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The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. It features foods eaten in Greece, Spain, southern Italy and France, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads and whole grains, and olive oil. Meat, cheese, and sweets are very limited. The recommended foods are rich with monounsaturated fats, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.
The Mediterranean diet is like other heart-healthy diets in that it recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains. But in the Mediterranean diet, an average of 35% to 40% of calories can come from fat. Most other heart-healthy guidelines recommend getting less than 35% of your calories from fat. The fats allowed in the Mediterranean diet are mainly from unsaturated oils, such as fish oils, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils (such as canola, soybean, or flaxseed oil). These types of oils may have a protective effect on the heart.
A Mediterranean-style diet may help lower your risk for certain diseases, improve your mood, and boost your energy levels. It may also help keep your heart and brain healthy.
The benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet reinforce the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, high-fiber breads, whole grains, and healthy fats.
For your heart and body, a Mediterranean-style diet may:
For your brain, a Mediterranean-style diet might help prevent:
There are some simple things you can do to eat more of the healthy foods that make up the Mediterranean diet. First, check out what’s on the menu. Then see what Mediterranean-type foods you can add to your eating plan.
On the menu
The traditional Mediterranean diet calls for:
The Mediterranean diet may also include red wine with your meal—1 glass each day for women and up to 2 glasses a day for men.
Tips for changing your diet
Here are some things you can do to switch from a traditional Western-style diet to a more Mediterranean way of eating.
A dietitian can help you make these and other changes to your diet. You can find information about the Mediterranean diet, recipes, and sample menus online and in cookbooks or videos.
The Mediterranean diet isn’t just about eating healthy foods. It’s also about being active. So try to get at least 2½ hours of moderate aerobic activity a week. It's fine to do blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.
Choose exercises that make your heart beat faster and make you breathe harder. For example, go for a swim or a brisk walk or bike ride. You can also get some aerobic activity in your daily routine. Vacuuming, housework, gardening, and yard work can all be aerobic.
Other Works Consulted
Escott-Stump S, Earl R (2008). Guidelines for dietary
planning. In LK Mahan, S Escott-Stump, eds., Krause's Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy, 12th ed., pp. 337–361. St. Louis: Saunders
Katz DL (2008). Dietary recommendations for health
promotion and disease prevention. In Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 2nd ed., pp. 434–447. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and
Sofi F, et al. (2008). Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: Meta-analysis. BMJ, 337: a1344.
February 4, 2011
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
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