Mediterranean diet: Facts, health benefits, and meal tips

The Mediterranean diet is based primarily on the eating habits of southern European countries, with an emphasis on plant foods, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans, and grains.

There is no single Mediterranean diet but the concept draws together the common food types and healthful habits from the traditions of a number of different regions, including Crete, Greece, Spain, southern France, Portugal, and Italy.

More research is needed to confirm the precise benefits of the diet, but it is known to be low in trans fats, and free from refined oils and highly processed meats and foods.

These items have been linked to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Fast facts about the Mediterranean diet

There is no one Mediterranean diet. It consists of foods from a number of countries and regions including Spain, Greece, and Italy.

The Mediterranean diet is a great way to replace the saturated fats in the average American diet.

There is an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and natural sources.

It is linked to good heart health, protection against diseases such as stroke, and prevention of diabetes.

Moderation is still advised, as the diet has a high fat content.

The Mediterranean diet should be paired with an active lifestyle for the best results.

Diet

Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is a way to ensure food comes from a range of natural, healthful sources.

The Mediterranean diet consists of:

high quantities of vegetables, such as tomatoes, kale, broccoli, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, and onions

fresh fruit such as apples, bananas, figs, dates, grapes, and melons.

high consumption of legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and cashews

whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, corn, and brown rice

olive oil as the main source of dietary fat, alongside olives, avocados, and avocado oil

cheese and yogurt as the main dairy foods, including Greek yogurt

moderate amounts of fish and poultry, such as chicken, duck, turkey, salmon, sardines, and oysters

eggs, including chicken, quail, and duck eggs

limited amounts red meats and sweets

around one glass per day of wine, with water as the main beverage of choice and no carbonated and sweetened drinks

This focus on plant foods and natural sources means that the Mediterranean diet contains nutrients such as:

Healthful fats: The Mediterranean diet is known to be low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat. Dietary guidelines for the United States recommend that saturated fat should make up no more than 10 percent of calorie intake.

Fiber: The diet is high in fiber, which promotes healthy digestion and is believed to reduce the risk of bowel cancer and cardiovascular disease.

High vitamin and mineral content: Fruits and vegetables provide vital vitamins and minerals, which regulate bodily processes. In addition, the presence of lean meats provides vitamins such as B-12 that are not found in plant foods.

Low sugar: The diet is high in natural rather than added sugar, for example, in fresh fruits. Added sugar increases calories without nutritional benefit, is linked to diabetes and high blood pressure, and occurs in many of the processed foods absent from the Mediterranean diet.

It is difficult to give exact nutritional information on the Mediterranean diet, since there is no single Mediterranean diet. This is because a variety of cultures and regions is involved.

Mediterranean diet heart health
The Mediterranean diet has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects on heart health.

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