For hundreds of years, the Mediterranean diet was a way of life for people around the Mediterranean Sea. But it wasn’t until the 1950s when scientist Ancel Keys noticed that these inhabitants had lower rates of cardiovascular disease.
The Mediterranean diet didn’t seem to discriminate against financial status, either. Keys discovered that poor small towns in Italy had healthier residents than wealthy people from New York. Even among people originally from the Mediterranean who had emigrated to the United States.
Nowadays, the Mediterranean diet has exploded into a way of life for people across the globe. If you don’t believe us, just look at Rachael Ray, Penelope Cruz, and Selena Gomez. All of whom have been vocal about their journey in eating Mediterranean-based foods.
If you’re considering doing the same, read on to learn about the potential health benefits—and downsides—of embarking on the Mediterranean diet.
How the Mediterranean Diet Works
The Mediterranean diet is primarily a plant and lean protein-based diet. While this diet can serve as a weight-loss tool, some people already at a healthy weight choose to partake in it, given the health benefits many doctors say it offers.
Some of the Mediterranean diet’s primary features include:
No set portion sizes
Consumption of healthy fats
Limited dairy and red meat
Water and wine as the only drinks
One of the biggest attractions for people with this diet is its lack of restrictions. Furthermore, since so many “real” people follow this diet in their day-to-day lives, it can often give the hope of being a more sustainable way of eating.
Foods You Can Eat on the Mediterranean Diet
Below are some of the most common Mediterranean diet foods to eat:
Whole wheat pasta
Furthermore, wine lovers will be thrilled that they can drink some vino every day. Although the recommended amount depends on your size, generally speaking, women can have one glass, and men can have two glasses of wine per day.
You’re also welcome to spice up your food with unlimited Mediterranean herbs, such as basil, garlic, mint, and pepper.
However, check the label if you buy frozen, dried, or canned products. It’s best to purchase these foods without added sodium and sugar if you want to stick with the most accurate form of this diet.
Foods You Can Eat In Moderation
Oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids should be your primary source of protein when you’re on the Mediterranean diet. However, you can eat the following foods in moderation:
Dairy (in the form of cheese or yogurt)
Red meat isn’t a hard-and-fast no, but if you choose to eat it, make sure you don’t consume a portion more than a few times per month.
While you won’t have a Mediterranean diet founder down your throat telling you not to eat processed foods and refined grains, it’s wise to stay away from unhealthy foods. The logic goes that people in the Mediterranean didn’t have such foods back in the day.
So, if you choose to follow this diet, limit the following foods as much as possible:
Anything with added sugar
White bread and pasta
Anything with trans fat
You might be wondering—what classifies as being a refined oil?
Canola, soybean, rapeseed, and cottonseed oil all go through refinement. However, the Mediterranean diet strongly encourages the consumption of extra virgin olive oil, which isn’t refined. So, try to replace all oils with this.
Good vs. Bad Fats on the Mediterranean Diet
As you’re researching the Mediterranean diet, you’ll come across a lot of fat talk. That’s because a high intake of healthy fat is a crucial component of this eating style.
Nevertheless, the type of fat you consume is vital to your wellbeing. Plenty of research indicates that monounsaturated fats are good fat that everyone needs in their diets. Monounsaturated fats reduce bad cholesterol, helping to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Since olive oil contains monounsaturated fat, you’re encouraged to eat a lot of it on the Mediterranean diet.
Furthermore, polyunsaturated fat is also a healthy kind of fat. Foods containing polyunsaturated fat include salmon and walnuts, both of which are excellent Mediterranean diet choices.
In contrast, bad fats that you should avoid consuming on the Mediterranean diet include:
These fats are unhealthy for the body because they increase LDL cholesterol. Furthermore, trans fat takes things a step further by suppressing HDL cholesterol, the good kind of cholesterol you want in your body.
Mediterranean Diet Pros
Based on the list of acceptable foods to eat on the Mediterranean diet, you’ve likely guessed that it can offer many health benefits. According to research, that appears to be the case, and below are some of the most commonly believed ways that the Mediterranean diet can benefit people.
Excellent for Heart Health
Scientists believe that saturated fat is one of the biggest causes of health issues, for it increases bad cholesterol. Examples of foods with saturated fats include butter and red meat.
So, since the Mediterranean diet consists almost strictly of unsaturated fats, your chances of getting heart disease and stroke are lower. Furthermore, unsaturated fats actively lower the amount of bad cholesterol in your body.
Supports a Healthy Weight
People often view the Mediterranean diet as an avenue to improve their health versus a fast way to lose weight. Nevertheless, if you’re overweight and start the Mediterranean diet, you can expect to lose weight at a healthy rate.
Best of all, once you achieve your optimal weight goal, you shouldn’t have to do anything else to maintain it. Because the Mediterranean diet has satiating fats and lots of fiber via fruits and vegetables, it naturally supports healthy weight maintenance.
Depending on the study you read, processed meats, saturated fats, and large quantities of dairy may all contribute to sparking growth in cancer cells.
The Mediterranean diet certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of cancer in humans, there is reason to believe that replacing more processed foods with unsaturated fats, lean protein sources, fruits, and veggies may lower cancer rates.
A Healthier Mind
In 2015, researchers published an article stating that the Mediterranean diet may help reduce depression in older people, an age group that notoriously struggles with mental health.
The basis for their findings supported their hypothesis that eating lots of vegetables, fruit, fish, whole grains, and legumes contributes to a healthier mind.
Several studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and help people who already have it manage their blood sugar levels. Of the people who have diabetes, focusing on low-carb foods within the Mediterranean diet-approved food list has an even higher chance of diabetes management.
These findings were unsurprising to scientists, who suspected that since the Mediterranean diet involves a near-complete elimination of processed foods, a person would naturally be consuming less added sugar.
Mediterranean Diet Cons
Although people like Rachel Ray announcing that she lost more than 40 pounds following the Mediterranean diet can make it seem like a fad diet, most dieticians agree that it’s more of a lifestyle choice.
Nevertheless, no diet or lifestyle choice is perfect. So, below are some cons to consider if you’re contemplating jumping on board the Mediterranean diet train.
There’s No Set Plan
Many people looking to lose weight or achieve other health benefits have a higher chance of sticking with a diet if there’s a set plan with benchmarks. But the Mediterranean diet offers no such option.
It doesn’t even have a founder—it’s been a way of life for people in the Mediterranean region for hundreds of years.
It Can Be Expensive
No, you’re not crazy if you were looking at the list of Mediterranean diet-approved foods above and thinking how it’ll increase your grocery bill. Buying salmon, nuts, and olive oil is more expensive than buying processed meat, chips, and vegetable oil.
So, if you decide to try the Mediterranean diet and are on a budget, you might need to be strategic and look for sales in various supermarkets.
Supplements Might Be Necessary
It’s often challenging for people on the Mediterranean diet to consume enough vitamin D and calcium. That’s because dairy isn’t a significant component of this eating style.
Therefore, consider looking for Mediterranean diet-approved foods fortified with these nutrients. Whole-grain cereal and soy products are some examples. You can also get vitamin D and calcium via spinach and seafood.
You Can Consume Alcohol
You might think we put this point in the wrong category, and some scientists agree—many studies suggest that drinking wine in moderation may have health benefits.
Nevertheless, other researchers don’t think that wine raises HDL cholesterol (the good kind) as much as previously believed. Plus, there may be links to alcohol and cancer. But, of course, you don’t have to drink wine as part of the Mediterranean diet.
What Are the Risks of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet likely won’t have many doctors discouraging it for the average patient. Nevertheless, you need to assess your situation, as you may experience the following risks:
Low iron levels
The reality is that low iron levels and calcium loss are the most common issues people face. However, while weight loss is often a recurring scenario among people following the Mediterranean diet, some people may find that a high healthy fat intake may cause them to put on some pounds.
One other potential risk is that the Mediterranean diet allows daily wine drinking. So, if you have a history of alcohol addiction, you shouldn’t follow this particular part of the diet.
The Bottom Line
No diet is perfect, but the Mediterranean diet is widely accepted as a healthy option for many people since it’s more of a lifestyle change than a fad diet.
Nevertheless, we encourage you to check with your doctor before making any dietary changes. Furthermore, it’s wise to buy calcium and iron supplements to prevent the possibility of a deficiency in these essential nutrients.
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