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What is the Mediterranean Diet? Menu & Food List

The Mediterranean Diet is not simply a diet, but a way of eating and living that encourages good times to be had with good company and in good health.


While the modern American diet is enriched by the culinary influences of numerous and diverse regional diets, the Mediterranean region gave birth to a timeless, low-fat diet that encourages moderate consumption of a wide tapestry of foods. This is the Mediterranean Diet that we hear so much about today. But while the diet has been lauded for its ability to reduce the risk of ailments like depression, heart disease, and even cancer, the question for many dieters remains, "What is the Mediterranean Diet?" Learn about the features, origins, and benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, as well as how you can embark on the diet and savor the legacy of Mediterranean society while maintaining a healthy weight.

The Mediterranean Diet and Its Origins

While the diets of many Americans today are occupied by hypercaloric processed foods and saturated fats from red meats, the Mediterranean Diet focuses on wholesome, locally-sourced, seasonal foods that were originally plucked from the regional garden of the Mediterranean and prepared according to time-honored techniques for harvesting, fishing, and conservation.

Although the diet evolved approximately 5,000 years ago, it has not evolved in its characteristic features. The diet calls not for deprivation, but for the moderate consumption of heart-healthy fats like olive oil, fresh vegetables and legumes, fruits, whole grains, low-fat cheese and yogurt, small portions of fish, eggs, and meat (with red meat eaten with rare frequency) and even red wine in small quantities. The Mediterranean Diet is not simply a diet, but a way of eating and living that encourages good times to be had with good company and in good health.

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

With its unsurpassed health benefits first documented in Ancel Keys' famed "Seven Countries Study," hundreds of studies since have proven the ability of the Mediterranean Diet to increase lifespan, maintain healthy weight, enhance brain function, reduce blood pressure and the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, strokes, and diabetes. The hearty-healthy fats in particular also serve to help lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol.

Although the overall Mediterranean Diet has been shown to promote longevity and health, it does not promise to be a shortcut to good health and does not claim to offer success through any one particular food. Instead, the diet advocates a low-fat, largely plant-based diet that capitalizes on the health benefits of a variety of foods readily available in our own backyards.

How to Follow the Mediterranean Diet

Now that you know the answer to question of "What is the Mediterranean Diet?" you might be wondering how you too can follow the diet when the fruits and vegetables of the Mediterranean basin are not available to you. The Mediterranean Diet doesn't require you to source rare or expensive ingredients from exotic locales to which you have no access. Wherever you live, you can gradually incorporate the philosophy of the Mediterranean Diet into your diet by seeking out nutrient-dense, seasonal, and heavily plant-based foods found in your region, whether that be mushrooms, fresh berries, or beans. Aim to eat foods in as fresh and wholesome a state as possible, and cook with olive oil but little to no other fats or synthetic additives.

You can bring the history and flavors of the Mediterranean seaboard into your home with bistroMD's diet delivery service. Our gourmet meals feature fresh, wholesome, locally-sourced ingredients to help you go Greek and maintain a healthy weight.

Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on November 14, 2015. Updated on January 31, 2019.


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