What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a diet typical of many Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, southern Italy, and Greece. It is mainly made up of unrefined cereals, grains, vegetables (including green, leafy vegetables), beans, fresh fruits (consumed as desserts or snacks), and nuts. Also included are moderate amounts of fish (two times per week or more), poultry, dairy (cheese and yogurt), olive oil (not butter), wine, and very little red meat (two to three times per month). Olive oil is the principal source of fat. Intake of eggs, processed meats (like bologna and hot dogs), and sweets are discouraged. Drinking plenty of water is encouraged. Using herbs and spices instead of salt is also encouraged.

While the Mediterranean diet doesn’t limit fat intake, the kind of fat one takes in is important. Hydrogenated oils and saturated fats (“trans fats”), which contribute to heart disease, are avoided. Olive oil is the primary source of fat in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat; this fat helps reduce the “bad” cholesterol, called LDL, when used instead of saturated or trans fats. Monounsaturated fats and nuts contain linolenic acid, a type of Omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower cholesterol, reduce heart disease, and decrease blood pressure.

The Mediterranean Diet and Obesity

The relationship between the Mediterranean diet and obesity is complex. Although studies have shown associations between the Mediterranean diet and obesity prevention, the results are not consistent.

The Mediterranean Diet and Weight Loss

The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle. It is not a fad diet. Weight loss is slow and steady, and the diet becomes a pathway to eating healthy and making better food choices over the course of a lifetime. This will help with weight loss and help prevent diseases associated with obesity.

What to Eat on a Mediterranean Diet

  • Eat vegetables and fruits. Meals should consist of mainly plant-based foods. Aim for at least seven servings per day.
  • Eat whole grain breads and cereals, as well as whole grain pasta and rice.
  • Eat more nuts, especially walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts. (Pistachios, cashews, and natural peanut butter may also be incorporated.)
  • Use olive oil instead of butter. Use it for cooking. Drizzle it on whole grain breads instead of butter.
  • Use herbs and spices to add flavor to foods instead of using salt.
  • Eat fish at least twice per week; tuna and salmon are great choices. Avoid fried foods.
  • Eat more poultry and very little red meat. Keep red meat intake to a portion size about the size of a small fist only 2-3 times per month.
  • Eat low-fat dairy. Avoid whole milk and high-fat cheeses. Drink low- or reduced-fat milk (1% or 2%) and eat low-fat cheeses.
  • Have a small glass of wine with dinner (preferably red), if approved by an obesity medicine clinician. If you don’t drink alcohol now, don’t start. The diet does not require it.

This article was written by Tulisa LaRocca, MD. Dr. LaRocca is an internal medicine physician in Boynton Beach, FL.