What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

Find out what the Mediterranean diet is, what the health benefits of the diet are, the types of foods that should be eaten and the types of foods that should be avoided.

By Megan O'Connell
Edited by Tom Amitay

Published October 10, 2020.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most researched and studied diets in the world. Interest in the diet was sparked in the 1960s when it was observed that there were fewer deaths related to heart disease in Mediterranean countries.

The Mediterranean Diet was developed in Southern Europe, and there's no one correct way to follow it, as it varies depending on the food available in each Mediterranean country. However, the diet consistently emphasizes fresh vegetables, plant foods, fresh fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, and seeds. The diet includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and eggs with limited amounts of red meat and wine. The diet consists of one-third of fat while limiting saturated fat intake.

The Health Benefits of Following a Mediterranean Diet

The diet has been shown to improve the quality and length of life by lowering the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and premature death.

What Food Should Be Avoided on the Mediterranean Diet?

  • Foods containing added sugar, such as soda, candy, ice cream, and many processed foods.
  • Refined grains, such as white bread or pasta made with refined wheat.
  • Trans fats, which are found in margarine and other processed foods.
  • Refined oils, such as canola oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil.
  • Processed meats, such as sausages and hot dogs.
  • Any food which is highly processed.

What Food Should Be Eaten on the Mediterranean Diet?

As mentioned, there tends to be a variation of the foods between different countries, based on availability. However, the diet is typically high in healthy plant foods and low in animal foods, except fish, consumed at least twice per week.

The key to the Mediterranean diet may be to focus on whole, unprocessed and unrefined foods.