Must-Know Mediterranean Diet Facts

May 25, 2021 10:18 PM EDT | By Patrick Jones (patrick@easynative.com)

The Mediterranean diet is a plant-focused diet that has a number of health benefits like improving heart health and increasing longevity. A Mediterranean eating style can improve overall health, enhance well-being, improve energy, and lower the risk for many chronic diseases. 

The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle eating plan, not a temporary diet, but may lead to weight loss in some individuals. Eating healthy and cutting back on calories is the basic foundation for preventing overweight and obesity. 

Overweight and obesity are risk factors for many chronic diseases and can cause higher health care and insurance costs. In fact, life insurance for overweight individuals can be more costly or difficult to obtain if you have other health conditions along with being overweight. 

Individuals with chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease can also benefit from eating Mediterranean style to improve health and lower insurance costs. This article will give an overview of the Mediterranean diet, nutrients found in the diet, benefits of the diet, and some sample Mediterranean meals and snacks. 

Must-Know Mediterranean Diet Facts

What is the Mediterranean diet? 

The Mediterranean diet is a diet that emphasizes plant foods and limits the amount of meat and animal products that an individual consumes. It's a lifestyle eating plan for individuals who live in the countries that surround the Mediterranean sea, like Italy and Greece. 

The Mediterranean diet is depicted in a visual called the Mediterranean diet pyramid. This pyramid is a food guidance system for those countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea and live this lifestyle. The foundation of the diet is grains (preferably whole grains) , fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and herbs and seasonings. 

Fish and seafood can also be eaten a few times a week. Poultry, eggs, and dairy are only included in moderate weekly portions. Meat and sweets should be seldomly consumed. Organic meat and desserts would be the best option if you will do so. 

Also, water is included and should be the primary beverage consumed daily. Red wine can be consumed in moderation, which means about one drink per day. Herbs, spices, and seasonings should be used regularly in foods, especially in place of salt. Healthy fats should come from foods like olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds. 

Lifestyle also plays an important role in the Mediterranean diet. The foundation of the Mediterranean diet pyramid is enjoying meals with others and being physically active regularly. 

Not only is the Mediterranean diet a healthy option, but it is also a popular well-liked diet.  It always ranks high in U.S. News & World Report's ranking of the best diets. 

What nutrients are high in the Mediterranean diet? 

The Mediterranean diet is high in a variety of nutrients needed for good health. Fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytonutrients are all abundant in this diet. 

Fiber is one nutrient that is found in many foods in the diet. Fiber comes from plant foods and is important for keeping your digestive system functioning properly and lowering cholesterol levels. Protein is important for the structure of the body. It plays an important role in building and repairing body tissues, including muscles. 

Vitamin C is found in many of the fruits and vegetables found in the Mediterranean diet. Vitamin C can enhance longevity because it is an antioxidant that protects cells, plays a role in collagen production in the body, and also boosts immune function. The B-complex vitamins are found in grains, which are important for energy metabolism and healthy red blood cells. 

Minerals like potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus are important for many healthy body functions and are also found in the Mediterranean diet. These minerals help with fluid balance and are also important for the functioning of enzymes involved in chemical reactions in the body. 

Heart-healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are also found in the region's foods. Nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and olives are abundant in healthy fats that are needed for healthy cells, protecting vital organs, transporting certain vitamins, and supporting heart health. 

Fish and seafood are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are a type of polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy for the heart, blood vessels, and brain. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish weekly to get the benefits from the omega-3 fatty acids in the fish. 

Antioxidants and phytonutrients are abundant in the Mediterranean diet. This includes carotenoids, flavonoids, polyphenols, lutein, and lycopene. Orange, red, yellow, and green fruits and vegetables have carotenoids. One of those is beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A by the body and essential for healthy vision. 

Red wine, berries, and nuts have polyphenols and flavonoids, which are important for brain health and preventing chronic diseases. Lutein is important for healthy eyes and is found in green leafy vegetables and a few other fruits and vegetables. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and watermelon and plays a role in heart health. 

Must-Know Mediterranean Diet Facts

What are the benefits of following the Mediterranean diet? 

The Mediterranean diet has many well-researched health benefits. Research studies on the diet date back to World War II. The impacts on health include a lower risk for many chronic conditions and improved overall well being. 

One of the most well-known health benefits is on heart health. The Mediterranean diet can lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and improve overall heart health. This diet can also lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and boost immunity. 

Another major benefit of the Mediterranean diet is longevity. This diet is also known to help improve cognition, enhance memory, and lower the risk of two major chronic conditions - Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. It also has mental health benefits because it can help keep depression away. 

A plant-based diet is more sustainable for the environment than a meat-based diet. Plant-based diets may also be more inexpensive than a meat-based diet. Meat and poultry are limited in a Mediterranean diet and those are costly components of a carnivorous diet. 

The lifestyle components of the Mediterranean diet include sharing mealtime with others and being physically active. These two things can improve social health, emotional health, and have additional benefits for vitality and well being. The benefits of exercise and physical activity are numerous and significant. 

Who should try the Mediterranean diet? 

Anyone from children to adults can enjoy the benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet. Individuals with a chronic condition like heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure would especially benefit from this diet. 

If you don't want to do a 100 percent Mediterranean diet, you can still implement some concepts from the diet into your lifestyle. One way to ease into the diet is to try a vegetarian meal once a week. This meal can include beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lots of vegetables, or soy-based protein foods like tofu or tempeh. 

Mediterranean Diet Snacks and Meals 

Mediterranean diet meals and snacks do not have to be complicated or expensive. A few examples of breakfast options that would fit the diet include oatmeal with berries or whole-grain toast with peanut butter. 

Some good lunch or dinner options for a Mediterranean diet include salmon with brown rice and broccoli or a quinoa bowl with beans, avocado, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Mediterranean diet-approved snacks include hummus with carrots or Greek yogurt with a handful of nuts. Fruit is a great option for dessert. 

Must-Know Mediterranean Diet Facts

Melissa Morris writes for the life insurance comparison site, EffortlessInsurance.com. She has an MS in exercise science, is an ACSM certified exercise physiologist, and an ISSN certified sports nutritionist. Be careful with this diet if you have pets, as dogs can't eat tomatoes and other Mediterranean diet foods safely. 

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