The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high dietary intake of olive oil, fruits, nuts, and vegetables; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and red wine in moderation, when taken with meals.
It is considered a “poor man’s” diet from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, and Greece, where man cultivated the harsh mountainous terrain to grow olive trees and grapes, and fished from the sea.
It is a traditional diet evolved over thousands of years. People used local resources and “real” food. It has been a subject of interest for over 50 years. Ancel Keys, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, studied more than 10,000 men from seven countries (US, Japan, Italy, Greece, Netherlands, Finland, and the former Yugoslavia) post World War II. He examined health outcomes and found a significantly lower rate of cardiovascular disease in men from Crete. The researchers attributed the finding to the typical diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and fish.
Other studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to increased longevity, healthier weight, and lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and certain cancers.
The Lyon Heart Trial in 1998 showed a 50% reduction of myocardial infarction in subjects who followed the diet for three years.
The Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with the Mediterranean Diet, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, was a multi-center trial in Spain that studied more than 7,000 participants who were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with either olive oil or nuts, or a traditional low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 30%; in fact, the trial was stopped early at 4.8 years when an interim analysis showed such benefit in the Mediterranean diet groups.
Many studies have been done comparing weight loss success with the Mediterranean diet. Although similar amounts of weight loss were shown in Mediterranean diet, low-fat diet, and low-carbohydrate diet, improved lipid levels and better blood sugar control were seen in the low-carbohydrate and Mediterranean diet groups.
The Mediterranean diet is a healthy alternative to low-fat, reduced-calorie diets. It offers benefits to blood sugar control and lipid levels. It also may reduce inflammation in the body, which potentially reduces cardiovascular events, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.