The Mediterranean Diet

17 May

Written by: Sarah Heap

Image courtesy of Sarah Heap.

Image courtesy of Sarah Heap.


When we hear the word “diet,” restrictive eating and weight loss immediately come to mind. However, there are various reasons for following particular dietary patterns. For instance, some diets have been shown to be beneficial for certain aspects of health. This is the case with the Mediterranean Diet and, since May is Mediterranean Diet month, it seems like a perfect time to learn a bit more about it!

In actuality, there is more than one “Mediterranean Diet”. Not all Mediterranean countries have the same cultures, religions or ethnicities and food staples vary by region (Simopoulos, 2001). For example, beef, pork and grains are very common in Italy (Ferro-Luzzi, 1995), whereas milk and fish are more plentiful in Spain (Simopoulos, 2000).  In Western countries, people tend to consume more processed foods and fewer fruits and vegetables, which translates into higher levels of simple carbohydrates and less fibre and antioxidants (Simopoulos, 2011). Incorporating some Mediterranean meals could be a great way to eat more whole foods and expand your cooking portfolio!

The Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization created a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in 1993. The pyramid is derived from the diets of three Mediterranean countries, Italy, Greece, and Crete, prior to 1960.  It was during this time period, adult life expectancy was highest in these populations and the rates of chronic disease were the lowest in the world (Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, 2009).

Middleton, George. Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Digital image. Old Ways Health Through Heritage. Old Ways Preservation Trust, 2009. Web. 8 May 2013

Middleton, George. Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Digital image. Old Ways Health Through Heritage. Old Ways Preservation Trust, 2009. Accessed online, May 8 2013.


As shown, the base of the pyramid is the largest component of the diet. Meals in the Mediterranean Diet are typically built around these foods. The higher up an item is on the pyramid, the less frequently it is consumed. For example, wine is near the top and is suggested in moderation (Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, 2009). Overall the pyramid is plant-based, focuses on seasonally fresh foods and avoiding processed foods. Importantly, the pyramid includes Mediterranean lifestyle factors such as physical activity and socializing with others, which are thought to contribute to the lower rates of disease incidence (Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, 2009). Therefore, the Mediterranean Diet is not just a diet but also a way of life.

This diet has been studied extensively and found to have multiple health benefits, including reducing the development of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, mortality from cardiovascular disease and overall mortality (Sofi, 2008). Consuming a Mediterranean Diet for 18 months was found to be more effective at reducing waist circumference, body weight and body mass index of overweight individuals compared to a low-fat diet (McManus, 2001). The observed health benefits are thought to be from the high levels of fiber, antioxidants, and the balanced ratio of essential fatty acids (Simopoulos, 2001); but particularly from their combination in the Mediterranean Diet (Ravn, 2011).

On the whole, it has been well established that there are numerous benefits to the Mediterranean way of eating. So, if you are looking to eat healthier or simply mix up the way you eat, you may want to give the Mediterranean Diet a try!



Ferro-Luzzi, A., et al. “Mediterranean Diet, Italian-Style: A Prototype of a Healthy Diet.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 61 (1995): 1338S-45S. Web. 2 May 2013.

McManus, K. et al. “A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Moderate-Fat, Low-Energy Diet Compared with a Low Fat, Low-Energy Diet for Weight Loss in Overweight Individuals.” International Journal of Obesity 25.10 (2001): 1503-11. Web. 2 May 2013.

“Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.” Oldways Health through Heritage. 2009 Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <;.

Middleton, George. Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Digital image. Old Ways Health  Through Heritage. Old Ways Preservation Trust, 2009. Web. 8 May 2013.

Ravn, Karen. “Eat like a Mediterranean – but How?” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 21 Nov. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.   <;.

Simopoulos, Artemis P., and F. Visioli. Mediterranean Diets. Vol. 87. Basel: Karger, 2000. xiii & 82. Web. 2 May 2013.

Simopoulos, Artemis P. “The Mediterranean Diets: What is so Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence.” The Journal of Nutrition 131.11 (2001): 3065-073. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.

Sofi, F., et al. “Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Health Status: Meta-Analysis.” British Medical Journal 337 (2008): 1344-350. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: