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What is the Mediterranean diet?

Like low-fat diets, the Mediterranean eating pattern focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, but it also includes olive oil as a significant source of monounsaturated fat and wine in low to moderate amounts. The major protein sources are dairy, fish and poultry, with minimal red meat. Some large studies also point to the Mediterranean-style diet as an alternative pattern of eating to reduce your risk of heart disease.

The Mediterranean eating style allows a higher percentage of calories from fat than the low-fat diets typically endorsed by health organizations, but several recent major studies have shown that the diet is an acceptable alternative to low-fat diets, especially for lowering risk of diabetes and heart attacks, often related to weight. And the additional "good" fat contributes to a feeling of satiety in some.
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts and seeds and fruits with a small amount of animal based protein foods-fish is the primary protein recommended, and full fat dairy products including yogurt and cheese, and wine. The total fat content is not much lower than the typical American diet but has the strong focus on monounsaturated fats. Health benefits have been shown from following this diet although physical activity is also an important lifestyle to achieve the health benefits.

The Mediterranean Diet is based on the diet circa 1960 in several areas of the Mediterranean region, specifically the Greek island of Crete, other areas of Greece and southern Italy. Researchers were drawn to these areas because the adults living there had very low rates of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, as well as very long life expectancy. For example, the natives of Greece had a rate of heart disease that was 90 percent lower than that of Americans at the time.

In addition to a physically active lifestyle, these Mediterranean natives consumed a diet that was rich in grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. In fact, more than 60 percent of the calories in their diets in the 1960s were supplied by these high-fiber, nutritionally-dense plant foods. The majority of the fat in the diet was provided by olives and olive oil, and fish and seafood was enjoyed at least twice a week. (Note:  the latest recommendation from the USDA is to consume at least two fish meals, especially fatty fish such as salmon, weekly to increase longevity.)

The Mediterranean diet is really an outline or template based on the lifestyle of those who live in the Mediterranean region. It’s a holistic approach to a healthier lifestyle, asking for a true commitment to better food choices, physical activity and even the concept of leisurely dining. So it’s not a diet per se -- but rather a lifestyle ideal mimicking the way people in the Mediterranean region live their lives. The food template draws on diets from Spain to the Middle East.

The eating program includes: vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, olives, olive oil, small amounts of cheese, yogurt, fish, poultry, eggs and wine. What’s not to love? Obviously you need to find a caloric balance that meets your weight and health needs, but clearly there is no deprivation on a program like this. Preparation of foods is simple, and deep frying is not an option. Rarely included but not forbidden are meat, sweets and foods heavy in saturated fat or sodium. You should also buy into the recommendation of frequent family meals that are slow and allow you to savor your food, and regular physical activity.
Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics
The mediterranean plan is a goldstandard and favorite diet among dietitians due to its health benefits. It promotes the intake of olive oil, legumes (beans, lentils), fruits/figs, vegetables, whole grains and even dark chocolate and red wine. These last two need to be consumed in moderation of course. Olive oil, especially extra virgen, contain healthy fats associated in lower incidence of heart diseases. Legumes and whole grains are packed with nutrients and fiber that are very beneficial to all. Fruits and vegetable contain vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which has been found to promote health and prevent a number of diseases. Small amounts of dark chocolate and red wine can be enjoyed and provide heart benefits too.
Janis Jibrin, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
The traditional Mediterranean diet has a lot of fruits, vegetables, seafood, legumes and olive oil. In this video, I will explain the benefits of this diet.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.