The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet reflects the eating patterns of civilizations that developed in the Mediterranean region. It is more so a dietary pattern rather than a true diet because there is not a total calorie cut off or an allowed percentage of a macronutrient. It is heavily based on vegetables. Other highly consumed food groups include fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, and of course, olive oil. While it is mostly vegetarian based, there is a moderate amount of seafood consumption and to a little less degree, poultry. Cheese, eggs, and milk are consumed less frequently, and red meat, sweets, and refined grains are consumed in very limited amounts.

Olive oil is really an essential player here and the main dietary source for fat. Often, when one is consuming the olive oil, it is because they are eating more vegetables. In other words, olive oil is used in preparation of salads, side dishes, many appetizers, and main entrees. Just simply adding olive oil to a pizza does not turn it into a mediterranean diet compatible pizza.

So, one can see that the moderate to high amount of food groups in this diet provide the protein, the fiber, and the good fat— unsaturated mono and polyunsaturated fat— while only allowing very little room for saturated fats. Speaking of fiber, the involved carbs have a low glycemic index. What does that mean? Glycemic Index (GI) refers to how quickly and how much an ingested food affects the glucose in blood. So, the lower GI foods will raise blood sugar more slowly and to a less extent than the higher GI foods. The grains used are whole grains or often in the form of fermented sourdough, which has a lower GI, and the pasta is cooked al dente so its GI remains low.

There are so many benefits to the Mediterranean diet. Let’s start with its benefits to your heart:

  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery plaque buildup, heart attack, and stroke. It lowers risk of a cardiovascular event occurring the first time (down by 30%, PREDIMED study), risk of recurring (down by 50-70%, Lyon Heart Study), and decreases the mortality associated with it.
  • Decrease in peripheral artery disease.
  • Decrease in blood pressure.

Then there are the decreases in metabolic disease:

  • Lowered risk of developing Diabetes Mellitus type 2.
  • Decrease in metabolic syndrome.
  • Reduced obesity risk
  • Lowered abdominal fat gain.
  • Reduced BMI.

It also has cognitive benefits:

  • Decrease in cognitive decline due to age.
  • Decrease in Alzheimer’s disease.

With such high consumption of vegetables, one gets an abundance of phytonutrients which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These include:

  • Decreased risks associated with developing many types of cancers, including cancers of the liver, colon, stomach, and breast (just to name a few).
  • Decreased risk of inflammatory conditions. This means a decreased risk in almost all of the diseases or conditions mentioned up to this point in this post.
  • Consuming an abundance of plants also provides prebiotic fiber, which in turn helps our guts have healthy gut microbiota— the microorganisms in our intestines. When we have a higher amount of the healthy gut bacteria and hence a lower amount of the unhealthy bacteria, there is less break down and absorption of some food. This translates to less calories gained.

This of course isn’t a comprehensive discussion of all of the details and the vast amount of benefits of the Mediterranean diet. There are pages and pages of literature and many studies. Yet I hope this helps give a brief overview of it what the Mediterranean diet is and how valuable it can be when followed as a dietary pattern.


Efe Sahinoglu, MD

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