Mediterranean Diet 101: Benefits, Drawbacks, Myths and More

Mediterranean Diet 101: Benefits, Drawbacks, Myths and More

The Mediterranean diet emerges from the type of food consumed in countries located along the Mediterranean Sea. These include France, Greece, southern Italy and Spain.

The diet includes whole foods such as beans, fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods provide the body with carbohydrates (for energy), protein (for muscle growth), healthy fats (to rebuild cell membranes), natural fibers (for better digestion), and vitamins and minerals (for the growth). It aims to avoid dairy products, red meats and sweets.

In this way, it is similar to diets that improve heart health. Otherwise, it is distinct because it promotes the intake of calories from sources of healthy fats such as olive oil and includes a moderate consumption of wine.

mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is affordable, sumptuous and healthy. It combines diet and lifestyle, motivating you to be energetic and in a good mood. It promotes appreciation of food and company and a positive bodily experience as well as a feeling of well-being.

The Mediterranean food pyramid contains beans, fruits, herbs, legumes, nuts, olive oil, seeds, spices and whole grains at the bottom, indicating that these foods should be eaten frequently and serve as a basis for food.

The second level has fish and seafood. The third level includes eggs, dairy and poultry. Finally, the highest level contains beef, lamb, pork and sweet products. The frequency and portions of food to be consumed by each group decrease from bottom to top.

Note: The foods mentioned in the third and highest level should be eaten in minimal amounts if you are trying to manage your weight.

Main components of the Mediterranean diet

Mediterranean diet list

Here are the basic elements of the Mediterranean diet.

1. Fruits and vegetables

Any diet that promotes heart health advises you to consume fruits and vegetables because they decrease the sensitivity of individuals to cardiovascular problems.

Fruits and vegetables help provide a feeling of fullness; therefore, they can help lower your body mass index (BMI). In addition, they provide the body with a myriad of micronutrients. Evidence suggests that fruits and vegetables have many antioxidants and flavanols. Unlike red meat, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables does not increase the blood pressure of middle-aged men.

The fruits that are part of the Mediterranean diet are:

Figs· Lawyers
· Apples· Pears
Apricots· Appointment
· Peaches· Nectarines
· Melons· Strawberries
· Cherries· Tomatoes
· Grapes· Mandarins
· Grapefruits· Oranges
ClementineOlives
Grenada

The vegetables that are part of the Mediterranean diet are:

· Beets· Carrots
· Radishes· Potatoes
· MushroomsPumpkins
· Eggplant· Onions
· Peppers· Lemons
· CucumberCelery
· Leeks· Fennel
Okra· Peas
Broccoli· Brussels sprouts
· Salad· Cabbage
Kale· Dandelion greens
· Mustard greensCollard Greens
  • Fruits should be eaten once or twice with a total intake of 2 cups per day.
  • Vegetables should be eaten two or more times with a total intake of 2–2 ½ cups per day.[2]
Note: The consumption of fruits and vegetables should be moderate so that your diet is nutritious while being low in calories.[1]

2. Seafood

The Mediterranean diet is considered to promote healthy living. Seafood became part of this diet because the countries of origin were located near the sea.[3] The wealthy in this region from the earliest days preferred fresh fish that was taken out of the sea and grilled or fried in olive oil. They ate seafood, especially oysters, raw or fried.[5]

Moderate consumption of seafood is known to have health benefits. Seafood is abundant in amino acids, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. Polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids are also found in seafood, and this compound is not present in terrestrial organisms. These functional constituents of seafood help reduce the risk of arteriosclerotic and thrombotic disease.[6]

The Mediterranean diet consists of the following seafood:

· SquidTuna
Plaice· Mackerel
SardinesYellowtail
· Salmon· Sea bass
TilapiaEel
· Shrimp· Clams
· Whelk· Hulls
· Oyster· Mussels
· CrabLobster
Octopus
  • Eat two or more servings of seafood in a week; one serving is equivalent to 3 ounces.[4]
  • You can cook, grill, grill, poach, roast or sauté fish before eating.

Note: Refrain from eating seafood such as king mackerel, shark, crustaceans, swordfish and tiles as these have increased the amount of mercury.

3. Good fats

The Mediterranean diet contains small amounts of saturated fat and large amounts of unsaturated or “good” fats.[7] Good fats are made up of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which improve our cardiovascular health.

Good fats also play a role in maintaining our overall health.

  • They lower our blood pressure.
  • They reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering triglyceride levels and fighting inflammation.
  • They help lower bad LDL and increase good HDL cholesterol.
  • They regulate abnormal heartbeats.

Sources of monounsaturated fats include:

  • Lawyers
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans)
  • Oils (canola, olive, peanut, sesame)
  • Olives
  • Peanut Butter

Sources of polyunsaturated fats include:

  • Oily fish (herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna)
  • Oils (corn, safflower, soy)
  • Seeds (flaxseed, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • Nuts

4. Whole grains

Whole grains are naturally enriched with several nutrients such as minerals, natural fibers, vitamins, lignans, phytochemicals, phenolic compounds and a number of bioactive components. These nutrients have a positive impact on health and increased consumption of whole grains has been shown to decrease the sensitivity of type 2 diabetes by about 20% to 30%.

Consistent consumption of whole grain cereals and their products helps reduce the risk of colorectal polyps, colorectal cancer and other cancers that can develop in the gastrointestinal tract and pancreas or cancers that are caused by certain hormones. Whole grains can also make you less prone to chronic non-communicable diseases.[10]

  • Your diet should contain one to two servings of whole grains or its products with each meal.[13]

A serving would include one of the following:

  • 6 inch pita bread (whole wheat)
  • 6 crackers (whole grains)
  • 1 slice of bread (whole wheat)
  • 1 small roll (whole grains)
  • ½ large bread (whole grain)
  • ½ cup cooked cereals (whole grain – cracked wheat, oatmeal, quinoa)
  • ½ cup cooked barley, brown rice and pasta (whole wheat)
  • ½ cup corn, peas, potatoes, peas and sweet potatoes

5. Dairy products

Dairy products should be consumed at low to moderate levels during a Mediterranean diet. The consumption of dairy products should mainly consist of cheese and yogurt.[9]

One serving means 1 ounce of low-fat cheese or 1 cup of fat-free skim milk-based yogurt.

6. Meat

Small portions of red meat eaten from time to time may be associated with certain health benefits.[14]

According to a 2016 study published in the Nutrition Society Proceedings, when red meat is eaten in addition to a varied and healthy diet, it provides adequate protein and other essential nutrients. These nutrients have a higher bioavailability when they are obtained from red meat than when they are obtained from other food sources. In moderation, red meat can also help maintain weight since its consumption is linked to satiety.[18]

  • You should eat less than two servings of red meat per week, one serving being 1 ounce of meat.

7. Wine

Wine is an important part of the Mediterranean diet and, when consumed in moderation, has various health benefits.

Wine has a myriad of polyphenolic substances, in particular anthocyanins, catechins, epicatechins, flavanols, polyphenolic acids, proanthocyanidins and stilbene resilatatrol. These substances are beneficial for your health. Resveratrol in particular has anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics. It increases the activity of SIRT1 (a protein), thus increasing your life.[11]

According to a 2016 study published in Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, moderate consumption of wine as well as a varied and nutritious diet full of cereals, olive oil as the main source of fats and herbal products and occasional consumption of red meat is beneficial.

The Mediterranean way of drinking means drinking regularly but moderately with food, about two 6-ounce glasses per day for men and one 6-ounce glass for women. Controlled consumption of wine can make you less prone to cardiovascular disease and does not increase the risk of cancer. It can also add years to your life.[11]

Note: Include red wine in your meal plan only if you drink alcohol. If you are not already drinking, do not start drinking just for health reasons or otherwise. Avoid consuming any other alcoholic drink other than red wine.

Meal plan for the Mediterranean diet

If you are following a Mediterranean diet, each meal should consist of the following foods.

  • ½ cup cooked beans
  • ½ cup cooked cereal or pasta / 1 slice of bread (whole grain)
  • ½ cup raw / cooked fruits and vegetables
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon dried or fresh herbs
  • 1 to 2 cloves of garlic per day
  • ½ teaspoon of oil for each serving
  • 1 glass of red wine at each evening meal

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

health benefits of the Mediterranean diet

A Mediterranean diet of minimally processed plant foods has various benefits. It makes you less prone to a number of chronic diseases and increases longevity.

Scientific research has shown that following a Mediterranean diet can help reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

There is a lack of conclusive evidence on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. The limited evidence we have suggests that it has the following effects on the body:[15]

  • It lowers the lipid levels in your body.
  • It relieves inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • It slows the accumulation of platelets.
  • It helps inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, thereby decreasing the spread of this deadly disease and reducing the risk of developing it.
  • It improves your metabolism.

1. Promotes heart health

Olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil has antioxidant properties because it contains simple and complex phenols. Olive oil can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease due to the presence of water-soluble phenolic compounds. These include compounds that have a lower molecular weight that attack free radicals and regulate enzymes.

Note: Calorically correct portions of each component are recommended by health professionals to prevent heart disease.[12]

Dairy products: Dairy products contain many nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, potassium, iodine, peptides and vitamins A, B2, B6, and B12.

Phosphorus lowers blood pressure, so it can lower the risk of heart problems. Calcium can help you control your weight. Magnesium finds its importance in the management of blood pressure. Calcium and magnesium can help you increase your insulin sensitivity and improve your lipid levels.

Following a Mediterranean diet rich in calcium sources and containing modest amounts of dairy products can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in vulnerable people.[8]

2. May reduce the risk of diabetes

Fish catch: The results of an ecological study made up of a group of overweight people showed that an increased consumption of seafood can reduce an individual’s sensitivity to type 2 diabetes. In a study on certain British subjects, it has been concluded that consumption of lean and fatty fish lowers the risk of diabetes.[16]

3. May be useful for cancer patients

A Mediterranean diet contains fish, herbs, olive oil, whole grains and large amounts of fruits and vegetables. It contains polyunsaturated fatty acids of omega-3 and omega-6 in the ratio 1: 2. Vegetables contain antioxidant vitamins (vitamins A, C and E), carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene, natural fibers, polyphenols and resveratrol, among other bioactive constituents.

All these elements can contribute to the anti-cancer (in particular for breast cancer), anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics of this diet.

More complete evidence is needed to examine the role of the Mediterranean diet in preventing breast cancer. However, women sensitive to breast cancer may be advised to follow the Mediterranean diet. Patients with breast cancer may also be recommended to slow the development of the disease.[17]

Disadvantages

The Mediterranean diet offers as many advantages as those mentioned, but there are also some disadvantages to following this diet. These include:

1. promotes obesity

Although the Mediterranean diet generally meets your nutritional needs, there are certain specifications which they do not meet. In the majority of Mediterranean diets, calorie intake comes mainly from fat sources. Therefore, diet can cause obesity.

2. Seafood contains mercury

Seafood is full of fatty acids and omega-3 proteins. However, many types of fish and shellfish contain large amounts of mercury. Mackerel, shark, swordfish and tile fish have increased the amount of mercury. Consistent consumption of these fish can increase the level of mercury in your body.

You can opt for seafood like canned light tuna, catfish, pollock, salmon and shrimp, which have low levels of mercury.

Myths about the Mediterranean diet

Myth # 1: The Mediterranean diet is not easily affordable.

Made: Legumes and lentils that provide protein are an important part of the Mediterranean diet. They are fairly inexpensive. In addition, consumption of processed foods is minimal, which further reduces expenses.

Myth # 2: If 1 glass of wine makes your heart healthy, then 3 glasses means three times the health benefits.

Made: Consuming moderate amounts of wine can be effective in maintaining your heart health. However, excessive consumption of red wine can cause several cardiovascular diseases.

End note

Your body needs a constant supply of nutrients to function effectively. So whatever diet you follow, make sure your daily nutritional needs are met.

Also, remember that the results of dieting are not instant. You will need to diet regularly if you want to see the desirable changes.

Expert responses (Q&A)

Answered by Mme Amy Gorin (registered dietitian and nutritionist)

What are the best breakfast options when following a Mediterranean diet?

There are several breakfast options in the Mediterranean diet to try. Try a healthy avocado smoothie, wild blueberry cauliflower smoothie, Greek yogurt parfait, chia pudding or high protein night oats.

Is the Mediterranean diet useful for losing weight?

It is certainly possible. Search in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that olive oil, a staple in the Mediterranean diet, can be useful for weight loss.

In the study, elderly people with type 2 diabetes or at high cardiovascular risk followed a Mediterranean diet, as well as additional extra virgin olive oil; a Mediterranean diet plus additional nuts; or a low-fat diet. About five years later, all subjects had lost weight. People eating extra olive oil lost the most weight!(19)

How much wine is recommended for following a Mediterranean diet?

Red wine is recommended on the list of Mediterranean diets because it can, in moderation, contribute to the health of your heart. Women should not have more than one 5-ounce glass of wine per day, and men should not have more than two 5-ounce glasses of wine per day.

Is the Mediterranean diet most useful when followed long term?

Definitely yes. Unlike many fashionable diets, the Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle change and is easy to follow. There is a reason why this food style has been around for a long time. Eating vegetables, fruit, fish, olive oil, nuts, beans, legumes, a moderate amount of red wine and dairy products is a sustainable way to eat!

About Amy Gorin, MS, RDN: Amy owns Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York area. She specializes in herbal nutrition and enjoys creating nutritious vegetarian recipes, which she shares on her blog, Amy’s Eat List. Stay in touch with Amy via Instagram, Facebook, Twitterand Pinterest.

Resources:

  1. Widmer RJ, Flammer AJ, Lerman LO, Lerman A. The Mediterranean diet, its components and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339461. Published in March 2015.
  2. Davis C, Bryan J, Hodgson J, Murphy K. Definition of the Mediterranean diet; a review of the literature. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663587. Posted on November 5, 2015.
  3. Boucher JL. Mediterranean eating pattern. Diabetes spectrum: a publication of the American Diabetes Association. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5439355. Published in May 2017.
  4. Davis C, Bryan J, Hodgson J, Murphy K. Definition of the Mediterranean diet; a review of the literature. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663587. Posted on November 5, 2015.
  5. Altomare R, Cacciabaudo F, Damiano G, et al. The Mediterranean diet: a history of health. Iranian public health journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3684452. Published May 1, 2013.
  6. Hosomi R, Yoshida M, Fukunaga K. Consumption of seafood and components for health. World Journal of Health Sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4776937. Published May 1, 2012.
  7. Widmer RJ, Flammer AJ, Lerman LO, Lerman A. The Mediterranean diet, its components and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339461. Published in March 2015.
  8. Wade AT, Davis CR, Dyer KA, et al. A Mediterranean diet to improve cardiovascular and cognitive health: Protocol for a randomized controlled intervention study. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331576. Posted on February 16, 2017.
  9. Boucher JL. Mediterranean eating pattern. Diabetes spectrum: a publication of the American Diabetes Association. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5439355. Published in May 2017.
  10. Gil A, Ortega RM, Maldonado J. Cereals and wholegrain bread: a duo of the Mediterranean diet for the prevention of chronic diseases. Public health nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22166190. Published in December 2011.
  11. Giacosa A, Barale R, Bavaresco L, et al. Mediterranean way of drinking and longevity. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25207479. Published in 2016.
  12. Widmer RJ, Flammer AJ, Lerman LO, Lerman A. The Mediterranean diet, its components and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339461. Published in March 2015.
  13. Davis C, Bryan J, Hodgson J, Murphy K. Definition of the Mediterranean diet; a review of the literature. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663587. Posted on November 5, 2015.
  14. Boucher JL. Mediterranean eating pattern. Diabetes spectrum: a publication of the American Diabetes Association. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5439355. Published in May 2017.
  15. Tosti V, Bertozzi B, Fontana L. Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet: metabolic and molecular mechanisms. Gerontology journals. Series A, Biological and medical sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29244059. Posted on March 2, 2018.
  16. Hosomi R, Yoshida M, Fukunaga K. Consumption of seafood and components for health. World Journal of Health Sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4776937. Published May 1, 2012.
  17. Potentas E, Witkowska AM, Zujko ME. Mediterranean diet for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Przeglad menopauzalny = menopause examination. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4733898. Published in December 2015.
  18. Wyness L. The role of red meat in food: nutritional and health benefits. The Acts of the Nutrition Society. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26643369. Published in August 2016.
  19. Nutrition, weight loss and type 2 diabetes. The lancet. Diabetes and endocrinology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31103173. Published in June 2019.

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