Mediterranean Food: Is It Healthy?

Mediterranean Food: Is It Healthy?

By Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

The Mediterranean diet has made its way into popular food jargon. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranked the diet in 2021 as the “#1 Best Diet Overall,” as well as the “#1 Plant-Based Diet” and “#1 Easiest Diet to Follow.” Let’s explore more about this dietary pattern, if it’s advantageous and how it can be followed.

What is the Mediterranean Diet and where did it come from?

The Mediterranean diet is a style of eating that closely resembles the eating behaviors of people residing in Mediterranean countries, including Spain and Italy. The diet was first mentioned in the 1960s, when Ancel Keys, an American physiologist, observed the eating patterns of people living on the Mediterranean coast and investigated the relationship between their diet and heart health. He found that diets lower in saturated fat and higher in vegetable oils seem to be cardioprotective (heart healthy). He also noticed these diets have meal patterns rich in fruits and vegetables, grains, beans and fish. This laid the groundwork for today’s version of a Mediterranean diet, which is specifically a food pattern consisting of:

  • Daily whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, nuts and healthy oils like olive oil
  • Twice weekly servings of seafood
  • Moderate portions of dairy and eggs
  • Occasional poultry
  • Very limited intake of red meats and sweets/added sugars

Who should follow the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is for people looking to lower their risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol and/or diabetes. Other possible benefits, although not as well demonstrated, include better control of rheumatoid arthritis, cancer risk reduction, improved cognition and lessened risk of depression. When the Mediterranean diet is followed along with careful attention to estimated calorie needs, it’s been shown to reduce weight gain, decrease waist circumference and ultimately induce weight loss.

Other healthy lifestyle recommendations along with the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet pyramid, created by Oldways, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health, focuses chiefly on food behavior changes. It also focuses on drinking more water, modest wine intake, being physically active and enjoying meals with others.

What are some ways to eat more Mediterranean?

Oldways offers many suggestions in their “Common Foods and Flavors of the Mediterranean Diet” list. This includes numerous examples of vegetables (including tubers), fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, fish, herbs and spices, which might not make it to your cart every week but could be put into your meal rotation.

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating pattern which emphasizes nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, healthy fats and fish. Begin your journey of healthy Mediterranean food ideas through our specialty diet page.

Explore more healthy living advice from our team of experts.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Mediterranean Recipes