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The Mediterranean Diet: A Healthy Choice?

salad with fresh vegetables, seeds, greens, chicken, served on a white plateHigh-fat diets…low-fat diets…which are healthier? It turns out that the type of fat in the diet, rather than the amount, is important in the prevention of chronic disease.


What is a Mediterranean diet?

About 35-40 percent of the calories in the Mediterranean diet are from fat, with the main type of fat being monounsaturated fat from olive oil and nuts. Monounsaturated fat is a specific type of fat that may lower blood cholesterol.

Other foods that those on the Mediterranean diet commonly eat include:

  • an abundance of:

    • fruits
    • vegetables
    • nuts
    • egumes

      Image courtesy of Apolonia/
    • whole grains.
  • moderate amounts of:

    • fish
    • poultry
    • dairy products
    • red wine.
  • very small amounts of:

    • red meat
    • refined grains.

These foods include many substances that contribute to overall health, such as:

  • nutrients
  • fiber
  • phytochemicals.


Is the Mediterranean Diet Healthy?

Some research studies show that the Mediterranean diet may be beneficial in improving health in many ways, such as:

More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of Mediterranean-type diets and the processes responsible for those effects.


How do I change to a Mediterranean-type diet?

You can change the typical American diet to a Mediterranean-type diet by making the following changes:

  • Increase the amount and variety of:

    • fruits
    • vegetables
    • whole grains.
  • Include good sources of monounsaturated fat such as:

    • olive oil
    • canola oil
    • peanut oil
    • nuts and seeds
    • peanut butter
    • avocado
    • olives.
  • Choose poultry or fish instead of red meats.

    • Eat lean cuts of red meat no more than a few times a month.
    • Avoid processed meats such as:

      • bacon
      • sausage
      • luncheon meats.
    • Choose low-fat and fat-free varieties of dairy products.
    • Avoid:

      • refined white flour products
      • white rice
      • sugar
      • butter
      • lard
      • mayonnaise
      • creamy salad dressings.
    • Start with small changes to your diet, such as:

      • adding olive oil to cooked vegetables
      • adding avocado or nuts to salad
      • dipping whole wheat bread in olive oil
      • eating nuts and seeds as a quick snack
      • using peanut butter as a fruit dip.

The Mediterranean-type diet is known for being very flavorful and satisfying! But be careful. Since it includes foods that are high in fat and calories, remember to watch your portion sizes!  And don’t forget to include physical activity in your daily routine.


Where can I find more information about the Mediterranean diet?

Mediterranean diet is based on the food habits of those countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as:

  • Greece
  • southern Italy
  • Spain
  • southern France
  • Tunisia
  • Morocco
  • Lebanon.


You can find helpful information about this eating plan at the following:

For Mind and Body: Study Finds Mediterranean Diet Boosts Both – listen

Mediterranean Diet (American Heart Association)


Points to Remember

The Mediterranean diet:

  • has been shown to have beneficial health effects including lowering your risk for heart events.
  • is based on eating:

    • plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts
    • moderate amounts of fish, poultry, dairy
    • very small amounts of red meat and refined grains.


Reference: Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. Ramón Estruch, M.D., et al. New England Journal of Medicine, 2013; 368: pp. 1279-1290.


For more information:

Go to the Diet and Nutrition health topic.