As far as diet plans go, the Mediterranean diet has definitely been shown to be one to follow. This colourful and wholesome diet is based on the traditional cooking styles of countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy, which border the Mediterranean Sea (1). The diet emphasizes the consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains, while limiting unhealthy fats, red meats and sweets (2). Other recommendations include a choosing olive oil (an unsaturated fat) as opposed to saturated fats like butter and nuts which primarily provide healthy unsaturated fats. In addition to providing some impressive dietary recommendations, the Mediterranean diet encourages a healthy lifestyle, which includes physical activity, moderate consumption of red wine and abstaining from smoking and excessive alcohol consumption (2).
The balanced nature of the diet, high consumption of fiber-rich carbohydrates including fruit and vegetables and limited consumption of saturated fats and red meats have been proven to have many health benefits. Research shows that the Mediterranean diet offers a nutritionally superior profile when compared to our traditional Western diet (1, 2). This style of eating is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, Type II Diabetes, and certain types of cancer. The diet has also been shown to reduce the incidences of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease (1, 2).
If you currently enjoy red wine, the Mediterranean Diet allows you to enjoy one glass per day due to the heart healthy properties. Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols have been shown to protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart (3). Additionally, moderate consumption of any alcohol can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol, which reduces the formation of blood clots and prevents arterial damage caused by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol (4). For those who don’t imbibe or have a history of alcohol dependency this is not a necessary addition. It is important to note that the benefits of drinking wine are limited to 1-2 (5 oz) glasses a day. Anything above this increases your risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, cancer, and other problems (4).
While saturated fats are limited it allows for healthy unsaturated and Omega 3 fats found in foods such as fish, nuts and olive oil. Omega 3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure and also reduce inflammation in the body (2).
Overall, this is less of a strict diet regime and more of a healthy lifestyle pattern. The diet also may work for weight-loss and long-term weight management as long as portions are reasonable.
Below are the basics of the Mediterranean Diet as well as a sample of one day’s worth of meals.
Key take away messages:
Base meals around plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, unprocessed grains, legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and nuts
Use heart healthy fats such as olive and canola oil in place of butter
Limit red meat to no more than 2-3 times per month
Use herbs and spices to flavor foods, limiting salt
Eat fish and poultry at least 2 times a week
Choose water as first beverage choice. If you currently enjoy red wine you may include a moderate amount.
Stay physically active
Enjoy meals with family and friends!
2 slices of whole grain bread
Natural Almond butter – 2 tablespoons
1 sliced Banana
Three Bean Salad
Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, black beans
Diced tomatoes, onions
Olive oil & balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Hummus
½ cucumber, sliced
2 oz Salmon fillet seasoned with herbs and garlic
½ cup brown rice
1 and ½ cups sauté green beans and carrots (1tbsp olive oil)
1 glass (6 oz) red wine
Plenty of water throughout the day
1) Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2008;Sep 11;337:1344.
2) Castro-Quezada I, Román-Viñas B, Serra-Majem L. The mediterranean diet and nutritional adequacy: a review. Nutrients. 2014;1:231-48.
3) German JB, Walzem RL. The health benefits of wine. Annu Rev Nutr. 2000;20:561-593.
4) Harv J Minor Public Health. The Nutrition Source, Alcohol: Balancing risks and benefits; 2014 [cited 2014 Jan 29]. Available from: