Sharing the top spot of the U.S. News and World Report's annual ranking of the best diets with the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet has gained significant popularity in recent years.
One thing that immediately stands out about this diet is its name: It is named after a region. That is because the Mediterranean diet isn't exactly a science-based eating plan and more of a lifestyle. People living in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have long adopted this lifestyle, and have displayed a lower risk of various diseases including obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases (1). The diet consists mainly of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, fish, whole grains, olive oil, a moderate amount of dairy, and a low consumption of meat and added sugar. It prioritizes fish as the main source of animal protein, consumed at least twice a week, while other animal protein sources like poultry, eggs, and dairy are consumed in smaller portions, and red meat, even more limited consumption (typically a few times per month) (2). It also prioritizes water as the main beverage while allowing a moderate consumption of wine to accompany meals. This diet provides the body with plentiful amounts of healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, while keeping the level of added sugar low.
Research has proven that the Mediterranean diet has a lot of benefits for the body. Many studies have shown that following the Mediterranean diet helps the body maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases (1). Moreover, the high levels of antioxidants and nutrients provided by foods on the Mediterranean diet have shown to combat cell stress and preserve telomere length (2), while a 2017 review and meta-analysis indicated that the diet might protect the body from various cancers, especially colorectal cancer (3). The diet has also been linked with improved mental health, physical health, and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. When eaten in moderate portions, it can also help increase weight loss on top of all the numerous benefits.
Overall, the Mediterranean diet has numerous benefits for your overall health by encouraging the consumption of foods that are generally high in fiber, antioxidants, and important nutrients. If you enjoy foods like vegetables and fruits and don't mind eating fewer portions of red meats, the Mediterranean diet might be the right diet for you.
Recommended foods to include: Olive oil, seafood, legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, beans, dairy (full-fat), avocadoes, etc.
Foods to avoid: Refined grains (e.g. white bread, pizza dough), refined oils (e.g. canola oil), processed meats, foods high in added sugars, etc.