The Mediterranean Diet – Overhyped or Underrated?

Photo: @themediterraneandish on Instagram

It’s been the way of life for many around the world and has been studied globally by health professionals for quite a long while. We decided it was time to take a closer look at what everyone is boasting about when it comes to the Mediterranean Diet and see for ourselves- is it overhyped or underrated?

Where It All Began

The Mediterranean Diet is based on the traditional eating patterns observed by those who live in the bordering areas of the Mediterranean Sea. This region encompasses 23 countries, including Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as, some North African countries. Each country has its unique cuisines, but it is their considerable overlap of commonly enjoyed ingredients that have attracted health professionals to study the role that this type of diet plays in these individuals’ health. Historically, much of what we have come to know about the Mediterranean Diet is particularly derived from studies of the people living in a region of Greece that is popular for growing olives, named Crete. For this reason, the Mediterranean Diet is also often referred to as the Cretan Diet.

Photo: @hatunoliveoil on Instagram

Potential Benefits

Over the years, the Mediterranean Diet has earned and defended its title as an evidenced-based eating pattern that has been linked to a host of health benefits. This diet includes improving cardiovascular disease and diabetes-related risk factors such as elevated lipid profiles and blood pressure. While there is no single standard meal plan for the prevention and management of individuals with such chronic diseases, the Mediterranean Diet is frequently recommended as a means of nutrition therapy because of its repetitively demonstrated, impressive results in clinical settings.

Key Features

Fresh fruits and vegetables make up the fundamental base of the Mediterranean Diet. Bread and other grains and cereals, as well as, beans, nuts, seeds and seasonally fresh, locally grown foods also define the diet of those who follow this eating pattern. Olive oil is used rather liberally and is the principal source of fat. Dairy products and eggs are enjoyed in low to moderate amounts (less than four times a week), and red meat is sparingly featured. Similar to olive oil, wine is also a hallmark ingredient in the Mediterranean Diet and is commonly paired with meals. Also, it is important to note is the role of desserts. Generally, sweets are reserved and only enjoyed during special occasions such as at weddings or religious celebrations.

Photo: @sayyestothefreshh on Instagram.

In its entirety, the Mediterranean Diet is very rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (healthy fats) and antioxidants such as vitamins A, B, C and E among other vitamins, minerals and fibre. With such attributes, the Mediterranean Diet has been applauded for being anti-inflammatory and for helping to support gut (intestinal) health. What’s more is the type of lifestyle that the Mediterranean Diet encourages as physical activity, cooking from scratch and eating with others are strongly supported activities. Notably, these are also factors that we know help to contribute to one’s overall health.

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How to Get Started

There are many easy ways to incorporate aspects of the Mediterranean Diet into your cooking, and it is likely that some may already be a part of your daily routine. Here are some ideas that you can try bringing into your kitchen:

  1. Boost the nutrition of your meals with locally grown fruits and vegetables.
  2. Switch your cooking oil to olive oil.
  3. Choose seafood more often than poultry and red meats.
  4. Serve animal-based proteins in smaller portions.
  5. Opt for whole grains such as wheat berries, farro and quinoa.
  6. Snack on nuts and seeds.
  7. Pack a punch of plant-based protein with legumes.
  8. If you drink, enjoy wine with meals in moderation.
Photo: @jlouise86 on Instagram

The Final Verdict

It is fair to say that the Mediterranean Diet has established itself as one of the most popular eating patterns recommended to help improve the health of those with chronic diseases such as diabetes. The traditional foods that make up the Mediterranean Diet are rich in nutrients that we know are beneficial to our health and encouraging of a healthy weight and stable blood sugar levels. Furthermore, much of what is encompassed by this eating pattern overlaps with what is generally recommended when it comes to eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet. Undoubtedly, following the Mediterranean diet won’t work for everyone, but the lifestyle aspects that this eating pattern promotes (physical activity, adequate rest and eating with others) are sure to be beneficial for anyone who adopts them. As such, the Mediterranean Diet is not over-hyped. Big or small, the research strongly supports that adaptations are likely to help improve one’s overall health in some way or another.

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Mirieta Selimovska
Mirieta is a Toronto born and raised foodie and aspiring Registered Dietitian. Her motto? All foods fit! It’s no secret that keeping fuelled with food that is both nutritious and delicious can be challenging at times. Lucky for you, Mirieta is here to help inspire your own (realistic!) journey towards improved health. You can find her on Instagram (@thesweetenedpea) or grabbing a coffee wherever the photo-worthy latte art is.