The Mediterranean-style diet has fewer meats and carbohydrates than a typical American diet. It also has more plant-based foods and monounsaturated (good) fat. 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 sugar, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and a lower risk for 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 lean meat and chicken
More servings of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and legumes
Foods that naturally contain high amounts of fiber
Plenty of fish and other seafood
Olive oil as the main source of fat for preparing food. Olive oil is a healthy, monounsaturated fat
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:
Sweets and other desserts
Possible Health Concerns
There may be health concerns with this eating style for some people, including:
You may gain weight from eating fats in olive oil and nuts.
You may have lower levels of iron. 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.
You may have calcium loss from eating fewer dairy products. Ask your health care provider if you should take a calcium supplement.
Wine is a common part of a Mediterranean eating style but some people should not drink alcohol. Avoid wine if you are prone to alcohol abuse, pregnant, at risk for breast cancer, or have other conditions that alcohol could make worse.
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Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.