What is typically recommended as the "Mediterranean Diet" is actually a composite diet, taking the best features from a number of traditional diets in the Mediterranean region. Actual diets vary among these countries, as well as within each country. People following these diets tend to have lower rates of a number of diseases.
What to Eat
The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains. Food is flavored mainly with herbs and spices. Olive oil is one of the main sources of fat in this type of diet, and eggs, fish and poultry are eaten in small amounts. The Spanish dish paella is a good example, consisting of rice, seafood and vegetables, and made with olive oil and broth. It may also contain small amounts of chicken or sausage.
What to Limit
In a Mediterranean diet, you should consume red meat, eggs and sweets rarely. Replace butter with olive oil to limit your saturated fat consumption. Avoid preparing food with fatty sauces, and when you consume dairy, avoid full-fat products and choose low-fat instead. Limit your wine consumption to no more than 5 ounces per day for women and 10 ounces per day for men.
Following the Mediterranean diet may lower your risk for Alzheimer's disease, cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol, high triglycerides and Parkinson's disease. This diet may also help you keep your blood sugar levels more stable. These benefits come from the healthy unsaturated fats from nuts and olive oil, the high fiber content of the diet and the beneficial nutrients in the fruits and vegetables that make up a large part of this diet. Adding exercise can increase the benefits of following the Mediterranean diet, so aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.
The Mediterranean diet can be high in fat. Although the fat is mainly unsaturated fat, fat contains a lot of calories, and you need to make sure you don't consume too many calories overall. Calcium and iron may also be low in this diet if you don't include animal products and dairy, which are rich in these nutrients. Choosing green, leafy vegetables will help you obtain these essential minerals. Drinking calcium-fortified orange juice along with your greens will give you more calcium and help you absorb the iron from the greens. Poultry, fish and beans also contain iron.