What is Mediterranean Food?

mediterranean diet foods

It’s more than fish, nuts, and olive oil and it’s proven to help you live a longer and healthier life.

The Mediterranean Diet: More Than a Food Prescription

It was after WWII that American physiologist Ancel Keys launched his landmark Seven Countries Study. This wide ranging and ambitious project examined the lifestyle of select populations around the world over decades – evaluating how key aspects of their lives correlated with heart disease.

One of the most resonant ideas to come out of the Study was what Keys called the Mediterranean Diet – an eating pattern observed in communities near the Mediterranean Sea, including Southern Italy, Greece, and the Middle East. 

Subsequent research has proven that this eating pattern is not only associated with better heart health, but also metabolic and cognitive improvements and higher quality of life, including into older age.

While the Mediterranean Diet is now hugely popular and is prescribed by medical professionals around the world to help tackle and prevent chronic life-shortening diseases, it has one major drawback – it can be difficult to fully understand.

In part, this is because a Mediterranean Diet menu – unlike other meal plans – is not proscriptive. Instead of employing strict measures like counting calories or forbidding certain foods, the Diet is based around a series of guidelines that are more like a lifestyle than a nutrition intervention.

It’s important to understand the Mediterranean Diet fully because researchers have found that it is an example of ‘food synergy’ – where benefits result from holistically adopting an eating pattern.

Simply cherry-picking an element – for example, by adding olive oil to your food – won’t result in the same protective health boost as embracing the full Mediterranean Diet.

Making a Mediterranean Diet Menu

Explanatory tools like the Mediterranean Diet pyramid can help you develop your own Mediterranean Diet recipes. They make it clear that legumes, whole grains, and vegetables should form the bulk of your meals, while seafood and dairy can be added regularly and red meats should only be eaten rarely.

But, that guidance still leaves room for confusion. At Fit4100, we have developed three golden rules that make sticking to the Mediterranean Diet easy.

1. Add Vegetables and Variety to your Mediterranean Food

Vegetables and fruits should make up at least half of your meals, while whole grains should be another quarter. The final quarter should be healthy proteins – things like beans, nuts, or fish, and occasionally poultry.

This sounds easy, but in practice it can feel repetitious sticking to these proportions by cooking the same Mediterranean Diet recipes over and over again. Introduce variety by exploring meal ideas from Mediterranean countries other than Greece and Italy – perhaps make falafel or consider a Moroccan tagine for an interesting mid-week meal.

2. Not All Fats are Equal

A Mediterranean Diet meal plan often includes a relatively large amount of fat – up to 42 per cent of daily caloric intake can come from fat, but almost all of this is from “good” fat sources like olives, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and fish.

These foods contain unsaturated fat while produce like dairy, red meat, and many processed foods tend to be high in saturated fat, which should be avoided when following the Mediterranean Diet

3. The Mediterranean Diet is more than a Lifestyle

While using Mediterranean Diet recipes that are built around vegetables, whole grains, good fats, and fruit is the first step, it’s equally important to make good lifestyle choices.

The Mediterranean Diet is often called a lifestyle intervention because it’s not just about what you eat.

Alongside eating well, staying active through regular exercise and fostering strong social networks by spending time with friends and family are key aspects of the Mediterranean Diet.