Inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of Spain, Southern France, Italy, Greece, and parts of the Middle East, the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower mortality rate, and reduced chance of developing chronic illness. Now, researchers state that is its also beneficial for mental and physical health too.

The diet is characterized by the consumption of fish, olive oil, nuts, pulses, vegetables, and fruit.

In order to determine how much the Mediterranean diet impacts quality of life, researchers examined over 11,000 university students over a period of four years. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Navarra (both in Spain), is published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Patricia Henríquez Sánchez, researcher at the centre in the Canary Islands and lead author of the study, said:

“The progressive aging of the population in developed countries makes it even more interesting to find out those factors that can increase quality of life and the health of the population.”

At the start of the study, the researchers asked participants to provide information on their dietary intake. In order to determine whether the diet was followed, consumption of fish, fruit, pulses, nuts, cereals, and vegetables was positively valued and consumption of meat, alcohol, and dairy products was negatively valued. The researchers measured self-perceived quality of life after the four year monitoring period using a questionnaire.

Fruits and Vegetables at Pike Place Market
The Mediterranean diet is based on lots of fruit and vegetables, and lean animal sourced proteins

The researchers found that participants who stuck to the diet more had better physical and mental well-being and significantly better physical quality of life.

Henríquez said “the Mediterranean diet is an important factor associated with better quality of life and can be considered as a healthy food model.”

According to the diet:

  • 1.5 – 2 liters of water should be drunk daily
  • Main meals should always contain three basic elements: vegetables, fruit, cereals, and dairy products
  • Moderate consumption of wine and other fermented beverages is recommended
  • Olive oil constitutes the main source of fat for its nutritional quality
  • Fish, lean meat and eggs are sources of high quality animal protein. Fish and some seafood are also sources of healthy fats.

Although sweets, cakes, sugar, sweetened beverages, and pastries are allowed, they should only be consumed occasionally and in small amounts.

Written by Grace Rattue