, available for iOS and Android, lets you monitor your sleep in two ways: It will track your sleep automatically or you can manually log your hours of rest. This tool can also help you create a diet and schedule that works best for you.

chopping vegetables
5 / 11
It's super simple

The Mediterranean style of eating is straightforward: Just fill your plate with the nutrients your body needs, and there will be little room left for foods that are less healthy. This simplicity, coupled with the plan's flexibility, make the Mediterranean diet easy to stick to.

"I think it's an easy diet to follow because I don't see it as too restrictive," Zimmerman says. "As long as people can find ways to incorporate a lot of plant foods—like fruits, vegetables, and beans—into their diet, they can eat plentifully without really restricting anything."

couple checking blood sugar
6 / 11
It helps control diabetes

Obesity, which is linked to an unhealthy diet, can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. In most cases, diabetes can be managed with a healthy diet, regular exercise, blood sugar monitoring, medication, insulin, or a combination of these interventions. Certain eating plans are more effective for diabetes control, and the Mediterranean diet is one of them.

A Mediterranean diet, compared to a low-fat diet, can help stabilize blood glucose levels in people with diabetes or at risk of diabetes. That’s according to a 2015 systemic review published in BMJ Open that looked at 13 meta-analyses and randomized control trials.

Adopting a Mediterranean diet can begin with small changes, like swapping your afternoon bag of chips for crunchy celery sticks and a tablespoon of hummus.

healthy fish dinner
7 / 11
It's linked to lower cancer risk

A healthful diet may help ward off some cancers. Research from 2017 published in the International Journal of Cancer suggested that a Mediterranean-inspired diet is linked to a reduced risk of estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Results from the study—which looked at 62,573 Dutch women between the ages of 55 and 69—suggest that those who adhered most closely to a Mediterranean diet were 40 percent less likely to develop this form of breast cancer compared to those who didn't follow the diet.

The reason this style of eating may be effective in minimizing the risk of breast cancer is unclear, though experts have a theory. Over time, inflammation can increase your cancer risk, but certain foods may help counteract the damage. A typical Mediterranean diet is rich in anti-inflammatory foods like olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, and nuts.

mature woman looking at tablet
8 / 11
It reduces cognitive decline

Your brain changes as you age and, in older adults, these changes can include shrinking. A decrease in the brain's size may cause a drop in cognitive function. But the Mediterranean diet may give a whole new meaning to the phrase "brain food."

A 2017 Scottish study published in the journal Neurology suggests a link between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and brain volume. The study ran for three years and included 400 adults between the ages of 73 and 76, all without dementia. Those who stuck with the diet most closely experienced less brain shrinkage than those who didn't adhere as closely.

A second study of 5,907 older adults published later that year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests a connection between a Mediterranean or MIND-style diet and better cognitive skills, like memory and attention.

To boost your brain health, try swapping your standard lunch sandwich with a spinach salad, topped with chopped walnuts, fresh berries, and a serving of grilled chicken.

mix of healthy foods
9 / 11
It boosts heart health

A number of factors, including your weight, age, blood pressure, activity levels, and family history contribute to your risk of heart disease. But your diet plays a part, too.

While unhealthy eating habits can hurt your heart, following a Mediterranean diet may help protect your ticker. A June 2018 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine linked a Mediterranean diet to a lower risk of cardiovascular events—like stroke and heart attack—among people ages 55 to 80 with a high risk of heart disease. Participants ate one of three diets: a Mediterranean-style diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, the same diet supplemented with mixed nuts, or a low-fat diet.

A separate December 2018 study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that a Mediterranean diet may be helpful for women's hearts. Researchers assessed the diets of nearly 26,000 women at the beginning of the study and divided participants into one of three groups based on how closely they followed a Mediterranean eating plan: low, medium, or high adherence. Participants' health was tracked for a period of 12 years, and compared to those in the low adherence group, those who followed the eating plan more strictly were, on average, about 25 percent less likely to develop heart disease.

The researchers speculated that several factors may contribute to the heart-healthy benefits of a Mediterranean diet. Their findings suggest this eating plan is linked to a lower risk of inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which are independent risk factors for heart disease. 

Zimmerman suggests a diet that limits processed junk food and focuses on whole foods can help lower blood pressure levels. "You're not consuming as much sodium and you're eating a lot more potassium, which can really help counteract the effects of sodium on the blood pressure," she says.

Potassium-rich foods include bananas, avocados, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and sweet potatoes.

mature couple jogging
10 / 11
It protects older adults from frailty

Frailty is a syndrome common in older people that involves several conditions, including unintentional weight loss, low energy, and muscle weakness. Frail adults are also at an increased risk for bone fractures, falls, and dementia.

The good news is that there are some proven ways to slow the degree of physical and mental decline in older adults. A 2018 analysis of 5,789 people in four studies suggests that older adults who follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to become frail.

Results from one of the studies included in the analysis suggest Mediterranean-style eaters can reduce their risk of frailty. The study followed 560 non-frail adults for two years. At the end of the study, 79 adults had become frail, defined as having three or more of the following criteria: involuntary weight loss, exhaustion, slowness, weakness, and low physical activity.

Those seniors who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet had a 68 percent lower risk of becoming frail compared to those who followed the diet the least faithfully. The Mediterranean eaters also saw a reduction in risk for slowness, low activity, and poor muscle strength.

Four black women sitting around a table and enjoying a healthy meal together
11 / 11
It's been linked to a lower risk of stroke in women

A September 2018 study published in Stroke, an American Heart Association (AHA) journal, linked a Mediterranean-style diet to a reduction in stroke risk in women over 40 years of age.

Researchers tracked the eating patterns of 23,232 European men and women between the ages of 40 and 77 over a 17-year period. Participants provided a food log in which they recorded everything they had eaten and drank over the course of a week. Overall, those who followed a Mediterranean-style diet had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke.

Women who adhered most closely had on average a 22 percent lower risk of stroke onset. (The reduction in stroke risk among men was just 6 percent, which researchers believe may have been due to chance.) Among participants with an already high risk for cardiovascular disease, the eating plan was linked to a 20 percent lower likelihood of stroke in women and 13 percent lower risk of stroke overall.

Although the study suggests a Mediterranean-style diet is less successful in preventing stroke in men, the AHA recommends most people focus on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and a moderate amount of fat from nuts and seeds. The AHA dietary recommendations are similar to a Mediterranean-style diet. The big difference? The latter often delivers more fat, though it's mostly the healthy kind.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Lassale C, Batty GD, Baghdadli A, et al. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Psychiatry. 2019;24(7):965-986.
Mamalaki E, Anastasiou CA, Ntanasi E, et al. Associations between the mediterranean diet and sleep in older adults: Results from the hellenic longitudinal investigation of aging and diet study. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2018;18(11):1543-1548.
Esposito K, Maiorino MI, Bellastella G, Chiodini P, Panagiotakos D, Giugliano D. A journey into a Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review with meta-analyses. BMJ Open. 2015;5(8):e008222.
van den Brandt PA, Schulpen M. Mediterranean diet adherence and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer: results of a cohort study and meta-analysis. Int J Cancer. 2017;140(10):2220-2231.
Luciano M, Corley J, Cox SR, et al. Mediterranean-type diet and brain structural change from 73 to 76 years in a Scottish cohort. Neurology. 2017;88(5):449-455.
McEvoy CT, Guyer H, Langa KM, Yaffe K. Neuroprotective Diets Are Associated with Better Cognitive Function: The Health and Retirement Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017;65(8):1857-1862.
Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or Nuts. N Engl J Med. 2018;378(25):e34.
Ahmad S, Moorthy MV, Demler OV, et al. Assessment of risk factors and biomarkers associated with risk of cardiovascular disease among women consuming a mediterranean diet. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(8):e185708.
Kojima G, Avgerinou C, Iliffe S, Walters K. Adherence to Mediterranean Diet Reduces Incident Frailty Risk: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2018;66(4):783-788.
Paterson KE, Myint PK, Jennings A, et al. Mediterranean diet reduces risk of incident stroke in a population with varying cardiovascular disease risk profiles. Stroke. Published online September 20, 2018:2415-2420.

More On

Does drinking water cause bloating?


Does drinking water cause bloating?
Drinking a lot of water does not directly cause bloating, but it can exacerbate bloating if you are eating too much salt, or not eating enough potassi...
Sirloin Steaks with Mushroom Sauce


Sirloin Steaks with Mushroom Sauce
Tender and savory, these steaks hit the spot.
6 Lettuce-Free Recipes That Will Make You Love Salad


6 Lettuce-Free Recipes That Will Make You Love Salad
Tired of leafy greens? These flavorful, nutritious dishes will be right up your alley.
Looking for ways to help you get those Zzzzzs...


Looking for ways to help you get those Zzzzzs...
Tart cherry juice has been linked to better sleep. To catch some more zzzs, try a viral tart cherry juice sleepy time mocktail before bed.
Which foods can help me maintain high energy levels naturally?


Which foods can help me maintain high energy levels naturally?
Nutritionist Kate Geagan explains which foods help an individual maintain high energy levels naturally.