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Let’s Talk Diet: The Mediterranean Diet – Benefits, What it Entails and How to Do it!


There are so many diets proliferating the marketing space. Some are ranked as fads, while others are characterized as helpful with scientific backing.  The Mediterranean diet falls in the category of the latter.  The Mediterranean diet reflects the food and eating pattern of certain regions of the world that borders the Mediterranean Sea such as Greece and Italy, particularly in the 1960s when the life expectancy of adults was regarded as relatively high (Willett et al. 1995). As such, the diet comprises the consumption of foods such as olives, cereal grains, fruits, herbs etc.

Its fame became a worldwide phenomenon after research found that it could benefit cardiovascular health, and one’s cognition, among other highly regarded health benefits.  But is diet a fad or one that deserves to be followed?  What does it entail and how can it truly benefit our health? Let’s discuss!

The Discussion

The Mediterranean diet is quite interesting, as it started as a study of a particular lifestyle and eating habits of the Cretans in Greece.  As such, in 1948, a study was commissioned by the Greek Government to help improve both the poor living and health conditions of the inhabitants (Sikalidis et al. 2021). This investigation was carried out by the Rockefeller Foundation, a private American foundation and Philanthropic medical research organization, located in New York (Sikalidis et al. 2021).

The findings of the eating habits of the Cretans were observed to be nutritionally sound despite having less income and not being able to grow sufficient food.  According to the report, the Cretans’ diet mainly consisted of eating olives, cereal grains, pulses, fruits, herbs, wild greens and a limited amount of goat meat and milk (Sikalidis et al. 2021).  In addition, the main oil of choice was olive oil, both it and olives were central components of the diet.  As such, the researchers were impressed with the overall good health of the Cretans and recommended that they continue to pursue the diet, which was proven beneficial to heart health (Keys, 1980).

In this article, we will explore the Mediterranean Diet and some of the popular questions asked.  These include what it is and its possible effects on cardiovascular health, diabetes, cognitive health, and life expectancy (longevity).  We will also explore the foods you can eat on the Mediterranean diet as well as help you to learn how you can adopt this diet to your lifestyle if desired.

Exploration and Answers of the Mediterranean Diet
  1. What is the Mediterranean diet?
  2. Mediterranean diet and Cardiovascular Health.
  3. Can the Mediterranean Diet Lead to a Longer Life Span (Longevity)?
  4. Can the Mediterranean Diet help with Type-2 Diabetes or Overall Metabolic Syndrome?
  5. Can the Mediterranean Diet help with Cognitive Function?
  6. What are the Key Components of the Mediterranean Diet?
What is the Mediterranean Diet?

According to Willett et al. 1(995), the Mediterranean diet isn’t really a diet but rather reflects the food patterns of the people of Greece and Italy (Willett et al. 1995; Haber, 997). During those times, life expectancy was very high while chronic diseases that were linked to one’s diet were relatively low (Willett et al. 1995; Haber, 997).

This way of eating has proliferated in many societies since then, with it providing a framework to improve one’s health through the consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and olive oil (Haber, 997; Helsing, 1960). Its acceptance in a country like the USA, have now seen it as being included in the 2020 – 2025, Dietary Guidelines specifically as it relates to Healthy US-Style Dietary Pattern (U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020.).

The Mediterranean diet typically surrounds plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.  These are foods that can supply the body with antioxidants, fibre as well as vitamins and minerals (Sikalidis et al. 2021).  The diet also incorporates the consumption of lipids, mainly from olives, olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish such as sardines and salmon. Research contents that these foods are usually high in monounsaturated fats, which is excellent for heart health (Sikalidis et al. 2021). While dairy products and red meat are consumed, these are usually in very small amounts, particularly due to their saturated fat contents.

The Mediterranean Diet also includes the moderate consumption of fish and poultry (Sikalidis et al. 2021).  The diet also reduces the consumption of salt, particularly as it relates to the flavouring of foods, and instead relies on herbs and spices such as basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro, fennel, onions etc. and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, and coriander (The Odyssey, 1992; Conti, et al. 2004; Simopoulos, 2001).  Red wine is also usually consumed with meals along with fresh fruits serving as desserts (Minelli, P.; Montinari,2019; Trichopoulou, 2001).

The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health

The statistic on cardiovascular disease is alarming and have been that way for years.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is the leading cause of death, globally (WHO, 2023).  Cardiovascular Disease does not refer to one specific disease but a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels (WHO, 2023). As such, it includes conditions such as coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and rheumatic heart disease among others (WHO, 2023).  Importantly, most of the deaths from cardiovascular disease are heart attacks and strokes with most reportedly occurring prematurely in people under the age of Seventy (70) years (WHO, 2023).

Diet and exercise have always been recommended as major factors to fight against particular diseases and premature death. Therefore, the positive association between cardiovascular disease and the Mediterranean Diet is not surprising.  In fact, one’s diet, in general, is considered a main determinant of cardiovascular health (Martínez-González et al. 2019).  In 2010, the American Heart Association posited their health metrics which they titled ‘Life’s Simple 7.’ These metrics indicated that one’s body mass index, blood pressure, overall cholesterol and blood glucose are directly linked to our diet and lifestyle, with physical activities making up this Life Simple 7 goals (Lloyd-Jones DM et. al, 2010).  

Therefore, a healthy diet is denoted as essential to ensure a healthy cardiovascular system (Martínez-González et al. 2019).  This was further confirmed by Ancel Keys and colleagues in the famous Seven Countries Study from 1958 to 1983. In this study, the researchers studied the diet and lifestyle and the incidences of coronary heart disease of over Thirteen Thousand (13,000) people, ages 40 – 55 years old.  As such, the participants were all middle-aged men and were randomly selected from the countries of the United States (US), Japan, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland and the region or state that was the then Yugoslavia.

The researchers found that for the Mediterranean regions, such as Greece and Southern Italy, heart disease was rare, as opposed to participants in the US and Finland, which had high rates of heart disease (Keys, 1980).  This the researchers associated partially with diet, where the countries of the Mediterranean consumed mostly vegetables, grains, fruits, beans, and fish, which were a typical diet (Keys, 1980). 

In addition to the differences in the diet of the Mediterranean people, the US and Finland, the researchers found that other factors such as being physically active, enjoying good family relations and having a more relaxed way of life may have also contributed to the state of their (Mediterranean regions) good health.   As such, diet and in particular lifestyle factors, can play a remarkable role in one’s overall health, especially that of heart disease (Keys, 1980; De Lorgeril et al. 1999) and the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle seem to play a great role in this regard (Keys, 1980; De Lorgeril et al. 1999).

Importantly, the Cretans who receive at least 40% of their calories from fat, had the lowest rate of heart disease as well as the highest average life expectancy in the world along with Japan.  The researchers (Ancel Keys and colleagues) surmised that most of the fats in the Cretan’s diet were from olive oil and fatty fish, which are high in unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), unlike the fats of the Americans and Finnish which reportedly were largely from meat and dairy, and thus mostly saturated.

You can read more on fat, including the good fats in this detailed article:
Can the Mediterranean Diet Lead to a Long Life Span (Longevity)?

Studies have shown that adopting a Mediterranean Diet can be beneficial to one’s health and thus, could lead to a longer life (not dying prematurely due to particular diseases). This was confirmed in a six (6) year study by Trichopoulos (2002), who evaluated the composition of quality diets of people in Greece and found that those who consumed the traditional Mediterranean Diet had a lower mortality rate than Greeks who had adopted Western-Style dietary practices, particularly due to emigrating to these countries (Trichopoulos, 2002).

Based on the research, the traditional Mediterranean Diet consisted mostly of the consumption of a lot of grains and vegetables and moderate consumption of wine.  The lead researcher, Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos denoted then, that the consumption of fruits and vegetables helped to prevent cancer and heart disease, while wine, when consumed modestly, may have a cardio-protective ability.

Similar research which was conducted in Melbourne, Australia by the same group of researchers further confirmed the findings of the earlier study (the one with the Greeks), indicating that those who adopt a Mediterranean Diet preferably the traditional format, had longer rates of survival than those who chose otherwise (Kouris-Blazos, et al. 1999).  Further, the Healthy Ageing Longitudinal Study of Europe (The HALE Study), which observed elderly men and women between the ages of 70 to 90 years, posits that the adoption of a Mediterranean Diet with healthy lifestyle practices was associated with Fifty (50%) percent lower rates of all-cause and cause-specific mortality (Knoops et al. 2004).

Can the Mediterranean Diet help with type-2 Diabetes or Overall Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic Syndrome, which is also known as syndrome X, insulin resistance, etc. is an important global concern, as research suggests that between 20 – 30% of the adult population of most countries suffers from some form of metabolic syndrome (Saklayen, 2018; Grundy, 2008;). 

Metabolic Syndrome is characterized as a group of physiological abnormalities that induces obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, triglycerides etc. (Kastorini et al. 2011).  As such, these abnormalities have also been stated to be a major risk factor for the development of cardiovascular diseases as well as type 2 diabetes (Kastorini et al. 2011). 

However, the result of a major meta-analysis of Fifty (50) original studies, which involved the assessment of the Mediterranean Diet on metabolic syndrome and related conditions, found that those who adhered to the traditional Mediterranean Diet had a lower risk of metabolic syndrome as well as any progression of abnormalities of that nature (Kastorini et al. 2011).  Additionally, a 2008 study of more than Thirteen Thousand (13,000) people, confirmed that Eighty-three (83%) percent of participants who adopted a traditional Mediterranean Diet were less likely to develop type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (Martínez-González et al. 2008).

While the pattern of the Mediterranean Diet is not standardized, the studies did outlay that these diets mostly entail the consumption of high monounsaturated fats, the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains daily as well as enjoying some fish, poultry, tree nuts, legumes, and the moderate consumption of wine at mealtimes weekly.

You can read more on Diabetes and how to manage it in this detailed article:
Can the Mediterranean Diet Help with Cognitive Function?

Reports denote that a Mediterranean Diet may help to improve cognitive function. This is due largely to its monounsaturated fats, grains and even the wine, which research contends has been associated with less cognitive decline (Panza et al. 2004).  According to the research by Panza et al. (2004), individuals who practice the Mediterranean Diet, were Twenty-eight (28%) percent less likely of developing cognitive impairment in old age as well as had a Forty (40%) percent risk reduction of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Long-term studies have also fortified the link between the Mediterranean Diet and improved cognitive or brain function. In fact, researchers suggest that long-term adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with the perseverance of what is called ‘white matter microstructure’, as well as a reduction of the thinning of the cortical in the brain and hippocampus connectivity, all of which can help to improve one’s memory, particularly sporadic memory, and overall cognition (Masana et al. 2017; Mosconi et al. 2014; Loughrey et al. 2017; Pelletier et al. 2015).  

The white matter is found in the tissues of the brain and contains nerve fibres which are extensions of nerve cells.  Most of the nerve fibers are surrounded by a case covering known as myelin. This myelin is what gives the matter its colour. (Medical Encyclopedia –  Myelin helps to protect the nerve fibers of the brain from damage (injury) as well as helps to improve the transmission of nerve signals.  The opposite holds for gray matter, which are tissues that are found on the surface of the brain and help to speed up the transmission of electrical nerve signals (Medical Encyclopedia –

What are the key components of the Mediterranean Diet? How to Get Started!

The Mediterranean Diet is not considered a mere diet, but rather a particular eating pattern. As such, to get started or to follow this healthy lifestyle, there are certain foods that one must ensure are incorporated into their everyday eating habits.  Most of these are discussed in previous sections of the post but let us look at them a bit more in detail.

  • Olive Oil – This is a significant component of the Mediterranean Diet. This is due to its high concentration of monounsaturated fats which is said to be around Seventy-seven (77%) percent. Monounsaturated fats account for most of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet (Flori et al. 2019). You can read more about fat and its benefits in this
  • Fatty Fish – this is another key food kind of the Mediterranean Diet. This is because fatty fish is very high in long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which reportedly can help to reduce one’s risk of cardiac death (Kromhout et al. 2011). The recommended consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is about One Hundred and Fifty (150) grams per week. This level of consumption is said to be associated with a Thirty-eight (38%) percent reduced risk of one developing acute coronary syndrome (Panagiotakos et al. 2006). You can read more about fats and their benefits in this
  • Nuts – Nuts are high in both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as well as being mostly low in saturated fats. As such, it is also another key component of the Mediterranean Diet. For example, nuts such as almonds and walnuts are said to be high in omega-3 as well as pumpkin seeds which are also reportedly high in omega-3 fatty acids (Mentella, 2019).  The frequent consumption of nuts of this nature in addition to others has been associated with a negative correlation with all-cause mortality (Bao et al. 2013).  You can read more on nuts and their benefits in this post.
  • Vegetables and Fruits – Vegetables and fruits contribute to a large amount of the dietary fiber and phytochemical intake of this diet (Kelleher and Sikalidis, 2021, Makki et al. 2018). As such, they are regarded as key components of the diet.  Fiber is essential for good health as it contributes to bowel health while also helping with that feeling of satiety after a meal.  Enjoying fruits and vegetables daily can be beneficial to one’s overall health as they help to supply the body with the necessary vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which can help the body to effectively respond to environmental stressors such as heat, pollutants etc. The nutrients from fruits and vegetables can also help to protect the body against oxidative stress and inflammation which have been associated with the onset of chronic diseases and abnormalities (Aune et al. 2017).  Therefore, a diet rich in the consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables is crucial to one’s health and overall well-being.
  • Legumes and Beans– These are a staple in the Mediterranean Diet. Legumes and beans help to provide the necessary protein, fiber, iron, and B-vitamins (Mentella, 2019). Among the importance of helping with bowel health, fiber also helps with insulin resistance as well as helps the body to absorb less cholesterol (Mentella, 2019). For example, consuming chickpeas (which is a legume) regularly reportedly may help to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the ‘bad cholesterol’) as well as fasting insulin (Cory et al. 2018; Duane, 1997 etc.).
  • Herbs and Spices – Herbs and spices are key ingredients to the Mediterranean diet that contributes to foods’ unique flavour and taste (Jiang, 2019). Most of the herbs and spices used in the diet include parsley, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme etc. (Vázquez-Fresno et al. 2019).  Herbs and spices in general possess many nutrients and health benefits including antioxidants and help to reduce inflammation in the body. Research also contends that herbs and spices may help to slow down the ageing process (Lampe, 2003).  Herbs and spices can also help to reduce the urge of adding more salt to food as they help to add flavour, which can further benefit one’s overall health.
  • Wine– This component just cannot be left out as it is considered a mainstay in the Mediterranean Diet. While wine is not encouraged to be consumed in excess and regularly, it is often added as a compliment to major mealtimes (Dinner). The recommended intake of wine is usually two (2) glasses for men and one (1) for women on a weekly or daily basis. One (1) glass of wine is said to be about 150 mL (Artero et al. 2015). Wine is rich in phytochemicals which are similar to those found in fruits and olive oil.  A major benefit of consuming wine is that it may be able to counteract oxidative stress among other benefits (Artero et al. 2015).  Most of the benefits of wine appear to be in the flavour of red wine, which is recommended as opposed to other alcoholic beverages.  Nonetheless, further research is recommended to form concrete conclusions as to the overall benefits of wine in the Mediterranean diet, especially in the long term.
Are there any side effects of adhering to a Mediterranean Diet?

No noted side effects have been denoted for the adherence to a Mediterranean Diet.  Nonetheless, one may exercise caution when consuming particular foods, for example, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, due to allergies.

Illustrative Summary

Here is an illustrative summary of the Exploration and Answers to the questions about the Mediterranean Diet!

Illustrative Summary - Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet -

Let’s Sum Up!

Dieting has always been a part of human existence. However, over the years, many new forms of diet and lifestyle have erupted on the scene or have received more exposure.  The Mediterranean Diet is one of them.  While it is not considered a diet per se but more so a lifestyle, it has gained a good reputation over the years. 

The Mediterranean Diet, which is grounded in tradition is one that purportedly has many nutritional benefits including cardiovascular health, helping to prevent type -2 diabetes, as well as improving one’s cognitive function.  The diet includes the regular consumption of particular food kinds such as olives, olive oil, vegetables, fruits, nuts and even the occasional red wine.

Notably, there are no reported side effects of adopting this type of diet or lifestyle, but one should ensure that all things are eaten in moderation, especially wine consumption, even if it is considered healthy.

So, have you ever heard of the Mediterranean diet? Or have you ever tried it? Share it Nuh!

 You can read more on fats and diets in general in these articles.
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