a young woman cooking mediterranean food for dinner, she prepare a fresh zucchini with tomato.

Mediterranean diet month: What is the Mediterranean diet?

May 18, 2022
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Healthy Eating

From olive oil to seafood, the Mediterranean diet is one that appeals to people for many reasons. Not only is the food appreciated, but some studies suggest the diet can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks.

The U.S news and world report ranked it as the number one diet to prevent and control diabetes, and it’s recognized as one of the best heart-healthy diets.

Like most new diets we hear of, many of us are skeptical, yet interested at the same time. Could this diet help to better our overall well-being?

You might have questions about the Mediterranean diet, especially if you’re just learning about it.

What exactly is it?

Are there risks? Benefits?

And why do people go on it in the first place? 

Is it worth trying out?

In today’s article, we’ll be diving deep into this topic, and answering all these questions and more. Keep reading to find out if the Mediterranean diet is right for you!

What is the Mediterranean diet? What can you eat?

The diet consists primarily of foods consumed by people in countries around the Mediterranean sea. This includes countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, Southern France, and more. 

So, what foods does it include?

The foundation of the diet includes mainly plant-based foods like:

  • Nuts
  • Fruits
  • Herbs
  • Seeds
  • Spices
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables 
  • Whole grains

Olive oil is prevalent in the diet as well, and it’s one of the primary sources of fat. 

A few other foods consumed in moderation include:

  • Fish and other seafood
  • Dairy
  • Poultry
  • Eggs

Occasionally sweets and red meats are also ingested, but very rarely. Most of the animal protein comes from fish and other seafood. And the red meats that are eaten are non-processed.

So what foods aren’t allowed when on the Mediterranean diet?

As mentioned earlier, people on the Mediterranean diet don’t eat processed meats. Sausage, bacon, lunch meats, and hot dogs are all foods on the ‘no’ list. 

Refined, processed, and hydrogenated oils are also avoided, this includes: 

  • Canola oil
  • Vegetable oil 
  • Soybean oil and more

Plus refined grains like white bread and pasta as well as heavily processed foods like candy, sugary desserts, and even frozen meals with lots of sodium should be avoided.

There’s a limit on alcohol as well, red wine is the only alcoholic beverage consumed on the diet.

As we can see, the diet consists primarily of plant-based foods. There are some meats consumed, but they’re not consumed very often, and when they are, they’re from non-processed sources. 

What are the risks and benefits?

During the 1950s, interest in the diet developed. Heart disease seemed to be much less common in countries around the Mediterranean compared to the United States.

And many studies that came after the observations confirmed that the diet helps prevent stroke and heart disease.

But why? 

What’s the difference between the common North American diet and the Mediterranean diet?

Well, to begin with, the Mediterranean diet has a large focus on olive oil for fats. It provides a large quantity of healthy monounsaturated fats, and it’s shown that these fats can help to lower disease risk.

Monounsaturated fat also lowers bad cholesterol levels in the blood, which may result in a lower risk of stroke and heart disease. 

And some of the foods consumed with the diet may also help fight inflammation. Fish contains a high quantity of omega-3 fatty acids, omega-3 helps fight inflammation and can also lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, and it may reduce blood clotting.

But, what’s the difference between the Mediterranean diet and the typical American diet? 

Why are Americans dealing with more heart conditions compared to our Mediterranean counterparts? 

A big reason could be cultural differences in diet. The typical North American diet contains more trans and saturated fats comparatively, and both fats are linked to causing heart disease. The obesity rate in America is also one of the highest in the world, and there are certain conditions, such as heart disease and stroke, linked to obesity.

In saying all that, there are so many factors that could affect our heart health. It’s hard to pinpoint a direct cause as to why Americans are dealing with more heart conditions when compared to people from the Mediterranean.

Besides, there aren’t just benefits to the Mediterranean diet. There is some potential risk involved as well.

The diet doesn’t emphasize portion sizes or the specific amount of foods eaten. This could lead to overeating certain foods, leading to a higher calorie intake, and eventually weight gain.

It’s also a more time-consuming diet as much of the food requires preparation and cooking, plus it may be expensive compared to other ways of eating.

Why do people go on it? Should you try it?

The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. While there could be many different factors affecting this, like genetics and physical activity, our diets can play a huge role.

Doctors sometimes recommend this diet to people who are dealing with chronic conditions such as heart disease. With its large focus on healthy fats, it could prove to be beneficial for many people.

So, is it worth it? 

Should you go on the Mediterranean diet?

Like all diets, it depends on your circumstances, health factors, and motivators.

The diet might be suitable for you if you’re trying to get away from consuming bad fats, and sticking to a diet that’s more plant-based. 

Closing Thoughts - Mediterranean diet explained

In today’s article we covered:

  • What the Mediterranean diet is
  • What you can and can’t eat while on it 
  • The risks and benefits of it
  • Why someone might choose to do it

Hopefully, with everything you’ve learned today, you have a better understanding of the Mediterranean diet and whether it’s right for you.

Like any other diet, the choice is yours to make. 

Research suggests it may have many health benefits, but its cost and preparation time might make it unsuitable for you.

And it’s always best to consult with a medical professional before making big changes to your diet.

Make sure to share this with a friend or family member that’s interested in the diet so they can learn more!