May is International Mediterranean Diet Month. Learn more about what US News and World Report named the best diet.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
- High fruit and vegetable consumption
- Whole grains and beans/legumes
- Moderate fish intake
- Moderate dairy - yogurt and cheese
- Limited red meats and saturated fats
- Olive oil is the primary fat
The Mediterranean Diet has been studied for decades and proven to improve overall health. Over 50 years of clinical research have proven that the traditional Mediterranean Diet can help:
- Reduce mortality from cardiovascular diseases and reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events.
- Prevent and help manage type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin disorders
- Reduce risk for Alzheimer's disease
- Treat depression
- Lose weight
- Lower blood pressure
- Fight cancer
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is a helpful, visual guide to understand how to follow the diet. Every meal should feature fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes or beans prepared with olive oil. Fish and seafood are recommended at least twice a week. Moderate amounts of eggs and dairy, especially yogurt and cheese can be consumed as part of the diet. Red meat, saturated fats and sweets should be eaten sparingly. You do not need to count calories or grams of fat as part of this diet.
It's hard to believe, but when the Med Diet Pyramid was developed over 25 years ago, it was controversial. The Pyramid was developed by the Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, the Harvard University School of Public Health, and the World Health Organization. It was introduced around the same time as the United States Agriculture Department's Food Guide Pyramid. The USDA Pyramid does not distinguish among fats. They are all labeled with the warning "use sparingly." In contrast, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid lists olive oil at the bottom of the pyramid as a food to consume at every meal.
The USDA Pyramid reflected the typical dietary advice of the 1980's and '90's, which was to avoid fat at all costs. Americans binged on highly processed fat-free snacks, salad dressings and dairy products, believing they were healthy. The fat-free fad led to poorer health for America. Obesity, diabetes and other diet-related illnesses exploded into what some medical professionals have called an epidemic.
Olive Oil and the Mediterranean Diet
Now we see that Oldways had it right. Olive oil, consumed for thousands of year in the Mediterranean region, is an integral part of the Med Diet. Many of the health benefits of the diet are attributed to the powerful health benefits of olive oil.
The PREDIMED Study, the world’s largest study on the Mediterranean diet, found that a Mediterranean Diet with no restrictions on calories and rich in fat from olive oil and nuts was associated with a decrease in body weight and less gain in belly fat than compared to a control diet. The participants consumed 3-4 tablespoons (400 calories) of olive oil a day.
The Mediterranean Diet was ranked #1 diet by US News and World Report for not only being effective, but also being easiest to follow. Med Diet Month is the perfect time to get started with the Mediterranean Diet. Here are some resources:
Originally published May 2018 and updated May 2021