Of all the ‘diets’ that have the strongest evidence base for positive health changes across a range of conditions is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the burden, or even prevent the development, of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, depression, colorectal cancer, diabetes, obesity, asthma, erectile dysfunction, and cognitive decline1.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet stems from the eating patterns in Crete, the rest of Greece and Southern Italy in the 1960s, where adult life expectancy was among the highest in the world and rates of coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and other diet-related chronic diseases were amongst the lowest2.
The diet consists of fish, monounsaturated fats from olive oil, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes/nuts, and moderate alcohol consumption. The key nutrients it provides are Omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Key concepts of the Mediterranean Diet
Plant based foods
The use of plant based foods as core elements of the daily diet provide essential vitamins and minerals and fibre. Plant based foods include fruit & vegetables, wholegrain cereals, beans and pulses and nuts and seeds.
The use of minimally processed ingredients is encouraged and meat sources can be included such as lean meat, chicken & fish.
The Mediterranean diet is not a vegetarian diet.
Aiming to get your 5 a day of fruit and vegetables is a good way to increase your intake of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Examples of what counts as a portion of fruit and vegetables include:
1 slice of melon
2 broccoli spears
8 cauliflower florets
7 cherry tomatoes
3 heaped tablespoons of beans or pulses – these only count as a maximum of 1 portion per day
All sources of fruit and vegetables count towards your 5 a day, including frozen and tinned.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and pilchards are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids which are a type of polyunsaturated fat have been shown to protect the heart and blood vessels from disease.
It is recommended that we eat 2 portions of fish per week, with one being an oily fish.
Olive oil is a source of polyunsaturated fat which has been shown to be beneficial in protecting against heart disease.
Olive oil can be used a salad dressing or instead of putting butter or margarine on bread, try dipping it in olive oil. Olive oil can be infused with herbs and spices to create different flavours.
Wholegrain cereals such as oats, bread, pasta and rice are high in fibre, which provides a protective effect against cardiovascular and are important for good gut health are a key component of a Mediterranean diet.
Ensure your meals contain a source of wholegrain and try swapping white rice and pasta for wholemeal rice or pasta.
Wholegrains are also a good source of B vitamins which are involved in metabolism helping to give us energy.
Choosing wholegrains increases our fibre intake which is good for keeping us full and keeping our bowel healthy.
Nuts and legumes
There are numerous studies which shows evidence that the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts offers primary cardiovascular disease prevention benefits1.
Legumes such as beans and pulses are a great source of protein and fibre and are a staple part of the Mediterranean diet.
Legumes can be used to bulk out meals so that you use less meat.
How to achieve a mediterranean diet?
- Swap out some of your meat for fish
- Switch out your butter in favour of olive oil
- Eat plenty of fruit & vegetables – aim for a minimum of 5 portions per day
- Choose wholegrain cereals such as porridge oats, wholemeal pasta and rice
- Cook from scratch using fresh ingredients
- Widmer RJ, Flammer AJ, Lerman LO, Lerman A. The Mediterranean diet, its components, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Med. 2015 Mar;128(3):229-38
- W C Willett, F Sacks, A Trichopoulou, G Drescher, A Ferro-Luzzi, E Helsing, D Trichopoulos, Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 61, Issue 6, June 1995, Pages 1402S–1406S
Caroline Hill is a specialist menopause dietitian supporting women making dietary change. Caroline uses her extensive knowledge, skills and expertise of food and nutrition to help women manage their symptoms and weight during menopause. Caroline believes in providing sustainable, individualised, evidence-based advice to women making dietary change.