The Mediterranean diet is beloved the world over, in part because it doesn't feel like a diet at all. While tasty plant proteins, delicious fish, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables are hallmarks of the plan, you can have your share of grains while eating a Mediterranean diet, and even a glass of red wine or some red meat on occasion. And you'll do this while reaping major benefits. The Mediterranean diet has been proven effective for weight loss, and it may even protect against disease and extend your life. Curious to know more? Here, a dietitian answers the most common questions.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
Although the Mediterranean diet has only grown in popularity over the last few years, its roots can be traced back many decades. "The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of eating modeled after countries in the Mediterranean region," Laura Yautz, RD, owner of Being Nutritious LLC in Pittsburgh, PA, told POPSUGAR. "It was discovered in the mid-1900s that people [who lived there] often seemed to enjoy healthier, longer lives than average." It should come as no surprise then that the Mediterranean diet is about much more than what a person eats. "This diet has principles that extend into food preparation and production, as well as overall lifestyle. People in the region at that time moved their bodies through typical daily routines, took life at a slower pace, were less stressed, and had strong family and community ties," Laura explained.
What Are the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?
What we've learned since that time has helped shed some light on the connection between the Mediterranean diet and a longer life. While it's best known for reducing the risk of heart disease (a benefit largely credited to heart-healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and avocado), Laura explained that the Mediterranean diet may also help protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes, as well as degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. In terms of immediate benefits, you may "lose some weight, have more energy, and be more regular," Laura said. "People also generally find that they eat less food while feeling less hungry." (Read: fewer calories and cravings.)
What Can You Eat on the Mediterranean Diet?
Many people find the Mediterranean diet much easier to follow than other healthy-eating plans, because of the abundance of foods you can eat. The core of the diet is nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, which can be eaten at every meal. Fish and seafood are a solid source of protein that you should try to eat twice a week or more. Other animal-based proteins should be eaten in moderation, with red meat being served sparingly. Healthy fats are also key on the Mediterranean diet. These include olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds, which should replace less virtuous fats (like dairy and butter) as frequently as possible. "Even though healthy fats are a staple in the diet, portion control is key if you're watching your weight," Laura said. "A tablespoon of olive oil is around 120 calories, and can add up quick!" Aim to fill half your plate with produce, a quarter with whole grains, and a quarter with lean protein, adding just a small amount of fat for a filling meal.