The Mediterranean Diet: Dietitian Review
As we continue our reviews of popular diets (see our reviews of the Ketogenic Diet, Low FODMAP, Whole30 and others), the Mediterranean Diet is one we are excited to weigh in on. It’s one of the most well-researched eating plans that exist–– we’re talking over 50 years of extensive research. It was also chosen as 2018’s Best Overall Diet and “Easiest Diet to follow” by US News and Report. Here are the facts about the Mediterranean Diet (aka The Med Diet), pros and cons, and our recommendation of this eating plan.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is based on a pattern of eating and specific lifestyle observed in people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It arose out of researchers observing that these populations lived and ate a certain way and had much lower incidences of chronic diseases.
It’s not a traditional diet plan where you follow a prescribed meal plan or strict set of diet rules. In fact, it’s more about your pattern of eating and wellness practices (like movement and personal connections!) than specific foods and nutrients.
At its core, the Mediterranean Diet is all about cooking and eating simple, minimally-processed foods, moving your body in a way that pleases you, enjoying meals with others, and drinking in moderation if you choose to. From a food standpoint, the Mediterranean diet is a plant-forward eating style that emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats like olives/olive oil, fish, and beans/legumes.
- There’s very clear and strong evidence that a Mediterranean style of eating can lower risk for coronary heart disease and diabetes.
- There’s pretty good evidence that the Mediterranean Diet lowers stroke risk and perhaps cognitive decline, and other vascular conditions. There’s growing evidence linking the Mediterranean Diet to weight control.
- When you dive deep into its roots, this plan also values other aspects of wellness such as personal connection, movement, and stress management.
- This Mediterranean style of eating to prevent chronic diseases is supported by most, if not all, major scientific organizations.
- There are not many, but one potential challenge to the Mediterranean Diet can be how loosely structured it is. It leaves lots of room for flexibility, which can be a great thing, but can also feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to start or feel that you need more guidance on planning your meals. Fortunately, those who feel they need more guidance on planning can refer to one of the main resources available including the Oldways website and numerous cookbooks available (see below for two of our recommendations). You can also contact a registered dietitian (like us!) to help you implement these eating, cooking, and lifestyle strategies into your wellness routine.
Tips for following a Mediterranean Diet
So, what does following the Mediterranean Diet look like in practice? We’ve outlined some quick tips below for how to start incorporating this eating style into your lifestyle.
- Choose mostly whole, minimally-processed grains. These include whole wheat (like farro and wheat berries), brown and wild rice, quinoa, oats, barley, and sorghum.
- Eat seafood 2x per week. Choose a variety of types of seafood and enjoy it in portions of 3-5 ounces per serving.
- Incorporate more veggies into each meal.
- Incorporate plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, and tofu into regular meals. Try substituting beans or lentils for your regular meat / poultry option in mixed dishes like pastas, chilis/stews, and sauces.
- Enjoy fruit as the main star of desserts often: For instance, pair fresh or dried fruit with a bit of dark chocolate for a sweet treat.
- Choose healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados.
- Eat smaller portions of high-quality meats: Instead of making meat the star of the plate, eat it in smaller portions (about 3 ounces) surrounded by whole grains and vegetables as the base of your meal.
For even more details on following this plan, we highly recommend visiting the Oldways website, specifically their Mediterranean Diet Pyramid and their eating plans and menus. For delicious and practical recipes we also love The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and/or Mediterranean Diet Cookbook For Dummies.