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The Mediterranean diet

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

The Mediterranean diet: What is it?

The Mediterranean diet features healthy food and ingredients traditionally enjoyed by people in countries around the Mediterranean Sea.

It mostly features vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, olive oil and oily fish.

Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet is good for a healthy heart, weight management and even living longer.

One study in 2013 found that following the Mediterranean diet lead to a 30% lower risk of heart disease and strokes.

Mediterranean Diet: What to eat

The Mediterranean diet is more of a way of life than a formal diet plan or programme.

Ways of being more Mediterranean in approaches to food include eating:

  • More fruit, vegetables and salad
  • More fish
  • Less meat
  • More bread and pasta
  • More vegetable and plant oil products, such as olive oil

The Mediterranean diet: How it works

The Mediterranean diet mainly emphasises foods that are low-fat, low-cholesterol and high-fibre. Reducing total fat is one of the easiest ways to trim calories, because fat is more than twice as caloric as carbohydrates or protein. Furthermore, foods rich in lean protein and fibre (such as beans and pulses) are filling and make meals more satisfying.

Fish and olive oil provide healthy unsaturated fats, which also contribute to satisfaction and don’t raise cholesterol levels the way saturated fat does.

Most foods included in the Mediterranean diet are fresh and seasonal rather than highly processed. Preparation methods tend to be simple; foods are rarely deep-fried.

The wide variety of delicious foods makes it easier to stay with to the Mediterranean diet for the long term. However, even on a diet full of healthy foods, it's important to watch portions - especially for higher- calorie foods such as nuts and olive oil.

Mediterranean diet: What the experts say

BootsWebMD asked experts at the British Dietetic Association for an assessment of the Mediterranean diet

BDA spokesperson Charlotte Cheeseman says: "A Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses, olive oil and fish. It fits the general recommended healthy eating advice with meals being based around fruit, vegetables and starchy carbohydrates with smaller amounts of protein coming from lower fat sources such as beans, lentils and fish and with a higher proportion of monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids to saturated fats. You can also have the occasional glass of wine!

"This is a well-studied diet and research has shown it to be beneficial for overall and particularly cardiovascular health as well as weight management. Research has shown this diet to help lower both overall cholesterol levels and ‘bad’(LDL) cholesterol, reduce the overall risk of death and risk of death from cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke) as well as reducing the risks of some types of cancer. Research has also linked the diet to a reduction in overall body weight and waist circumference. There have been some links between the Mediterranean diet and improvements and/or prevention of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and Alzheimer’s however there is not yet strong enough evidence to fully support this."

Reviewed on November 30, 2015

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