The Mediterranean is not only one of the most popular places to visit — imagine sandy white beaches, clear blue water, and beautiful ancient ruins — but it also happens to boast an incredibly healthy diet. Traditional foods from 1960s Italy and Greece have been linked to a variety of health benefits, most notably healthier hearts, a decreased risk of diabetes, and healthy weight management.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet has long been touted as one of the healthiest on the planet. A variety of studies have shown that those following a Mediterranean way of eating have a far lower risk of certain diseases.
A spin-off of “traditional foods that people used to eat in countries like Italy and Greece” in the 1960s — hence the name Mediterranean — this diet is based around foods that are consumed regularly, in moderation, rarely, and never.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on daily consumption of “vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, [bread,] herbs, spices, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil.” Foods eaten in moderation include “poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt,” and red meat is eaten extremely rarely.
What’s not included? Those treacherous processed and highly processed foods such as “sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, and refined oils.”
Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean way of eating has been vastly studied with some pretty amazing results. Many researchers link this to high levels of healthy fats — monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega fatty acids — as well as a moderate intake of healthy sources of saturated fat, along with a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Plus, you can’t discount the wonderful health benefits associated with extra virgin olive oil!
1. Lower Risk of Heart Disease
One of the most impressive health benefits linked to the Mediterranean diet is heart health.
Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition both found promising results.
The randomized clinical trial from the New England Journal of Medicine republished in June 2018 — possibly the most impressive of the studies — found that participants with type 2 diabetes or those with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease had a 30 percent lower risk of heart events when put on a “calorie-restricted Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts.”
2. Prevent Cognitive Decline
The Mediterranean diet has also been linked to reduced risk and even prevention of age-related cognitive decline and related conditions such as Alzheimer’s. This may, in part, be because your brain relies on healthy fats and blood supply as its main source of sustenance.
In an interview with Everyday Health, Keith Fargo, Ph.D. — the director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association — explains that “to supply all of those nutrients and oxygen, you have to have a rich blood supply … [therefore] people who are having any problems with their vascular health — their blood vessels — are really at increased risk for developing problems with their brain, and then that frequently will present itself as cognitive decline.”
Multiple studies — including a 2018 study published in Neurology and a 2016 study published in Frontiers of Nutrition — have found strong connections between the Mediterranean diet — high in healthy fats and low in processed foods — and better cognitive health.
3. Maintain Healthy Weight
Whether your goal is weight management or weight loss, choosing a Mediterranean diet may be the key to obtaining these goals!
While there is a slew of diets that purport weight loss or healthy weight management, the Mediterranean diet has been scientifically proven to obtain these goals in a “safe and sustainable way,” even though it may take a bit longer to reach your goals than other diet plans.
Researchers attribute this weight-management effect to the diet’s focus on “whole, fresh foods.”
4. Lower Risk and/or Management of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body “either resists the effects of insulin — a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into your cells — or doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels.” While there is currently no cure for this ailment, “losing weight, eating well, and exercising can help manage the disease … [in combination with ] diabetes medications or insulin therapy.”
A series of studies — published in the journal Diabetes Care and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — show that the Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on not only managing type 2 diabetes but also lowering your risk of getting the condition.
While there may be many factors that affect these positive outcomes, the Mediterranean diet excludes all of the foods that have been linked to an increased chance of type 2 diabetes, such as highly processed items, trans fats, and added sugar. The Mediterranean diet was more influential on type 2 diabetes and more adept at controlling blood sugar than previously tested diets that focus on “low-carbohydrate, low-glycemic index, and high-protein” foods.
8 Ways to Add a Twist of Mediterranean to Your Plant-Based Diet
If you’re not interested in going all the way Mediterranean, but you still want some of those health benefits, think about simply adding a few twists to your regular plant-based menu. Jazzing up your meals with a bit of Mediterranean-based nutrition is a great way to create your own fully plant-based version of the diet while excluding seafood, lean meats, and red meat.
Simply take a good look at the “eat everyday” foods in the Mediterranean diet, select those that you like, and sprinkle them in where you feel you can.
Here are a few ways to take your plant-based diet up a notch with some Mediterranean foods:
You may not really think about olives, yet they happen to be a delightfully healthy plant-based treat! Olives are filled with healthy fats and have been linked to decreased LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and increased HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). On top of that, they’re rich in antioxidants!
Integrate olives into your weekly diet with a few of these olive-rich recipes: Couscous with Tomatoes and Olives, Pesto and Olive Stuffed Mushrooms, Black Bean, Mushrooms, and Kalamata Olive Burger, or this Artichoke and Olive Spaghetti.
2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
You can’t go Mediterranean without at least trying to add in extra virgin olive oil!
Make sure to choose an unrefined version of olive oil, which means go with extra virgin olive oil such as this cold-pressed 365 Everyday Value Extra Virgin Olive Oil Mediterranean Blend.
The less refined the oil, the less processing it has gone through, and the more nutrients it retains.
Extra virgin olive oil has been linked to a variety of wonderful health benefits. This is mostly attributed to the high levels of antioxidants and healthy fats — “14 [percent] of the oil is saturated fat, whereas 11 [percent] is polyunsaturated, such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids … [and] … the predominate fatty acid … is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, making up 73 [percent] of the total oil content.” This wonderful oil has been linked to decreased inflammation, prevention of strokes, protection against heart disease, reduced risk of cognitive decline and type 2 diabetes, and has even been shown to help treat Rheumatoid arthritis.
While extra virgin olive oil isn’t the best oil for high-heat cooking — such as frying — it’s great for low-heat baking or even served raw on salads. Here are a few ways to get this Mediterranean diet staple into your weekly recipes: Olive Oil Tamales, Chilli Olive Oil, Lemon Olive Oil Cake Baked Oatmeal, Artichoke Pesto Zucchini Noodles, or this Greek Salad with Homemade Feta Cheese.
A large part of the Mediterranean diet relies on the little things, like nuts! If you’re already a plant-based eater, then you most likely have nuts on the menu somewhere within your week or even daily. They’re great for creating gluten-free concoctions, healthier granola, and peanut-free butter alternatives.
Plus, nuts are super healthy for you! They’re rich in a slew of nutrients, including protein, fat, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, manganese, selenium, and antioxidants. They are also linked to a variety of health benefits, including healthy weight management, healthier cholesterol, management of diabetes, and metabolic syndromes, and reducing inflammation, and they may even reduce the risk of stroke and/or heart attack.
When shopping for nuts, avoid any that are salted or roasted. This will help you avoid additional sodium and veggie oils that can be detrimental to your new Mediterranean way of eating. These 365 Everyday Value Walnuts Halves & Pieces are a great option!
If you’re looking to integrate nuts seamlessly into your diet, there are lots of ways to make this happen! Whether it’s nut butter — such as this Roasted Cashew Nut Butter or this Homemade Almond Butter — or a nut-granola — such as this Adaptogenic Nut Granola or this Clumpy Banana Nut Granola — or even a naturally sweetened dessert — such as these Yogi Date Balls or these Raw Nutella Bars. Plus, you can simply toss them into a salad, such as this Spinach Salad with Pistachios and Sun-Dried Tomatoes.
Next to nuts, seeds are a must-have when adding that little bit of Mediterranean twist to your diet! They are “chock-full of important nutrients” including those brain-loving healthy fats, gut-loving fiber, and body-loving protein, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, they’re a lot more versatile than most people think!
Along with being tasty as a topping, butter, dip, or spread, seeds are also linked to a variety of health benefits, including healthy weight management, better digestive health, healthier blood sugar levels, and help fight free radicals, which lead to cancer. On top of that, they happen to be one of the best plant-based sources of protein!
Which seeds should you incorporate? Most seeds are stellar, no matter what, but the top 10 healthiest include flax, hemp, pumpkin, poppy, sunflower, chia, sesame, pine, quinoa (yes, this is a seed, yet prepared as a grain!), and pomegranate.
Here are a few ways to get those lovely seeds into your diet: Seeds and Greens Kaniwa Salad, No-Bake Trail Mix Popcorn Clusters, Simple Homemade Pumpkin Seed Butter, Pumpkin Seed Pesto, Sunflower Seed Butter Oatmeal Cookies, or this Sesame Seed Milk.
When it comes to veggies and the Mediterranean diet, you can pretty much go crazy! Tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, and on and on and on.
Getting those veggies on your plate is an integral part of staying healthy. They are a natural source of many nutrients including “potassium, fiber, folate (folic acid), and vitamins A, E, and C” to name just a few. Increased vegetable consumption has also been linked to several health benefits, including a “reduced risk for stroke, cancer, heart diseases, and type-2 diabetes.” Plus, they’re loaded with anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants, which means you’re also helping to protect your body from free radicals and oxidative stress.
There are countless ways to enjoy your veggies!
If you’re not really into the raw or cooked veggies, you can always get a dose via a delicious smoothie — such as this Parsley Pear Green Smoothie, this Hydrating Super Green Smoothie, or this Chocolate and Sprout Smoothie. Make it super easy and throw in some organic frozen greens such as this 365 Everyday Value Organic Blue Curled Kale or this 365 Everyday Value Organic Whole Leaf Spinach.
Veggies are also a great replacement item for things like grains — like this Easy Cauliflower Rice and Green or this Zoodle Pad Thai — and meat — like this Breaded Portobello Mushroom Steaks, this Lentil Loaf With Smoked Paprika Glaze, or this Mushroom Ceviche.
If you want to go full veggie Mediterranean try a few of these veggie-filled recipes: Grilled Vegetable, Olive Flatbread, and Hummus Plate, Mediterranean Cauliflower Couscous in Red Pepper Sauce, Quinoa Asparagus Tabbouleh, or this Beet and Chickpea Falafel.
6. Whole Grains
While most diets say no to grains — even though they’re low on the glycemic index, they still are higher than veggies and such — the Mediterranean diet includes it in the eat regularly category.
With that said, it’s all about the type of whole grain. The Mediterranean diet focuses on whole grains such as “whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole-grain bread, and [whole-grain] pasta.” These whole grains are not only filled with fiber and nutrients, but they are also linked to a variety of health benefits including lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, reduced risk of obesity and chronic inflammation, and they Support healthy digestion.
Whole grains are a wonderful addition to your plate throughout the day!
Start your day with some whole oats, — Coconut Banana Baked Oatmeal — include them with lunch, — Coconut Brown Rice Bowl With Avocado Cream Dressing — snack on them, — Arugula Pesto and Zucchini on Rye Toast — eat them for dinner, — Whole Wheat Pasta With Pesto Cream Sauce — and even enjoy them for dessert — Nutella Dessert Pizza.
When it comes to fruit, there is a scale tied to sugar. Yes, some fruits — such as tropical fruits — are higher in sugar than others — such as berries. With that said, the fruit in sugar is wrapped up and packaged in nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. This means that they are processed slowly and, therefore, won’t impact your blood sugar levels as severely as, let’s say, a cookie with refined sugar.
The Mediterranean diet says yes to fruit! Get a daily dose of your choice of fruit, such as “apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, and peaches,” along with lots of berries such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
When it comes to the kitchen, you’re in luck! Fruit is the perfect antidote to the void of processed and refined sugars. Try making some naturally sweetened treats and desserts such as this 3-Ingredient Berry Cereal, Crunchy Hemp Coconut Fruit Salad, Cantaloupe Date Oatmeal with Mint-Melon Relish, Lemony Berry Salad, or this Mango Sago Pudding.
8. Herbs and Spices
If you’ve ever consumed or made a Mediterranean dish, then you’ll know the heart and core relies on the right amount of herbs and spices!
You can’t go wrong either. Choose your favorites, such as “garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, or pepper,” to name just a few. Of course, if you want to go down the herbs and spices rabbit hole, you can always learn a bit about matching these flavorings with the right veggies.
Plus, herbs and spices have also been linked to a variety of health benefits. For instance, cinnamon is linked to lower blood sugar and the management or prevention of diabetes. Sage is connected to better brain function. Peppermint is excellent for nausea and gastrointestinal pain. Rosemary is a wonderful natural remedy for allergies and nasal congestion.
Looking to get your herbs and spices on in the kitchen? Try a few of these flavorful recipes: Chickpea Pizza With Herb Pesto, Szechuan Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, Marinated Tofu Feta Cheese, Spice-Rubbed Cauliflower Steak With Spinach Tahini Sauce, or this Roasted Spiced Carrots.
Whether your interest is peaked and you’re ready to get cooking, or you want to learn more, here are a few more resources to learn about the Mediterranean diet:
- Ingredients to Always Have in Your Pantry for Easy Mediterranean Cooking
- 15 Mediterranean Recipes That Will Transport You to the Seaside
- 9 Heart-Healthy Vegan Greek and Mediterranean Recipes
- Essentials for a Meatless and Dairy-Free Mediterranean-Themed Dinner
- The Vegan Mediterranean Diet
- 15 Ideas for An All Vegan Mediterranean Feast!
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, and prostate cancer, and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the ecological and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
- Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Plant-Based Meal Prep
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