Do you know the Mediterranean diet basics and what research supports the Mediterranean lifestyle? More and more people are adopting the Mediterranean diet.
When nutrition expert, Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN asked her Twitter followers and Facebook friends, "what they thought was the best diet - not just for weight loss, but for overall health - the 'Mediterranean diet' was the winner, followed by a similar so-called 'plant-based' diet.
Mediterranean Diet Basics
I hadn't thought of the Mediterranean diet as "plant-based", but technically that's what it is.
The base level of the Mediterranean food pyramid is largely comprised of fruits, vegetables and grains and also includes olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes and seeds, herbs and spices.
Level two is what I usually think of when I hear "Mediterranean diet": fish and seafood at least two times a week. I happen to love salmon and many other of the seafood Mediterranean diet basics:
- Oily fish: salmon, fresh tuna, trout, mackerel, herring ;
- White fish and shellfish: sole, cod, haddock, hake, halibut, sea bass, turbot, whiting, canned tuna, squid, mussels, prawns, crab, lobster; and
- Whole fish: sardines, anchovies.
Pyramid level three of Mediterranean diet basics contains poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt. The pyramid stresses moderate portions since these foods, while high in protein, can be high in unhealthy saturated fats or cholesterol. So don't eat the skin of poultry and consider substituting egg whites for at least some of the eggs in your diet.
Pyramid level four allows for infrequent consumption of meats and sweets. The small allowance for red meat and sweets is undoubtedly the most difficult of Mediterranean diet basics for westerners to adhere to.
Goods question to ask yourself are:
- Over the last seven days, how many ounces of red meat like beef, pork and lamb did I eat? ____
- How many servings of sweets did I have? ____ [Examples of servings are 1 tablespoom sugar, jelly or jam, 1/2 cup sorbet or ice and 1 cup lemonade.]
The recommended allowance for red meats is five or fewer servings a week. That's a maximum of 15 ounces a week. I don't know about you but, for me, that's good incentive to be careful what I order at our favorite steak house restaurant. The steaks come as large as 22 ounces!
For sweets, the recommended allowance is also five or fewer servings a week (see examples above). That's precious little sugar and a good reason to avoid added sugar in processed foods.
The Mediterranean diet also includes wine with meals in low to moderate amounts. It encourages physical exercise and enjoying meals as social occasions. It's as much a lifestyle as it is an eating plan.
Mediterranean Diet: Research
No matter what the cohort group studied, research consistently finds that the Mediterranean diet correlates positively with better health and a longer healthspan.
Italian researchers found that following a Mediterranean diet was inversely associated with prediabetes and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure or large waist size), which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (Miguel Angel Matinez-Gonzalel et al., Journal of Diabetes Care, June, 2008)
Spanish researchers reported a significantly reduced risk of dying over a 6.8 year average follow-up period with greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet by healthy middle aged adults at low risk of mortality. (Almudena Sanchez-Villegas et al., Journal of Nutrition, July, 2012)
In a cohort of young and active U.S. firefighters, greater adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet had significant inverse associations with metabolic syndrome, LDL-cholesterol and reported weight gain, and was significantly associated with higher HDL (good) cholesterol. (Stefanos Kales et al., published online in PLOS ONE, February, 2014)
Researchers in Spain found that, among those at high risk for cardiovascular disease, eating a Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular causes. (Ramon Estruch et al., The New England Journal of Medicine, April, 2013)
For some of our favorites, see Mediterranean Style Recipes.