- The Mediterranean diet is a popular eating plan that is flexible, easy to follow, and has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease and overall mortality.
- It is based on the lifestyle of Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy, and focuses on consuming vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, legumes, fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
- The Mediterranean diet is low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fats, but allows for moderate wine consumption. And it has been named as the best overall diet by US News & World Report for 2020.
- This article is part of Insider's guide on How To Lose Weight.
In addition to being a flexible and sustainable eating plan, the Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and overall mortality.
Here's what you need to know about the diet that might just make you live longer.
What you eat on the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet draws inspiration from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Italy, and Spain. Since the plan centers around traditional cuisine from various regions, it doesn't have a single definition. Instead, it outlines eating principles that are common in each country, such as a diet low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fats.
According to Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, and advisor to Performance Kitchen, the eating plan focuses on consuming lots of plant foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, and whole grains such as bulgur, barley, and farro.
It also encourages the consumption of nuts and seeds and their butters, as well as olives and avocados and their oils. "Since this eating pattern focuses on the quality of wholesome foods, which are mostly plants, it supplies essential nutrients, including fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols," Cassetty says.
Preferred protein sources include fish (at least twice a week), eggs, yogurt, and to a lesser extent, poultry. The diet also allows for moderate wine consumption, which is a glass a day for women and two for men. And of course, it emphasizes whole foods over processed ones, which Cassetty says is excellent advice, even if you're not following the plan.
A safe and sustainable eating plan with few drawbacks
The Mediterranean diet is both safe and sustainable, according to Cassetty. Many people even enjoy the diet, because it doesn't involve rigid rules like some other eating plans.
"You can dine out, enjoy a happy hour and an occasional dessert, and socialize around food in ways that are considerably more difficult with other plans," Cassetty says.
In fact, Cassetty says gathering around food is very much a part of the framework. And since the Mediterranean diet allows for occasional treats, it's a flexible and sustainable way to eat.
Cassetty says the main drawbacks may involve cooking more than you're used to, and if you're accustomed to eating heavily processed convenience items, it may mean adapting to new foods.
She also says that people with certain gastrointestinal conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, may find many of the plant-based foods are rich in FODMAPS, which are types of carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest.
And while the diet is flexible, which many find beneficial, that feature may not be a plus for everyone. "There are people who like a more structured plan with rigid rules that help eliminate some of the decision-making that goes into figuring out what to eat," says Cassetty.
Research on the Mediterranean diet is positive
According to a 2017 overview, published in Nutrition Today, adopting the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle may help lower the incidence of chronic disease and improve longevity. More specifically, the journal cites a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and colorectal cancer.
Additionally, a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that following the Mediterranean diet resulted in weight loss, lower rates of diabetes, less arthritis-related pain, disability, and depression.
Turns out you don't have to live in Greece or Italy to experience the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. This eating plan is flexible, easy to follow, and backed by research — it's no surprise that it's become so popular.
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