The Mediterranean sea has a rich history and influence in the world as it touches three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe. The land around the Sea inspires the Mediterranean diet plan that's proven to be beneficial for certain aspects of health. Some diets are extremely rigid, but the Mediterranean diet uses simple guidelines to improve eating habits.
There's no one diet that's eaten by countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea. Twenty-two countries border the Mediterranean sea, according to McGill University. It's almost entirely enclosed by land and has seen the rise and fall of several great empires.
Instead of drawing on dishes common in the Mediterranean, the diet focuses on the foods available in that area. Since it's near a large body of water, seafood is on the Mediterranean diet menu. Wine and olive oil are also included in the diet.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
If you have health problems like high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, or you're simply overweight, the Mediterranean diet can help. According to an article from Penn Medicine, about half of the fats in the Mediterranean diet are from monounsaturated fats. Saturated fats raise cholesterol, but monounsaturated fats don't.
The article from Penn Medicine also explains that the Mediterranean diet can help reduce the risk of diabetes. It's low in food from animal sources and high in plant sources like fruits and vegetables. Both diet modifications help reduce the risk for diabetes, according to the article.
A May 2017 study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition reviewed 11 studies on the Mediterranean diet. They found that subjects who adhered to the diet were able to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease by 40 percent. The researchers also note that many of the benefits of the diet are probably due to olive oil.
A September 2017 study published in Nutrients concluded that the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet are due to the higher fruit, vegetable and whole grain intake. Studies show that there are health benefits to the Mediterranean diet, and it's partially due to food that's cut out of the diet like saturated fats. It's also due to the increase in plant-based foods and fats like olive oil.
The diet itself is very relaxed. You'll focus on eating healthy foods and limiting unhealthy things like candy and soda. While it's restrictive of certain foods, there's no reason to fear the diet. You'll have plenty of options for delicious meals.
The basics of the diet, according to an article from Harvard Health Publishing, are:
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains
- Olive oil for fat
- Cheese and yogurt in moderate amounts
- A moderate amount of poultry and fish
- Red meat in small amounts
- Wine in small amounts and mostly with meals
For produce, the emphasis should be on local and organic products. Instead of eating sugary desserts, you should have fresh fruit. Eggs and butter should also be eliminated, according to an article from MedLinePlus. Other than wine, you should drink primarily water. Skip the soft drinks for this diet.
Mediterranean Diet Plan
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has a Mediterranean meal plan if you're following the Mediterranean diet. There's a chart on its website that's broken down by daily calorie intake and shows you how much of each food type to eat. You can try it for a month to see if you feel better, but the diet can be used for a lifetime.
Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, the daily recommendations for vegetables totals 2.5 cups. It's further broken down by the type of vegetable. Each week you should have:
- 1.5 cups of dark-green vegetables
- 5.5 cups of red and orange vegetables
- 1.5 cups of legumes
- 5 cups of starchy vegetables
- 4 cups of other vegetables
For fruit there's a daily recommendation of 2.5 cups per day, with no specific breakdown by types of fruit. Your intake of grains should be about 6 ounces per day, where 1 ounce is equal to 1 slice of whole-grain bread or 1/2 cup of cooked whole grains or whole-wheat pasta. Of those 6 ounces, 3 ounces should come from whole grains and 3 ounces can come from refined. Dairy can be 2 cups per day and can come from any source.
Your meat and protein sources should total 6.5 ounces per day. This is further broken down in terms of total intake per week:
- 15 ounces per week of seafood
- 26 ounces of meat, poultry and eggs
- 5 ounces of nuts, seeds and soy products
Each day you're allotted 27 grams of oil, which is equal to about 2 tablespoons. This should primarily come from olive oil. After all that, you're left with 260 calories before you hit 2,000. With that you can eat whatever you want. One 5-ounce glass of wine is 123 calories, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, which means that you can still have two glasses of wine and hit your limit.
Mediterranean Diet Drawbacks
While the Mediterranean diet is helpful, there are a few drawbacks, according to an article from Harvard's School of Public Health. There aren't any specific recommendations for portion size or calorie intake. While the food you're eating is healthy, you can still gain weight from eating too much of it.
The emphasis on fats from nuts and olive oil can contribute to a high calorie intake. While the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in the Mediterranean diet are healthier for your heart than saturated fat, they're calorie dense. Fat has 9 calories per gram, according to an article from the United States Department of Agriculture, no matter what kind of fat it is.
Carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram, which is less than half. That means raising your fat intake can quickly lead to an increase in calories, which can lead to weight gain. Try to avoid that by tracking your calories using an app.
The Harvard School of Public Health article cautions that if you're going to follow the diet, make sure you follow it entirely. The individual foods are powerful by themselves, but the diet is designed to work as a whole.
- United States Department of Agriculture: "How Many Calories Are in One Gram of Fat, Carbohydrate, or Protein?"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Diet Review: Mediterranean Diet"
- United States Department of Agriculture: "Basic Report: 14084, Alcoholic Beverage, Wine, Table, All"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Appendix 4. USDA Food Patterns: Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern"
- MedLinePlus: "Mediterranean Diet"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "A Practical Guide to the Mediterranean Diet"
- Nutrients: "Adherence to Mediterranean Diet and Risk of Cancer: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis on Evidence of Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Disease: Are Individual Components Equal?"
- Penn Medicine: "A Diet With No Restrictions: The Mediterranean Diet"
- McGill University: "Mediterranean Sea"