We’ve looked into and analyzed a few diets in the past. While none of them have been magic bullets for weight loss and health, they all have their benefits. Today, we’re looking at a less trendy, but surprisingly effective, diet — the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet promises to promote general health throughout your body, though especially in your heart. At the same time, it claims to be easy to stick with and delicious. Can it possibly live up to the hype? Is the Mediterranean diet really that healthy for you?

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

We’re going to lay our cards on the table right away. We think the Mediterranean diet is a great diet plan and way to look at food. It’s not so much of a diet, which can be a restrictive way of looking at food, and more of a collection of ingredients to include in your meals. While there are certainly some foods this diet suggests you eat less of, it’s not a restrictive diet that says you absolutely must cut out one group of foods or eat nothing but another group of foods.

So, what exactly is the Mediterranean diet? Well, there technically isn’t a single “Mediterranean diet.” Instead, the diet looks at the food cultures of the countries that line the Mediterranean Sea, notably Italy and Greece (as well as Spain) and finds the common trends. The origin of this diet has been traced back to the 1960s, when researchers noticed that people in these countries generally had longer life expectancies and lower rates of heart disease than those who lived elsewhere. Researchers also noted the lifestyle factors of these cultures that led to lower rates of obesity.

Freshness is the key to the Mediterranean diet.

Generally, the diets of these Mediterranean cultures included greater amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes than the average American diet. At the same time, healthy fats like olive oil or whole grains like pasta or polenta aren’t banned by this diet; they make up a primary portion of the diet! Another basic guideline of the Mediterranean diet is that red meat is eaten in a smaller proportion (though not forbidden) in favor of lean proteins like chicken or seafood and fish (the most present meat in the diet). You can also enjoy dairy products, like cheese and low-fat yogurt. The only things you really should avoid on this diet are refined or processed foods. Freshness is the key to this diet. As you can see, though, there is lots of room to maneuver and make recipes that you love while sticking to this diet!

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

We’ve touched on a few of the health benefits of this diet, but they’re worth covering in greater detail. The reason for this is because they’re actually starting to be backed up by research. The biggest benefit of the Mediterranean diet goes to your heart. While the American Heart Association wants to see more studies before officially recommending this diet to Americans, they do note that the average Mediterranean diet is “well within [their] dietary guidelines” and is a great source of healthier monosaturated fats. One landmark study from 2013 found a strong link between the Mediterranean diet and lowered rates of cardiovascular disease.

This isn’t the only benefit of the Mediterranean diet, however. It’s also been promoted as a great diet by the American Diabetes Association, which notes that it may protect against stroke and certain cancers. The benefit of this diet for diabetes patients was further backed up by a 2009 study from Italy and 2011 review in Diabetes Spectrum. Similarly, other studies have bolstered the claims that it may be able to lower cancer risks, as well as stroke incidence, and promote brain health in older adults. In 2020, another study found that the Mediterranean diet lowered cognitive impairment by as much as 45 to 50 percent.

Studies have asserted that it may be able to lower cancer risks, as well as stroke incidence, and promote brain health in older adults.

Other organizations have also endorsed this diet. WebMD calls the Mediterranean diet “one of the healthiest” diets, noting that it “scores big for heart health and longevity… it may make you less likely to get heart disease, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, help you manage diabetes, and help you avoid certain cancers and chronic diseases.” They even have gone so far as to say, that along with exercise, it’s “the best prescription for a long, healthy life.” Finally, U.S. News named it as #1 in their 2019 Best Diets Overall, the Best Plant-Based Diets, Best Diets for Healthy Eating, Best Heart-Healthy Diets, Best Diabetes Diets, and Easiest Diets to Follow categories.

Easy to Follow and Ability for Varied Menus

There’s a reason why U.S. News named the Mediterranean diet as their #1 Easiest Diets to Follow in 2019. As we’ve mentioned before, one of the most common reasons diets fail is that they’re too restrictive, which can make them tough to stick with. The flexibility of the Mediterranean diet allows you to eat food you like in a healthy way, while keeping your weekly menus varied enough to stop them from getting boring or stale. At the same time, the diet’s lack of emphasis on meat or sodium makes it great for vegetarians or people looking for low-sodium diets.

The flexibility of the Mediterranean Diet allows you to eat food you like in a healthy way, while keeping your weekly menus varied enough to stop them from getting boring or stale.

For example, you could have a breakfast that consists of Greek yogurt parfait with fruit, then eat a salad with a vinaigrette for lunch, and finally, then enjoy a homemade pasta for dinner. The next day, you can have an omelet for breakfast, a sausage, kale, and veggie soup for lunch, and paella for dinner. That’s an incredibly delicious, but diverse, two-day menu! Planning your meals in advance is certainly a great way to help yourself maintain this diet, but with so many options, the Mediterranean diet easily lends itself to anyone looking to adopt a healthier diet.

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The Mediterranean diet isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination. The cultures that influenced this diet have been enjoying their dishes and benefits within them for centuries. With the “Swiss-Alps” level of scientific evidence backing up the public endorsements of this diet, we think the Mediterranean diet may just be the real deal. While dieting won’t solve your health issues immediately, especially without also adopting a healthy lifestyle, the Mediterranean diet may have the right mix of flavor, flexibility, and simplicity to make it sustainable, enjoyable, and healthy for many.

For the first time in the Shop & Enroll blog’s history, we think there’s enough evidence to say this diet seems like a fantastic option! Of course, before starting a new diet, please speak with your physician or dietician to make sure it’s healthy for your specific set of needs. If you’re on a care-related diet or one that’s been specially made for you, stick to that. You and your doctor know your health best!