Understanding the Mediterranean Diet: Benefits & Drawbacks

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is excellent for heart health, and practitioners drink wine. 

When many envision dieting today, they imagine a monotonous, limiting meal regimen solely to shed pounds. Nevertheless, dieting has the potential to be so much more. Not all diets have to be mundane. One diet that involves a good mix of flavorful food that can help you lose weight and improve your heart health is the Mediterranean diet. 

What is the Mediterranean diet, and how does it work? In this post, we take a quick look at this meal plan based on countries along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We also share a sample Mediterranean diet meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

History of the Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean diet recipes

The Mediterranean diet dates back to the 1950s when Ancel Keys, an American researcher, studied seven countries (1). This study aimed to find a link between their diets and cardiovascular health. Keys and his fellow researchers found that the eating patterns of people in Italy and Greece led to lower rates of heart disease, and thus, the heart-friendly Mediterranean diet was born.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is based on the consumption of foods of countries in the Mediterranean basin from the 1950s. This meal plan emphasizes eating many plant-based foods, consuming extra virgin olive oil as healthy fat, moderate consumption of seafood and dairy, and low consumption of red meat and alcohol (Italian red wine) (2). This diet is great for the nutrients it provides.

Unlike other diets involving strict formulas and calculations, this diet is accessible and flexible. It’s based on the lifestyles of over 16 European countries, including Greece, Spain, Italy, and France. As a result, the focus is more on overall eating patterns, and you can easily tailor this diet to meet your needs, making it easily achievable. You can also use this diet to vary your other healthy diets so you don’t get bored. The kinds of food and methods of preparing them are numerous to satisfy your tastebuds and improve your health. 

Foods to Eat, Foods to Avoid

Are you thinking of following the Mediterranean diet? Below is a list of foods you can expect to eat:

  • Lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, lentils, beans
  • Lots of healthy whole grains like whole wheat bread and brown rice
  • Extra virgin olive oil as a source of healthy fat
  • Fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon
  • Cheese and yogurt
  • Poultry and only small lean cuts of red meat
  • Red wine in small quantities and only with meals
  • Fresh fruit juices
  • Little or no sugar

This meal advocates avoiding highly processed foods, meats, soda, and too much sugar. Below is a list of foods to avoid when following this diet:

  • Lots of red meat; opt for poultry instead
  • Highly processed foods like fast foods
  • Highly processed meats like hotdogs, beef jerky, and processed sausages
  • Refined grains like pasta and white bread
  • Added sugars like soda, ice cream, and candy
  • Trans-fat-containing foods like fried foods and margarine

Example of a Mediterranean Meal Plan

Mediterranean diet meal plan

Planning on embarking on the Mediterranean diet? Here are sample breakfast, lunch, and dinner options you can try out.

  • Breakfast: Whole grain toast with fruit and a soft-boiled egg
  • Lunch: A salad made with veggies, olives, white beans, and chicken
  • Snacks: Cucumbers with avocado mashed with lemon and salt as dipping
  • Dinner: Sweet potatoes, white fish cooked in olive oil, garlic, and zucchini

Pros of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet follows a meal plan that meets the healthy diet requirements that the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends. This way of eating can help prevent heart disease and reduce your risk of stroke, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Below are some of the essential pros of this diet.

Effective for Weight Loss

The Mediterranean diet offers healthy food options, which can be an excellent idea for losing weight. This research on the Mediterranean diet and other diets shows that the Mediterranean diet is effective for weight loss and leads to more significant weight loss than the low-fat diet (3).

Supports Better Heart Health

As mentioned, the Mediterranean diet includes foods that support better heart health. 2021 research compared the outcome of people on the Mediterranean diet and a low-fat diet over seven years and concluded that the Mediterranean diet was better at reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases (4).

Stabilizes Blood Sugar

This diet reduces your fasting blood sugar levels and improves the ability of the body to use insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels. This stabilizes your overall blood sugar level and prevents against diabetes type 2 (5).

Better Brain Function

The Mediterranean diet involves eating many nutrients for the brain daily. So, it’s not a surprise that this study on the diet shows that people on this diet exhibit better cognitive function, processing speed, memory, and attention power (6).

Improved Mental Health

Foods that are great for your mental health include raw fruits and vegetables. The Mediterranean diet involves eating these multiple times daily, which can benefit your mental health. There are also ongoing studies researching the Mediterranean diet to prevent a reoccurrence of depression (7).

Cons of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has some cons that could make it hard to follow, especially now. One of the most prominent is that there’s no set food list. With so many countries in the Mediterranean basin, your diet’s food list differs from that of someone undertaking the same diet.

You also need to be careful when looking at recipes for the Mediterranean diet. The research that birthed the diet is from how people ate in those regions in the late twentieth century. As with all other aspects of life, cooking and food have evolved, so finding the exact recipe for preparing a meal like in the olden times might be challenging. 

Wrapping Up

Dieting can be part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but you must stick to your diet to see results. This can be hard if your diet is too strict or dull, and many diets have a high failure rate. However, the Mediterranean diet is diverse and can help you continue to consume healthy foods for longevity. 

The Mediterranean diet involves eating many healthy plant-based foods, extra virgin olive oil, poultry, and little lean red meat. There has been extensive research on this diet, and health practitioners endorse and even recommend it. So consider adding the Mediterranean diet to your repertoire as part of a healthy lifestyle.

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  1. Keys, A., Menotti, A., Aravanis, C., Blackburn, H., Djordevic, B. S., Buzina, R., Dontas, A. S., Fidanza, F., Karvonen, M. J., & Kimura, N. (1984). The seven countries study: 2,289 deaths in 15 years. Preventive medicine, 13(2), 141–154. https://doi.org/10.1016/0091-7435(84)90047-1
  2. Lăcătușu, C. M., Grigorescu, E. D., Floria, M., Onofriescu, A., & Mihai, B. M. (2019). The Mediterranean Diet: From an Environment-Driven Food Culture to an Emerging Medical Prescription. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(6), 942. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16060942 
  3. Mancini, J. G., Filion, K. B., Atallah, R., & Eisenberg, M. J. (2016). Systematic Review of the Mediterranean Diet for Long-Term Weight Loss. The American journal of medicine, 129(4), 407–415.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2015.11.028
  4. Jimenez-Torres, J., Alcalá-Diaz, J. F., Torres-Peña, J. D., Gutierrez-Mariscal, F. M., Leon-Acuña, A., Gómez-Luna, P., Fernández-Gandara, C., Quintana-Navarro, G. M., Fernandez-Garcia, J. C., Perez-Martinez, P., Ordovas, J. M., Delgado-Lista, J., Yubero-Serrano, E. M., & Lopez-Miranda, J. (2021). Mediterranean Diet Reduces Atherosclerosis Progression in Coronary Heart Disease: An Analysis of the CORDIOPREV Randomized Controlled Trial. Stroke, 52(11), 3440–3449. https://doi.org/10.1161/STROKEAHA.120.033214 
  5. Martín-Peláez, S., Fito, M., & Castaner, O. (2020). Mediterranean Diet Effects on Type 2 Diabetes Prevention, Disease Progression, and Related Mechanisms. A Review. Nutrients, 12(8), 2236. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082236
  6. Loughrey, D. G., Lavecchia, S., Brennan, S., Lawlor, B. A., & Kelly, M. E. (2017). The Impact of the Mediterranean Diet on the Cognitive Functioning of Healthy Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 8(4), 571–586. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.117.015495 
  7. Sánchez-Villegas, A., Cabrera-Suárez, B., Molero, P., González-Pinto, A., Chiclana-Actis, C., Cabrera, C., Lahortiga-Ramos, F., Florido-Rodríguez, M., Vega-Pérez, P., Vega-Pérez, R., Pla, J., Calviño-Cabada, M. J., Ortuño, F., Navarro, S., Almeida, Y., & Hernández-Fleta, J. L. (2019). Preventing the recurrence of depression with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil. The PREDI-DEP trial: study protocol. BMC psychiatry, 19(1), 63. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-019-2036-4
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.