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Everything you need to know about the Mediterranean diet

Learn all about what many consider the 'world's healthiest diet'!

What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet combines the healthy living habits of those from countries which border the Mediterranean Sea, such as France, Greece, Italy and Spain. The diet has been linked to good heart health and low cholesterol levels. A traditional Mediterranean diet is usually low in meat and dairy products, high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. 

Med diet

How can a Mediterranean diet improve my health? 

Research has shown that the Mediterranean Diet is associated with reductions in overall mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It has even been linked with a reduced risk for colon, prostate and breast cancer.

Because of the range of anti-inflammatory foods that make up the Mediterranean diet such as green leafy vegetables, oily fish, fruits and nuts like almonds and walnuts, the Mediterranean diet is considered to be one of the most heart-healthy ways to eat. There is strong scientific evidence to suggest that following the Mediterranean diet improves heart and circulatory health. This is based on the high volume of monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, oily fish and nuts. Monounsaturated fats help to reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body.  High levels of cholesterol can cause an artery blockage which may lead to cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

Read more about cholesterol.

The Mediterranean diet is thought to be protective against type 2 diabetes and also helps those diagnosed with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels. While the diet is low in sugar and artificial ingredients, it includes a high vegetable content which is beneficial for people with diabetes, as vegetables are great for blood glucose level control. 

What foods should I include?
The Mediterranean diet is based on a more traditional, rural life where people were limited to eating whatever they were able to grow and catch. To reflect the Mediterranean diet, the perfect plate is nutritionally balanced, diverse, and full of flavour, texture and colour. 

Here are the key aspects of the diet to follow:

  • At least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day (2 and a half of each).
  • Whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, barley, etc.)
  • Base your meal with these starchy whole grains (rice, pasta, barley etc.).
  • Include beans, nuts and seeds.
  • Include healthy fats such as olive oil.
  • Low to moderate amounts of fish, poultry and dairy. 
  • Little to no red meat.
  • Take your time eating
  • Alcohol – sensible wine consumption.
  • Cut out fizzy drinks, juices, sweets, cakes and biscuits. 
  • Drink plenty of water each day

Mediterranean Diet Plate

Meals should be rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and the primary fat source should be olive oil "extra-virgin" and "virgin" olive oils in particular, as these are proposed to have the greatest health effects. Fatty fish such as herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna should be eaten on a regular basis as they are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. 6 to 8 glasses of fluid, preferably water should be drunk a day.

There are certain food types that are included in the Mediterranean diet but should be limited and not included in every meal.

This is the case for cheeses, yoghurts, red meats, poultry and eggs. Wine can be drunk, but only in moderation. When starting out on a Mediterranean diet don't pressure yourself to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get it right over the course of a day or even a week while you are getting to grips with the change. 

What foods should I leave out?
When following a Mediterranean diet, processed foods and foods high in saturated fats such be avoided. That means cutting limiting red meat, processed meats such as sausages and fast foods as these are packed with unhealthy saturated fats. Sweets and sugary drinks also need to be avoided as they are packed with sugar and often contain refined grains. Swap fatty dairy products such as cheese or yoghurt for low-fat cheese and plain non-fat yoghurt, as often flavoured yoghurts contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Is the Mediterranean Diet a weight loss diet?
The Mediterranean diet should not be seen as a weight loss regime but instead more a way of life. The eat well guide created by Public Health England sets out guidelines to follow to have a healthy, balanced diet. In many ways the guide is similar to the Mediterranean diet in that it advises eating at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, basing meals on starchy carbohydrates, eating at least 2 portions of fish every week, avoiding saturated fats and drinking 6 to 8 cups of fluid a day.

The common misconception surrounding the Mediterranean diet is that weight loss is not possible as the diet strongly encourages the consumption of bread, pasta and the occasional glass of red wine. But following the Mediterranean way of life can cause in some people cause gradual weight loss as the foods included make you feel fuller for longer, and the healthy fats and protein keep blood sugar levels stable, meaning you are less likely to grab that bag of crisps or pack of biscuits in order to get through the day.