The Benefits and Risks of the Mediterranean Diet: Understanding the Science Behind This Popular Diet Trend
The Mediterranean diet has been hailed as one of the most beneficial diets around, with health benefits ranging from weight loss to reduced risk of chronic disease. It emphasizes eating plenty of seafood, fruits, vegetables, and nuts—all of which are staples of many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures. But is it for everyone? In this post, we’ll be exploring the science behind the Mediterranean diet, as well as the benefits and risks associated with it, so you can make an informed decision about whether this diet is right for you.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is grounded in the dietary patterns of countries around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece and Italy. It’s based on the traditional foods and flavors of these regions, and emphasizes eating a high percentage of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The Mediterranean diet also recommends getting plenty of seafood, and using olive oil as the main cooking fat.
Additionally, the Mediterranean diet incorporates small amounts of dairy, eggs, and red meat, as well as moderate amounts of wine consumed with meals. The Mediterranean-style of eating is considered healthy because it includes a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods from all food groups, and it is associated with a lower risk of chronic disease, along with more positive environmental and social outcomes than other diets.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet has many potential health benefits, including:
Weight Loss: Those following the Mediterranean diet may have an easier time losing weight. A study published in Nutrition Research found that people following this diet pattern have a significantly lower body-mass index compared to those who follow other dietary patterns.
Heart Health: The Mediterranean diet has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease. A 2020 review of seven long-term studies found that the Mediterranean diet consistently reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke, compared to other dietary patterns.
Brain Health: The Mediterranean diet may help protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s. A study published in 2019 found that sticking to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Diabetes: A 2020 study of 2,616 adults found that following the Mediterranean diet was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to those who followed other dietary patterns. Additionally, a 2017 review found that the Mediterranean diet was associated with improved insulin sensitivity and glycemic control in diabetics.
Cancer: Research suggests that following a Mediterranean diet may have a positive effect on the risk of certain cancers. One 2015 review found that the diet was associated with a lower risk of colorectal and breast cancer, compared to a standard Western diet.
Risks of the Mediterranean Diet
While the Mediterranean diet has many potential benefits, there are some potential risks associated with it as well. These include:
Overeating: The Mediterranean diet does not put limits on the amount of seafood, fruits, and vegetables that can be consumed. This can lead to overeating, and thus, weight gain.
High-calorie Foods: The Mediterranean diet recommends some higher-calorie items, such as nuts, olives, and cheeses. Eating too many of these foods can lead to weight gain.
Processed Meat: While the Mediterranean diet includes an allowance for small amounts of red meat, it does not include processed meats, such as bacon and sausage. Eating these types of meats can increase the risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
Food Quality: Much of the health benefit of the Mediterranean diet is reliant on the quality of the food consumed. Eating too much processed or fast food can reduce the health benefits associated with this diet.
The Mediterranean diet has been found to have numerous health benefits, ranging from weight loss to improved heart and brain health. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks associated with this way of eating. Eating too much of specific foods, or consuming low-quality foods, can reduce the potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. For best results, eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods and keeping portions moderate is key for optimizing the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.