Traditionally, Western Europe has two broad nutritional approaches - the Northern European and Southern European. The Mediterranean Diet is Southern European, and more specifically focuses on the eating habits of the people of Crete, much of Greece, and southern Italy.
Today, Spain, southern France, and Portugal are also included; even though Portugal does not have a Mediterranean coast.
This Medical News Today information article provides details on what the Mediterranean diet includes, its global recognition, and the health benefits of the diet.
This article forms part of a series called What Are The Eight Most Popular Diets Today?.
The Mediterranean diet includes
- Lots of plant foods
- Fresh fruit as dessert
- High consumption of beans, nuts, cereals (in the form of wheat, oats, barley, corn or brown rice) and seeds
- Olive oil as the main source of dietary fat
- Cheese and yogurt as the main dairy foods
- Moderate amounts of fish and poultry
- No more than about four eggs each week
- Small amounts of red meat each week (compared to northern Europe)
- Low to moderate amounts of wine
- 25% to 35% of calorie intake consists of fat
- Saturated fat makes up no more than 8% of calorie intake
Olive oil is one of the main sources of dietary fat.
Fats - the Mediterranean diet is known to be low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat, and high in dietary fiber.
Legumes - the Mediterranean diet includes plenty of legumes. Legumes are plants in the pea family that produce pods which slit open naturally along a seam, revealing a row of seeds.
Examples of legumes include peas, chick peas, lentils, alfafa and beans.
Scientists from the University of Toronto reported in Archives of Internal Medicine1, October 2012 issue, that eating more legumes helps improve glycemic control in people with diabetes type 2, as well as lessening the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
The Mediterranean diet - worldwide recognition
The Mediterranean diet became popular in the 1990s - even though the American Scientist Dr. Ancel Keys (1904-2004) publicized the Mediterranean diet while he was stationed in Italy, it was not until about the 1990s that it was widely recognized and followed elsewhere by nutritionally conscious people.
Compared to other Western diets, the Mediterranean diet was seen by others as a bit of an enigma. Although fat consumption is high, the prevalence of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes has always been significantly lower in Mediterranean countries than northern European countries and the USA. The American diet is more similar to the northern European diet - with high red meat consumption, greater consumption of butter and animal fats, and a lower intake of fruit and vegetables, compared to the eating habits of Italy, Greece, southern France, and Spain.
Mediterranean diet more popular in non-English speaking nations
The non-English speaking countries of northern Europe, such as Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Austria have adopted the Mediterranean diet to a much greater degree than English speaking nations, such as the UK, Ireland, the USA, Australia and New Zealand.
Dietary habits in Canada vary; with the French-speaking Quebec areas tending more towards a Mediterranean diet, compared to the rest of the country. Many experts believe that is why developed English-speaking nations have a lower life expectancy than the other developed nations.
Mediterranean countries consume higher quantities of red wine, while northern European countries and the USA consume more beer. Red wine contains flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants, according to a study in the Journal of Natural Products.2
The Mediterranean diet, compared to the Anglo-saxon diet, contains much higher quantities of unprocessed foods.
On the next page we look at the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and the latest research on the Mediterranean diet