The Mediterranean diet originated in, you guessed it, countries near the Mediterranean Sea. There is no specific definition, as the Mediterranean touches many different countries and cultures, from Morocco to Italy to Turkey. However, each of these countries’ cuisines includes similar ingredients that have been proven to have many health benefits.
The Mediterranean diet usually includes high amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and of course seafood. In 2020 the U.S. News and World Report ranked this diet the best diet overall, due to its multitude of health benefits like heart health and cancer prevention.
Heart health is one thing the diet is most well-known for, in 2016 a study of over 20,000 people found that those who follow a Mediterranean diet are much less likely to develop heart disease. The same study found that the diet could prevent up to 4% of all heart disease cases. This can be attributed to all of the healthy fats, other diets include saturated and trans fats, which can contribute to heart disease.
Olive oil is the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet, and it provides monounsaturated fat which has been found to have lower cholesterol. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat. Additionally, the diet focuses more on fish than other meats. Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can actually reduce inflammation in the body, reduce blood clotting, and decrease the risk of stroke or heart failure.
The Mediterranean diet is also heavily based on plants. Meals consist of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, beans, and whole grains and the meals are built around these ingredients. Smaller amounts of dairy, eggs, and poultry are central to the diet, and red meat is much less common. Red meat is a known contributor to higher cholesterol and heart diseases.
If you’re looking to switch up your diet to something that tastes good and is proven to be good for your health, taking notes from the Mediterranean is a great way to start. This doesn’t mean you have to start eating like you’ve lived in the region your whole life but supplementing some of your usual foods for this diet could improve your short term and long-term health.