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Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean-style diet has fewer meats and carbohydrates and more plant-based foods and monounsaturated (good) fat than a typical American diet. Many people who live in Italy, Spain, and other countries in the Mediterranean region have eaten this way for centuries.

Following the Mediterranean diet may lead to more stable blood sugars, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and a lower risk of heart disease and other health problems.

How to Follow the Diet

The Mediterranean diet is based on:

  • Plant-based meals, with just small amounts of meat and chicken, when they are used
  • More servings of grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and legumes
  • Foods that naturally contain high amounts of fiber
  • Plenty of fish and other seafood rather than red meat
  • Olive oil, a healthy, monounsaturated fat, as the main source of fat used to flavor and prepare foods
  • Food that is prepared and seasoned simply, without sauces and gravies 

Foods Not in the Diet

Foods that are eaten in small amounts or NOT at all in the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Red meats
  • Sweets and other desserts
  • Eggs
  • Butter

Possible Health Concerns

Possible health concerns with the Mediterranean include:

  • Weight gain, from the fats in olive oil and nuts.
  • Reduced iron levels. If you choose to follow the Mediterranean diet, be sure to eat some foods rich in iron or in vitamin C, which helps your body absorb iron.
  • Calcium loss from eating fewer dairy products. Ask your doctor if you should take a calcium supplement.
  • It is common to drink wine with meals, though it is not an essential part of the Mediterranean diet. Avoid wine if you are prone to alcohol abuse, pregnant, at risk for breast cancer, or have other conditions that alcohol could make worse.

Updated: 9/6/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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