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Mediterranean Diet - Topic Overview

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. It features foods eaten in Greece, Spain, southern Italy and France, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads and whole grains, nuts, and olive oil. Meat, cheese, and sweets are very limited. The recommended foods are rich with monounsaturated fats, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.

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The Mediterranean diet is like other heart-healthy diets in that it recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains. But in the Mediterranean diet, an average of 35% to 40% of calories can come from fat. Most other heart-healthy guidelines recommend getting less than 35% of your calories from fat. The fats allowed in the Mediterranean diet are mainly from unsaturated oils such as fish oils, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils (such as canola, soybean, or flaxseed oil) and from nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds). These types of oils may have a protective effect on the heart.

What are the benefits?

A Mediterranean-style diet may help lower your risk for certain diseases, improve your mood, and boost your energy levels. It may also help keep your heart and brain healthy.

The benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet reinforce the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, high-fiber breads, whole grains, and healthy fats.

For your heart and body, a Mediterranean-style diet may:

For your brain, a Mediterranean-style diet might help prevent:

How can you make the Mediterranean diet part of your eating plan?

There are some simple things you can do to eat more of the healthy foods that make up the Mediterranean diet. First, check out what's on the menu. Then see what Mediterranean-type foods you can add to your eating plan.

On the menu

The traditional Mediterranean diet calls for:

  • Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables each day, such as grapes, blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, figs, olives, spinach, eggplant, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
  • Eating a variety of whole-grain foods each day, such as oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread, pasta, and couscous.
  • Choosing healthy (unsaturated) fats, such as nuts, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils like canola, soybean, and flaxseed. About 35% to 40% of daily calories can come from fat, mainly from unsaturated fats.
  • Limiting unhealthy (saturated) fats, such as butter, palm oil, and coconut oil. And limit fats found in animal products, such as meat and dairy products made with whole milk.
  • Eating mostly vegetarian meals that include whole grains, beans, lentils, and vegetables.
  • Eating fish at least 2 times a week, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, or sardines.
  • Eating moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products each day or weekly, such as milk, cheese, or yogurt.
  • Eating moderate amounts of poultry and eggs every 2 days or weekly.
  • Limiting red meat to only a few times a month in very small amounts. For example, a serving of meat is 3 ounces. This is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Limiting sweets and desserts to only a few times a week. This includes sugar-sweetened drinks like soda.

The Mediterranean diet may also include red wine with your meal—1 glass each day for women and up to 2 glasses a day for men.

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