In this blog post, we will explore and explain what a typical mediterranean diet is, the benefits of following one, and how to incorporate it into your lifestyle. By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of this delicious and healthy way of eating!
What Is The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is not a restrictive or 'fad diet' and it is not just about the range of foods you eat but also the way you eat them.
It emphasises the social aspect of sharing meals with others and savouring your food, and being physically active.
Indeed, many people in Mediterranean countries take a leisurely stroll, nap, or engage in other physical activities after their midday meal, a practise known as the siesta.
This lifestyle approach to eating has been shown to have numerous benefits beyond just the nutritional value of the food.
There is a large amount of scientific evidence linking this healthy diet with a reduced risk of heart disease, dementia and cancer.
Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your daily meals can help reduce cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer (2). This is reflected in the fact that the people in the Blue Zones, who eat this diet live longer, healthier lives (3).
What Are The Origins Of The Mediterranean Diet
There are some places in the world called “Blue Zones”. These are: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica and Ikaria, Greece (1).
Blue Zones are areas of the world where people live longer and healthier lives than in other parts of the world. This is mainly due to eating the naturally grown food of that region.
People who live in blue zones all have certain characteristics in common, such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and having family and social ties. As many of the 'Blue Zones' are Mediterranean countries, the way they eat and live has become known as a "Mediterranean diet".
What makes The Mediterranean Diet The Healthiest In The World?
There are numerous interpretations of what this diet entails. Due to its focus on whole, minimally processed foods that are high in nutrients and healthy fats, the Mediterranean Diet has earned a reputation as one of the world's healthiest diets.
Unlike many modern diets that restrict specific food groups, the Mediterranean style diet promotes a balanced intake of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, with a focus on plant-based foods.
How does the Mediterranean diet work?
The mediterranean diet is characterised by a focus on eating a wide variety of plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and lentils), whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
It also includes eating seafood at least twice per week, limiting your intake of red meat, and consuming dairy in moderation.
What Is The Mediterranean Food Diet Pyramid
The Mediterranean diet food pyramid is a powerful and effective tool in promoting optimal health through proper nutrition.
It provides a clear and concise visual guide to help individuals make informed decisions about the types and amounts of food that they consume on a daily basis.
By following the recommendations laid out in the food pyramid, individuals can achieve a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet that is essential for maintaining good health and preventing chronic diseases like, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Overall, the Mediterranean diet food pyramid serves as a valuable resource for anyone looking to improve their diet and overall health.
What Do You Eat On The Mediterranean Diet?
Consuming a diet rich in vegetables, fresh fruit, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, and whole grains is characteristic of the Mediterranean diet.
In addition to that, you should try to eat seafood at least a few times per week, cut back on your consumption of red meat, and consume dairy products in moderation.
Consumption of moderate amounts of high-quality red wine is a standard component of the diet.
The majority of this diet consists of various types of vegetables. The most common foods consumed are tomatoes and dark leafy greens.
On the other hand, there are literally dozens of distinct kinds of vegetables from which to pick.
Consider cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale, as well as sprouts and cauliflower, and root vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes. All of which are a great source of dietary fiber, which is essential for maintaining digestive health and can also help to lower cholesterol levels. Lower cholesterol levels reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease
Also, don't overlook the greens in your salad. Cooking destroys many of the nutrients found in vegetables, so eating them raw is optimal but not strictly necessary.
However, grilling and roasting are just two of the many acceptable methods of preparing the diet's approved foods. That said, frying is discouraged unless you're stir-frying with a little olive oil.
ii Whole Grains
The Mediterranean Diet emphasises the consumption of whole grains due to their high nutrient and fibre content.
Examples of whole grains on the Mediterranean diet:
Barley; Bulgur wheat; Farro; Oats; Quinoa; Rice (brown or wild); Rye; Spelt and Wheat berries.
Whole grains provide a good source of dietary fiber, protein, B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
They also contain phytochemicals, which are plant-based compounds that provide health benefits. As stated earlier, eating whole grains can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes plus, it may also help to promote weight loss.
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iii Healthy Fats vs Unhealthy Fats
When it comes to fat intake, the Mediterranean Diet emphasizes healthy fats over unhealthy fats. A significant amount of the fat in the Mediterranean diet comes from high-quality, olive oil or better still, extra-virgin olive oil. Olive oil's beneficial monounsaturated fat content can help reduce cholesterol levels which promotes good heart health
Oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, and fresh tuna, contain healthy fats that are abundant in the Mediterranean diet. This is due to their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another type of fat that can reduce the risk of heart disease. You can also select from a wide variety of other fish and shellfish such as crab, mussels, and shrimp/prawns.
All of these are low in fat and can be used in a variety of dishes.
On the other hand, unhealthy fats have been linked to elevated cholesterol and an increased chance of cardiovascular disease.
These include trans fats, which are prevalent in many processed and ultra processed foods, and saturated fats, which are found in animal products like meat and dairy.
Heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung disease are just some of the non-communicable diseases's that have been linked to a diet high in ultra-processed foods. (4)
While the Mediterranean Diet does not completely eliminate these
types of fats, it does encourage them to be consumed in moderation and emphasises the importance of choosing healthy fat sources whenever possible.
Restricted Foods On The Mediterranean Diet
When following the Mediterranean diet, certain foods are restricted.
Salt, saturated fat, and simple carbohydrates are examples of these. Red meats like beef and lamb should not be consumed on a regular basis. At most, once a week, but preferably less.
This is due to the fact that red meat is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which, as already stated, are not heart healthy.
Due to the amount of fat it contains, poultry is also limited in the Mediterranean diet.
In addition, you shouldn't eat more than four eggs in a week. Keep in mind that you should either poach or boil your eggs. Don't use any kind of oil, not even olive oil, to cook or worse, fry them.
In the Mediterranean diet, dairy products are consumed in moderation.
Goats and sheep products are the most common sources for this.
You can have milk, some cheeses, and yoghurt in moderation
Here are some cheeses that come highly recommended:
- and Manchego
Which Foods Are Not Allowed On The Mediterranean Diet
There are some foods that should be avoided almost entirely while adhering to the Mediterranean Diet. And again processed food tops the list....
Processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausage and luncheon meats should not be consumed. These contain high levels of saturated fat and sodium which can have a negative effect on your health when eaten in excess.
In addition, processed carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, and chips are off limits since they offer little nutritional value and can lead to weight gain if consumed in large amounts.
They are unhealthy because of their high levels of fat and salt. Obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes are just some of the conditions that can result from having too much of either.
The Mediterranean Diet's Glycaemic Index
The low glycemic index that is characteristic of the Mediterranean diet is one of its key characteristics.
What Is The Glycaemic Index
The glycaemic index is a scale that indicates how quickly a meal will raise or lower blood sugar levels after being consumed.
High GI Foods
Foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) cause sharp increases in blood glucose levels, which can result in serious health complications like diabetes.
Simple carbohydrates, like those found in white bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes, have a high glycemic index.
Candies, cookies, cakes, muffins, pastries and other sweets also fall into the category of 'high GI foods'.
Low GI Foods
While high GI foods cause a spike in blood sugar levels, low GI foods release glucose more slowly and maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Low GI foods include beans, lentils, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds
Beans and lentils are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These little legumes are incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes.
From hearty stews to refreshing salads, beans and lentils are a perfect addition to any meal.
Eating any foods with a low glycemic index reduces hunger and cravings for sugary snacks. As the glycemic index measures how quickly carbohydrates in the body are broken down into glucose.
Low glycemic index foods digest more slowly, which means they keep blood sugar levels stable for longer. This makes these foods less likely to cause an insulin spike, which leads to fat storage.
Refined Sugar Intake
So, if you're trying to stick to a Mediterranean diet, there's no need to add refined sugars to your meals or snacks.
Fruits and vegetables provide an abundant supply of the naturally occurring sugars that are required.
Hence, the Mediterranean diet forbids the consumption of sugary foods.
These include sodas and soft drinks sweetened with artificial or natural sweeteners, as well as all sugary drinks, including shop bought '100% fruit juice' usually sold in cartons.
Press or juice your fresh fruit at home.
Cookies, cakes, ice-cream candy/sweets are all high in refined sugars and hence, should be avoided.
Because the Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat and high in healthy fats like olive oil, it will provide you with all the energy you require; there is no need to add extra sugar for an energy boost during the day.
How To Beat Sugar Cravings
Cravings for sugary foods and drinks will fade as you become accustomed to this way of eating.
However, I must admit that this is not an easy task because refined sugars have the potential to be addictive (5).
or give up some of the foods mentioned above.
Try substituting healthier alternatives such as fresh fruit or dried fruits (which are higher in fibre than candies) or cakes made with whole wheat flour rather than white flour.
Most importantly, when selecting ingredients, always choose quality over quantity.
To Butter or Not to Butter: The Mediterranean Diet Guidelines
'Is butter allowed on the Mediterranean diet?'
This is a frequently asked question when starting this style of eating.
Unfortunately for some, it is yet another food to avoid when following this Mediterranean-style diet. This is due to the fact that butter, like red meat, contains saturated fat.
Avoiding refined oils like canola oil as well as trans fats like margarine is also strongly advised.
Butter Alternatives On The Mediterranean Diet
Vegan butter, applesauce, dairy-free yoghurt, coconut oil, coconut butter, olive oil, nut butter, mashed banana, and mashed avocado can all be used as butter substitutes in baking.
To replace butter in cooking, substitute olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable stock, or avocado oil.
Nut butters and Hummus, which are both healthy and delicious alternatives to butter, can also be used as a spread on bread instead of butter.
What Can You Drink On the Mediterranean diet
You may be wondering, "What can I drink on the Mediterranean diet?"
The Mediterranean diet emphasises drinking water as the main beverage. In addition to herbal teas, coffee, and fresh fruit juices (in moderation)
Smoothies can be a part of the Mediterranean diet as long as they are made with whole, unprocessed ingredients and are not high in added sugars.
Smoothies made with fresh fruits, vegetables, and Greek yogurt can be a healthy and nutritious addition to the Mediterranean diet.
Keep in mind, it is important to avoid using sweetened fruit juices or adding excessive amounts of honey or other sweeteners to the smoothies
Moderate consumption of red wine is also allowed on the Mediterranean diet see paragraph below
'Alcohol On The Mediterranean Diet'
Avoid drinking any kind of sugary or carbonated beverage.
- Coke Zero,
- diet soda,
- non freshly squeezed fruit juice
Water is by far the best way to stay hydrated.
If you don't like the taste, try adding some fresh lemon juice to spritz-up the flavour.
Alcohol On The Mediterranean Diet
Red wine, with its many health benefits, is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the Mediterranean diet.
One of the most important benefits is that it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (6).
But, before you reach for the wine bottle.
There are, however, guidelines for how much red wine you should consume. One small glass of wine per day.
Drinking more does not increase protection against cardiovascular disease, but it does increase the risk of other health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease (7), and diabetes (8)
What Are The Advantages vs The Disadvantages Of The Mediterranean diet
What Are The Health Advantages the Mediterranean Diet:
a) The Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
The Mediterranean diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. As it encourages a shift away from processed and sugary foods towards healthier alternatives
b) Lower blood pressure levels
Numerous studies have found a correlation between this diet and reduced blood pressure levels.
As a result of limiting saturated and trans fats in the diet, which can clog arteries and raise blood pressure.
c) Improve cholesterol levels
Trans fats and saturated fats are also known to increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the blood.
The Mediterranean diet includes healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which have been shown to improve cholesterol levels.
d) Contributes to reducing the risk of stroke
Some specific aspects of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for its beneficial effects on stroke prevention (9):
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil predominate, while fish, poultry, dairy, and red wine are consumed in moderation.
The diet is primarily made up of plant-based foods and is high in nutrients while being low in saturated fats, added sugars, and processed foods.
What Are The Disadvantages the Mediterranean Diet:
Whilst it is well known that the Mediterranean diet has many healthy benefits and advantages, it must not erase the fact that the diet also has some potential disadvantages.
a) Essential Vitamins and Nutrients
Because the diet is primarily made up of plant-based foods and healthy fats, some people may find it difficult to consume sufficient quantities of particular nutrients, such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.
b) The Cost of Fresh Produce
Additionally, with rising living costs and high food inflation, this type of diet may be prohibitively expensive due to the high cost of seafood, olive oil, and other specialty ingredients. Making it difficult for individuals on a tight budget to follow the diet.
c) Allergies and Dietary Restrictions
People with lactose intolerance or nut allergies, for example, may find the Mediterranean diet to be unsuitable.
Some people may have issues with the diet because it relies on dairy products and nuts for protein.
The high content of whole grain carbohydrates may necessitate closer monitoring of blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Diabetics are encouraged to eat a diet rich in whole grains. People are often confused about what constitutes whole grain, according to diabetes.co.uk.
d) Difficult To Stick To
Finally, while the Mediterranean diet is widely recognised as one of the healthiest eating plans, its strict rules and requirements mean it can be difficult to adopt to especially, for longer periods.
Overall, while many people find the Mediterranean diet to be nutritious and well-balanced, it may not be ideal or possible for everyone.
To decide if the Mediterranean diet is the correct choice for an individual's specific dietary needs and objectives, particularly if you are on medication or follow a medically led diet, it is best to consult with a healthcare physician or certified dietitian.
FAQ About The Mediterranean Diet
Can you have honey on the Mediterranean diet?
Yes, honey can be consumed in moderation on the Mediterranean diet.
However, it's important to keep in mind that honey is still a form of added sugar and should be consumed in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet.
What can I put in my coffee on the Mediterranean diet?
You can use natural sweeteners such as a good or better still raw honey, real maple syrup or sugar alternatives stevia or Erythritol on the Mediterranean diet to sweeten your coffee.
Are potatoes on the Mediterranean diet?
Yes, potatoes are allowed on the Mediterranean diet in moderation.
They are a good source of carbohydrates and can be prepared in a healthy way, such as roasted with olive oil and herbs.
Can I eat popcorn on the Mediterranean diet?
Popcorn can be a healthy snack option on the Mediterranean diet if prepared in a healthy way.
Air-popped popcorn, without added salt or butter, is a good choice as it is low in calories and high in fiber.
However, popcorn prepared with added salt, butter, or other unhealthy toppings or flavourings like 'crunchy toffee' should be consumed very occasionally.
Can you eat ice-cream on the Mediterranean diet
Yes, you can eat ice cream on the Mediterranean diet, but it should be consumed in moderation as an occasional treat rather than a regular part of the diet.
It's important to choose high-quality, natural ice cream with simple ingredients and avoid those with added sugars and artificial flavors usually found in stores and supermarkets;
- Hagen Daz,
- candy bar ice creams e.g. Mars
- store own brand ice creams
are just 3 of the many that should be avoided
Bringing It All Together
For authentic Mediterranean cuisine, fresh ingredients should be used whenever possible, and meals should be shared with others.
It is also important to ensure that eating is a pleasurable experience; there are no hard and fast rules regarding the size of portions or the timing of meals. This is something that is entirely up to the discretion of the diner.
The most important thing is to control portion sizes and enjoy each meal rather than rushing through it.
Still unsure or confused about what you can or cannot eat on Mediterranean diet? Why not grab my free ebook, instant access and no email address required
- Blue Zones': 6 secrets to borrow from people who live the longest https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/blue-zones-6-secrets-borrow-people-who-live-longest-ncna921776
- The Mediterranean Diet: From an Environment-Driven Food Culture to an Emerging Medical Prescription https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466433/
- Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Metabolic and Molecular Mechanisms https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7190876/
- Monteiro, C., Moubarac, J., Levy, R., Canella, D., Louzada, M., & Cannon, G. (2017). Household availability of ultra-processed foods and obesity in nineteen European countries. Public Health Nutrition. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Household-availability-of-ultra-processed-foods-and-Monteiro-Moubarac/b92e1545fe1ac506a2649a2086e51840a8651b82
- "The evidence further suggests that certain foods, particularly processed foods with added sweeteners and fats, demonstrate the greatest addictive potential." https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/What-Is-the-Evidence-for-%E2%80%9CFood-Addiction%E2%80%9D-A-Review-Gordon-Ariel-Donges/0e8b51ad83607669b6e566018c42a6600e1417d2
- Red Wine Consumption and Cardiovascular Health https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31597344/
- Patterns of alcohol consumption and ischaemic heart disease in culturally divergent countries: the Prospective Epidemiological Study of Myocardial Infarction (PRIME) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990863/
- Alcohol intake, consumption pattern and beverage type, and the risk of Type 2 diabetes https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16759314/
- Tektonidis, T., Åkesson, A., Gigante, B., Wolk, A., & Larsson, S. (2015). A Mediterranean diet and risk of myocardial infarction, heart failure and stroke: A population-based cohort study.. Atherosclerosis. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2015.08.039.