A healthy bowl of vegetables and dairy.
Healthy Eating and Exercise

What to Know about The Mediterranean Diet

According to the Washington Post, an estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet every year. It’s no wonder, then, that there are so many diets to choose from. You’ve likely heard of Atkins, DASH, Paleo, Ketogenic (“keto”), vegetarianism, and veganism, all of which promise to boost your well-being. But what about the Mediterranean Diet?

Originating from countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain, this eating style is celebrated not only for its delicious and varied cuisine but also for its significant benefits including heart health, weight management, and lower risk of chronic diseases.

If you’re looking for a change, here’s everything to know about the Mediterranean Diet.

A woman cooks at home.

What Is It?

The term "Mediterranean Diet" refers to the traditional eating habits of the 22 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. It’s important to know that there is not a single, uniform Mediterranean cuisine. Rather, variations exist thanks to different cultures, ethnicities, religions, economies, geographies, and agricultural production, both among countries and within their regions. 

However, despite these differences, there are certain common elements that define the Mediterranean Diet. These include:

  • Fruits and Vegetables Fruits like oranges, grapes, and figs, along with vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, and kale. This produce provides essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.
  • Whole Grains Whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, barley, brown rice, and whole-grain bread and pasta are included. These grains are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Healthy Fats Olive oil is the primary source of fat in the Mediterranean Diet. Other sources include nuts, seeds, and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, albacore tuna, and mackerel, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. 
  • Lean Proteins Lean proteins come from fish, poultry, legumes, and nuts. Fish, especially, provides essential nutrients and healthy fats, while red meat consumption is limited.
  • Dairy Dairy products such as yogurt and cheese are consumed in moderation. They provide calcium and probiotics beneficial for health.
  • Herbs and Spices — These are generously used to flavor foods without relying on salt. Commonly used herbs and spices include basil, oregano, rosemary, garlic, and mint. 

Health Benefits

The Mediterranean Diet is widely recognized for its many health benefits, supported by extensive research, including improvements in brain health and heart health. In fact, it mirrors the American Heart Association’s recommended nutritional pattern of:

  1. Prioritizing the consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
  2. Incorporating low-fat or fat-free dairy, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils, and nuts.
  3. Limiting added sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, alcohol, highly processed foods, refined carbs, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats. 

This way of eating can significantly improve overall health. Here are some of its benefits:

  • Cardiovascular Health — Reduces risk and prevents the development of cardiovascular disease.
  • Cancer Prevention — Reduces the risk of breast and colorectal cancers.
  • Mental Health — Decreases the risk of depression and improves cognitive functions. It may lower dementia risk by up to 90%.
  • Metabolic Health — Reduces the risk of diabetes and obesity.
  • Respiratory Health — Helps prevent asthma.
  • Sexual Health — Improves erectile dysfunction.
  • Cognitive Health — Slows cognitive decline.
  • Overall Inflammation — Reduces markers of inflammation.
  • Weight Management — Improves waist-to-hip ratio.
  • Cholesterol Levels — Enhances lipid profiles.
  • Survival Rates — Improves outcomes for heart disease, like reducing deaths and heart-related issues.
  • Effectiveness — Works as well as common heart treatments like aspirin, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and exercise.

How To Get Started

The Mediterranean Diet is more than just healthy eating. Daily physical activity, cooking, and enjoying meals with family and friends are also part of this lifestyle. These added social and emotional benefits are good for our well-being.

If you’re interested in trying, remember to:

  • Start Gradually — You don’t have to make a switch overnight. Take time to explore different produce, grains, and meats to find the foods and flavors you most enjoy. 
  • Cook Properly — Use healthy cooking methods like grilling and baking. Avoid frying foods as this can lead to excess fat consumption.
  • Eat Mindfully — Savor meals by eating slowly and share mealtime with family or friends whenever possible.Also, prioritize physical activity between meals.

Healthy Habits with AltaMed

At every stage of life, AltaMed is here to help you grow healthy. That includes balanced eating. Our team of registered dieticians can help you build a nutritious meal plan to promote well-being for years to come. Ask your AltaMed care provider for a referral or call (888) 499-9303 to get started. For information about the comprehensive health services available to you and your family, click here.

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What to Know about The Mediterranean Diet