Olive Lore

The Mediterranean Diet Explained

The Mediterranean Diet isn’t as such a diet as the name implies, but rather a choice of lifestyle that should be implemented into your dietary routines for a better overall health profile.

Scientific evidence draws a clear picture of the many health benefits derived from the Mediterranean Diet, particularly in terms of prevention and fighting chronic diseases such as cancers, heart diseases and diabetes.

fresh produce of mediterranean foods for healthy cooking

Mediterranean Diet and Mediterranean Foods, what are they really?

Simply put, Mediterranean foods are foods with origin in countries close to the Mediterranean basin such as Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Morocco, Tunesia etc. Mediterranean Diet refers to the preparation of these foods in a way that respects and promotes their flavors and nutrients.

Some of the core enery sources of the Mediterranean Diet comprise olives, nuts, poultry, fat fish and shellfish, various fruits and vegetables.

In addition to the raw foods, the Mediterranean Diet also promote physical activity.

How do I get started with the Mediterranean Diet?

One of the major benefits of the Mediterranean Diet is that it is super easy to get started with. It’s not about fancy techniques, nor advanced recipes with tons of rare foods that takes hours to cook.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to get started:

  • Maximize your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, including whole grain foods and legumes.
  • Limit your intake of red meats such as beef and pork. Only eat red meats a few times a month corresponding to about 400 g.
  • Use monounsaturated oils for cooking, such as extras virgin olive oil and rapeseed oil instead of butter and other animal fats.
  • Limit your intake of dairy products e.g. do not use cow milk in your coffee. Also, make sure to use low fat dairy products.
  • Stop using salt for flavor enhancement, especially table salt. Use dried herbs instead.
  • Snacks and small meals should be replaced by non-salted nuts, dried fruits and vegetables.
  • Consume your food slowly. The more time you spend chewing your food the more you will feel full. Remember to enjoy the good company of family and friends.

 

It’s a good idea to start planning variation into your Mediterranean Diet, which gives you enough vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibers.

What are the main health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?

According to WHO (World Health Organization), it is recommended that you consume at least six pieces of fresh fruit or vegetables on a daily basis. This recommendation comes directly from research done on the Mediterranean Diet.

Time and again, scientific evidence has established that the Mediterranean Diet has a preventive effect on, among other things, cardiovascular diseases. Not only that, several trials and analysis done on more than 1,7 million healthy adults have shown that the Mediterranean Diet has had a significant connection to reduced risk of developing serious chronic diseases such as cancers, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and Parkinson’s.

All in all, by eating according to the Mediterranean Diet, you can:

  • Boost your immune system
  • Lose excess pounds
  • Reduce the risk of serious chronic diseases

The Mediterranean Diet is not a temporary diet, but a lifestyle choice.

What are the nine categories of foods in the Mediterranean Diet?

Let’s have a look into some types of Mediterranean foods and what they promote with their unique features.

Legumes
Examples
Peas, beans, lentils chickpeas, peanuts
Rich in
Proteins, carbohydrates fibers, Vitamin B, Vitamin C
Benefits
Associated with lower risk of cardiovascular and colon diseases.
Notes
Sources from this group are typically found in soups and stews, or in dips like humus.

Legumes play a vital role in maintaining a healthy heart. In a study from 2001 of 9,632 adults, it was seen that those who consumed legumes four times or more a week had a reduced risk of heart disease by 22%.

Legumes serve as a great alternative to meat, particularly as a source for proteins which are needed in the process of rebuilding your cells. They are also high in dietary fiber and packs a punch of vital vitamins and minerals. Moreover, don’t forget that legumes are plants, meaning they deliver crucial antioxidants for preventing cell damage.

The carbohydrates in legumes are consumed quite slow by your body, which help stabilize the energy flow of your body, brain and nervous system.

The health benefits of consuming legumes are practically endless. But that’s not all. Legumes are easily gained even for a low budget and will easily integrate into almost any cuisine.

One thing to note about most legumes, however, is that most of them need to be rinsed prior to preparing. If not, they won’t serve you the many nutrients, in fact, they will be categorized as antinutrients meaning their compounds will hinder the correct absorption of nutrients.

A few references

https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/protein

https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/protein-foods/beans-and-peas

Fats
Examples
Olive oil, rapeseed oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, nuts, seeds
Rich in
Oleic Acid, Vitamin E, oleocanthal, oleuropein, alpha-Linolenic acid, Omega-3
Benefits
Associated with lower risk of cancer, lowers your LDL and blood pressure.
Notes
There are plenty of healthy fats to choose from, preferably you should have at least two different oils for cooking.

Fats are important to your body in that they serve to bind proteins and carbohydrates .

Choosing healthy fats for cooking and eating is essential not just for the Mediterranean Diet, but also for your own good. Healthy fats are particularly rich in Omega-3 acids which aids to help maintain the heart and lower your blood pressure, which again is key to a stable health profile.

Healthy fats are unsaturated – both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated – both typically found in vegetables and vegetable oils such as avocado, olives, nuts, sesame oil etc.

It is essential to understand that it’s not about lowering your consumption of fats, but actually increasing it. But it has to be these unsaturated fats. So, instead of trying to adopt some low-fat diet, focus on eating beneficial fats that serve your body well.

Bad fat are saturated, they are called trans fats, and increase the risk of serious chronic illnesses, even in small doses. You will typically find trans fats and saturated fats in processed foods and dairy products.

When it comes to your choice of cooking oils, go for a couple of different for variation and for type of meal. Some vegetable oils have a very high smoking point making them good for certain types of foods, while others such olive oil are good overall and versatile oils and can also be used in salads.

Oils should be as little processed as possible for most nutrient-rich content. Highly refined oils are typically made from secondhand sources and more clean and transparent in their looks, while the better oils are more cloudy in their appearance.

A few references:

https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Oleic-acid

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/

Vegetables
Examples
Asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli, carrot, spinach, kale, artichoke, mushroom
Rich in
Various vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants
Benefits
Serve to keep your system clean and prevent cellular damage and blockages of blood vessels
Notes
Vegetables come in various forms and colors and can be eaten prepared or raw. Important in providing valuable nutrients and satiety.

Vegetables are hard to get enough of. In fact, several medical studies have shown that an increased intake of vegetables on a daily basis reduce your risk of a heart diseases and stroke. Vegeatbles can also prevent some types of cancer, and stabilize blood sugar. Certain vegetables are very low in the glycemic index meaning they can prevent your blood sugar to rise unnecessarily.

Vegetables are rich in antioxidants and have an effect on hardening of your arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which is typically caused by blockages in your blood vessels which again are caused by unhealthy fats and high LDL bad cholesterol.

Go for whole vegetables as your primary choice. Smoothies will also do, especially for people reluctant to adopt to more vegetables in their diet, or people with certain disorders, just avoid sweeteners.

Keep in mind, that vitamin pills can never replace vegetables in your diet and should preferably only be taken during times of vegetable scarcity in your household. Always aim to find and add vegetables to your meals. Luckily, there are now hundreds or even thousands of online resources for great tasty recipes that include vegetables of all kinds. To have the most varied intake, eat after season.

A few references:

https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/hardening-of-the-arteries

Fruits
Examples
Apples, oranges, lemons, pineapple, bananas, grapes, berries, melons
Rich in
Various vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants
Benefits
Fruit intake is generally associated with lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. They taste sweet, look beautiful and are easy to retrieve.
Notes
Vegetables come in various forms and colors and can be eaten prepared or raw. Important in providing valuable nutrients and satiety.

Similar to vegetables, fruits serve as a great source for fibers and antioxidants. There are, however, a lot of misconceptions about the sugary contents of fruits that make people keep them on a distance. So, to debunk any misconceptions, let’s have a quick look on why you definitely shouldn’t avoid fruits in your diet.

First of all, it’s all about the chemical combinations that determine how your body process and metabolizes sugars. Whole fruits are rich in glucose and fructose, about 50% on each, two kinds of sugar. Glucose spikes the blood sugar levels with the help of insulin, whereas fructose is metabolized in the liver without the need of insulin. This adds energy to your system in a balanced way without making your blood sugar levels jump like crazy.

Fruits are pure powerhouses and excellent choices of sources for a wide range of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and flavonoids. Fruits are high in fibers which serve to maintain a healthy colon and digestive system. Particularly blueberries and strawberries are packed with vital compounds and said to be superfoods.

Another interesting fact about fruits is that they have an automatic stop button. They are naturally filling, whereas highly processed foods tend to make you crave even more due to the lack of satiation. In this way, it is almost impossible to overeat which leads to obesity.

A few references:

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/common-questions-fruits-vegetables/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324431

https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-is-the-glycaemic-index-gi/

Fish & Shellfish
Examples
Salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, herring, mussels, lobster, mackerel, squid
Rich in
Ω-3 fatty acids, proteins, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin D, minerals, calcium, magnesium
Benefits
Choosing seafood as your source of animal protein is associated with lower risk of heart diseases, better cognitive function, youthful soft skin, better eyesight and even fight depression.
Notes
Choose seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids 2-3 times a week. If you are not a big fish eater, start by experimenting with salmon which has very little "fish taste and smell", but packs amazing compounds of vitamins and minerals.

Seafood is an integral part of the Mediterranean Diet, something you should aim to eat at least two times a week. Especially fat fish like salmon and sardines that contains high amounts of heart protecting omega-3 fatty acids are a great choice.

Omega-3 fatty acids serve your body as a kind of transmitter, as it supports interaction between cells. Moreover, omega-3 are particularly concentrated in the cells in your brain and eyes. But that’s not all. Another benefit of a diet high in omega-3 acids is that it lowers your triglyceride levels (fats in your blood vessels). Your body does not produce omega-3, hence it’s important to get it through your food.

Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce inflammation in the arteries and digestive system, which lowers the risk of developing colon and kidney diseases.

Along with omega-3 acids, Vitamin D and selenium aids in managing insulin levels in your body, meaning it will help your body absorb sugar rather than just releasing it and make the blood sugar spike.

A few references:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/fatty-fish

https://doh.wa.gov/community-and-environment/food/fish/health-benefits

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17290-omega-3-fatty-acids

Poultry
Examples
Chicken, turkey, duck, goose
Rich in
Protein, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, iron, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Benefits
Poultry provides a great source of protein and satiation, and contains a wide range of nutrients. Poultry is also low on fat.
Notes
Poultry is found in almost any cuisine worldwide, so it's rather easy to find at markets or in stores.

Poultry is a splendid high protein source to include a few times a week in your Mediterranean Diet. Poultry is also a great source of other vital nutrients such as zinc, choline, iron and Vitamin B12.

The lean protein you get from poultry meat aids in a number of biological processes in your body, e.g. weight loss or maintaining a normal weight, build muscle, repair cells and strengthen bones. Due to the low content of fat, poultry meat is also great for your arteries and heart health.

Chicken meat is also full of other vitamins such as B5 and B6, great sources for both heart and mind. In some studies, results have shown that eating chicken can actually relieve stress due to the high amount of B5 and tryptophan used in the biosynthesis of proteins.

A quick top for cooking chicken: Cook with skin on and then remove it before eating will retain the moisture in the meat.

A few references:

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Meat-and-poultry

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6721126/

Nuts & Seeds
Examples
Almond, walnut, hazelnut, cashew, flax seed, chia seed, pumpkin seed
Rich in
Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, Vitamin E, calcium, selenium, magnesium, antioxidants
Benefits
Eating nuts and seeds on a daily basis reduces inflammation and supports cardiovascular health. Different kinds of nuts come with various nutrient combinations making it beneficial to eat a mix.
Notes
Nuts and seeds are usually easy to acquire and easy to store. They are perfect for topping on breakfast portions or even on cakes and pastries.

Nuts and seeds may not seem as a big thing, especially not when it comes to cooking routines and meal preparations. But nuts and seeds contain a wide array of crucial nutrients that your body need to thrive and function properly. Nuts and seeds, however, are pretty easy to incorporate in your breakfast or as snacks during the day.

Nuts are dense in nutrients, so even though they are small and may seem obsolete in a dietary plan, they most certainly are not. Just like with fruits, there is a lot of misconceptions of whether you should eat nuts as they contain a high amount of calories. A study from 2017, for example, showed that a group of obese women who ate 60 g of almonds every day for 10 weeks, did not experience any weight gain, even though they also consumed daily dairy products. In other words, almonds have the ability to 1) support metabolism and 2) provide satiation and therefore prevent overeating.

Nuts and seeds aids in maintaining a healthy heart and artery profile, enhancing lipids and lowering LDL cholesterol (bad). Furthermore, many nuts have the ability to promote good cholesterol (HDL) by 6 % by an intake of approx. 60 g per day.

In addition, nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, more specifically ALA omega-3, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid found in plants. ALA has shown promising results in medical trials to counteract cognitive impairment, protect against type 2 diabetes and lower triglycerides and prevent heart diseases.

A few references:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/art-20046635

https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/13/6/2136/6679279

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232710843_Health_Benefits_of_Nut_Consumption

Whole Grains
Examples
Oat, rye, bulgur, barley, spelt, quinoa, brown rice
Rich in
Fiber, Vitamin B, magnesium, folic acid, flavonoids, plant stenols
Benefits
Whole grain foods are associated with lowering of inflammation biomarkers in the body, as well as risks of developing heart and brain diseases. High amounts of fiber also aids in maintaining a healthy digestive tract.
Notes
Whole grains are packed with

Let’s just start by understanding what whole grains really are. Whole grains refers to the processing of cereal plants where very little has been removed, which leaves both the bran, the endosperm and the germ.

The bran contains a lot of fiber, Vitamin B, magnesium, folic acid and iron. The endosperm delivers protein and carbohydrates. The germ is incredibly rich in plant compounds, powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, lutein, carotenoids and sterols. These properties together form a powerhouse of nutrients that have given promising results of lowering the risk of certain cancer types, heart diseases and brain diseases by fighting off inflammation. Actually, as little as an intake of approx. 30 g of whole grains on a daily basis may lower your risk of a heart disease by 25%.

If you are aiming for a weight loss, you’ll find whole grains very useful. The high compounds of fiber is not only supporting of your digestive system, but also helps you feel full and therefore prevents overeating. Staying on topic, whole grains may also lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Whole grains can help improve your insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance by balancing your blood sugar levels.

A few references:

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/14/2/374

https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/health-studies

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35357453/

Alcohol
Examples
Red wine, white wine
Rich in
Antioxidants, polyphenols
Benefits
Red wine is made from grapes which contains a number of plant based compounds associated with lower risk of developing heart diseases, improving gut bacteria and prevent artery blockages.
Notes
Alcohol consumption should always happen in a moderate and responsible manner.

Time and again, it has been shown that alcohol, especially wine, in moderate amounts may actually be good for you. Moreover, wine is part of the Mediterranean Trinity of foods, as wine is made from grapes, an integral part of the Mediterranean agriculture.

Alcohol consumption is always a hot topic, as many people worldwide have a rather unhealthy relationship to it. Alcohol is often times related to social interactions hence an exaggerated and more frequent intake may be the result. But in the Mediterranean Diet, alcohol isn’t necessarily seen as an issue due to the many beneficial properties in wine.

Why alcohol is associated with health benefits you ask? Moderate amounts of alcohol raise the amount of HDL (good cholesterol), which is good for preventing heart diseases. It can also improve factors that influence blood clotting, which again may prevent blockages in your arteries.

Particularly red wine comes with a number of compounds in form of antioxidants, mainly from grapes that aids in preventing cellular damage caused by oxidative stress. The dense amount of polyphenols, which include flavonoids, can also influence gut bacteria.

The key take-away on alcohol is moderation. Always drink in moderation and responsively.

A few references:

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/drinks-to-consume-in-moderation/alcohol-full-story/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S096399691830557X

https://worldwidescience.org/topicpages/r/red+wine+polyphenol.html

Frequently Asked Questions About the Mediterranean Diet

How long does the Mediterranean Diet take?

The Mediterranean Diet isn’t a time limited diet, it’s a choice of lifestyle and should preferably be the ground pillar in your eating philosophy.

Is it difficult getting started with the Mediterranean Diet?

No! In fact, getting started with the Mediterranean Diet is a breeze as it can be done by gradually experimenting with and changing your dietary habits.

Are there any risks in eating by the rules of the Mediterranean Diet?

There are risks associated with most things in life, particularly foods that we don’t not how are made and processed. The good thing about the Mediterranean Diet is that it focuses on natural unprocessed foods.

Follow these steps prior to starting any new diet:

  • Consult a medical professional
  • Always look at package labeling for unwanted supplements
  • Know your daily energy/calorie needs
  • Go for organic foods
Have I eaten my last pizza?

Of course not. It’s all about ingredients and preparation. The problem with pizzas you buy at your local pizzaria is that they contain high amounts of saturated fats, salt and refined grains. Instead, enjoy the feeling of baking your own pizza from a whole grain dough topped with your fav ingredients like mushrooms, olives and thin slices of chicken. You’ll be in heaven.

How quickly will I be able to see results?

It depends on where you are today. If you see a constantly increase in weight from your current diet, you should be able to see results after as little as 14 days as much of the Mediterranean Diet focus on foods that prevent overeating and promote the feeling of being full and satiated.

Is red meat totally prohibited in the Mediterranean Diet?

No, it is not. However, red meat should be limited to only about 400 g per month at maximum. The positive side of this is that you’ll enjoy that steak even more. Also, you can say you’ve been part of the solution to a bunch of environmental problems.