Is the Mediterranean Diet Really That Good For You? That’s what current research says.

There’s a reason the Mediterranean diet consistently tops the list Best Diet Ever by US News & World Report and is a favorite among nutritionists: new studies touting its tremendous health benefits regularly surface.

“It’s well researched and can be practically incorporated into everyone’s current dietary habits,” explains Jessi Holden, registered dietitian and inventor of the kitchen invitation. She tells Yahoo Life that the Mediterranean diet encourages people to eat a variety of foods and focus on fueling their day, rather than restricting and eliminating certain foods.

Here’s what you need to know about this popular eating plan.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

American physiologist Ancel Keys first named the Mediterranean diet in the 1950s when he Seven Country Study discovered that dietary habits in some European Mediterranean countries led to lower rates of heart disease and lower all-cause mortality. Rather than being overly restrictive, the diet is modeled after the general eating habits of these countries.

These nutritional principles can be applied to any cuisine by prioritizing plant foods and unsaturated fats while limiting saturated fats, highly processed foods, added sugars and refined carbohydrates.

Foods on the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits

  • legumes

  • nuts and seeds

  • whole grains and cereals

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • Fish and seafood two to three times a week

  • Dairy products and eggs in moderation

  • Spices and herbs instead of salt

  • Few poultry and rarely red meat

Water is the drink of choice, although a glass of wine is also common with meals. However, experts do not recommend starting to drink alcohol if you are not already doing so. If you add wine to meals, limit yourself to 5 ounces or less per day.

Maya Oueichek, nutritionist and expert on the Mediterranean diet, says she appreciates that the Mediterranean way of eating also encourages enjoying meals together with friends and family. It “encourages a positive relationship with food and contributes to overall well-being,” she tells Yahoo Life.

Although the diet seems easy to follow, it’s important to note that fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t accessible to everyone. However, using frozen or canned products is a great way to get important nutrients. Additionally, if meat is a staple in your current diet, eating less of it can be a challenge.

What Are the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?

Most people can benefit from a Mediterranean diet as it is rich in vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and polyphenols and antioxidants.

People should particularly consider this diet if they are at risk for heart disease or other chronic diseases, or are simply looking for a flexible and balanced eating plan. The Mediterranean diet is a bonus environmentally friendly to.

Here’s what current research says about the benefits of the diet:

  • Protects against the risk of cardiovascular diseases, especially in women. One study of nearly 26,000 US women found that their risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by up to 28% when they strictly followed the Mediterranean diet. The beneficial effects of diet on inflammation and blood sugar likely contributed to these findings. Other studies Also, women who adhered were found to have a 24% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. When researcher When they looked at the nutritional biomarkers of this diet, they found that high adherence to the diet reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by about 11%. These results suggest that diet has a greater impact on preventing the development of diabetes than previously thought.

  • Increases gut bacteria, which promotes healthier aging. researcher studied the effects on the gut microbiome in over 600 European residents who followed the Mediterranean diet for 12 months. They found that regardless of age and body mass index, diet altered the gut microbiome in a direction positively associated with health, resulting in reduced risk of frailty, reduced inflammatory status, and improved cognitive function.

  • Lowers the risk of dementia. A 2023 study With more than 60,000 UK participants, it was found that regardless of genetic risk, those who adhered better to the diet reduced their risk of developing dementia by up to 23% compared to those who adhered only slightly to moderately stick to the diet.

  • Improves children’s neurodevelopmental outcomes. More recently a study We found that mothers at high risk of giving birth to small children for gestational age who adhered to the Mediterranean diet during pregnancy improved the cognitive, language, social, and emotional development of their children at two years of age compared to pregnant mothers who did not eat this way improved significantly.

  • Leads to longer and better sleep. A 2022 review Across 17 different studies, it was found that teens and adults who followed this eating plan achieved adequate sleep and had better sleep quality, with a reduced risk of insomnia symptoms. One study even found that pregnant women on the Mediterranean diet had better sleep quality.

  • Improves symptoms of depression. After accompanying more than 49,000 women in Sweden for about 20 years, researcher observed that a Mediterranean diet in middle age can lead to a lower risk of depression later in life. More recently a study found that young men aged 18 to 25 with moderate to severe depression who ate this diet for 12 weeks reported an improvement in their symptoms and quality of life, with 36% of participants reporting a slight improvement at the end of the study or reported minimal depression.

  • Reduces the risk of developing and dying from cancer. Consistently following the Mediterranean diet can a protection factor prevents the development of cancer thanks to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil, fruits and vegetables. A United Kingdom study In addition, adherence to this lifestyle has been found to reduce the risk of cancer mortality by up to 28% and all-cause mortality by 29%.

The central theses

The Mediterranean diet is a comprehensive way of consuming nutritious foods and there is a wealth of research showing the health benefits of this type of lifestyle.

If you’re interested in trying the Mediterranean diet, Holden recommends taking it slow when making the switch from your current eating habits. “Making changes incrementally is not only more sustainable, but also allows for flexibility and grace,” she says.

Maxine Yeung is a nutritionist and state-certified health and wellness coach.

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