Mediterranean diet: the benefits of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest diets in the world. It is reputed to prevent cardiovascular disease and have an anti-inflammatory effect. We explain what makes this diet so healthy and whether it is suitable for losing weight.

09.02.2023 Nina Merli 3 minutes

Grilled fish with fresh tomatoes, olives and garlic, lightly spiced seafood. Served with a crisp salad, dressed with olive oil, and a piece of wholemeal bread. And for dessert, figs or perhaps a little bit of cheese. Doesn’t that sound delicious? And not at all complicated either. Mediterranean cuisine is also not particularly expensive, because it uses little red meat or dairy products. Convenience foods have no place in this diet.

What exactly is the Mediterranean diet?

Strictly speaking, the Mediterranean diet is not a diet in the conventional sense: you don’t have to skip meals, give up good food or count calories. The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that originated in Greece, Italy, Spain and other southern countries.

The Mediterranean diet, also known as the Cretan diet, is based on fresh ingredients that are high in fibre:

  • Vegetables (e.g. aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, artichokes)
  • Fruit (e.g. citrus fruits, figs, grapes)
  • Fish and shellfish (e.g. tuna, sea bass, mussels, crab)
  • Salad leaves (e.g. radicchio, rocket)
  • Legumes (e.g. beans, chickpeas, lentils)
  • Wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, rice and potatoes
  • Nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews, walnuts)
  • Seeds (e.g. sunflower, pumpkin or pine nuts)
  • Fresh herbs and garlic
  • Olive oil

How the Mediterranean food pyramid works

The Mediterranean diet was introduced by the Harvard School of Public Health and the European Office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) some thirty years ago. They also designed a specific food pyramid to illustrate it. What is striking is that, alongside sugary foods, meat is at the top of the pyramid, which means that it should only be eaten rarely and in small amounts. Otherwise, the Mediterranean food pyramid is structured as follows:

  • 60 per cent carbohydrates
  • 10 per cent protein
  • 30 per cent fats, with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ten times lower than in the classic Western diet. This ratio is healthier because an excess of omega-6 fatty acids promotes inflammatory processes in the body. 
  • Fish should be eaten twice a week because of its high nutritional value.
  • Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, potatoes, rice, olive oil, nuts and fresh herbs should form part of your daily food intake.
  • Legumes may be enjoyed several times a week.

Please note: the Mediterranean food pyramid also recommends an adequate fluid intake of approximately ten glasses of water per day and plenty of exercise on a regular basis.

Does the Mediterranean diet help prevent cardiovascular disease?

The Mediterranean diet has been considered healthy since the 1960s, when nutritionists first studied the links between the Mediterranean diet and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Its fresh ingredients make the Mediterranean diet rich in vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fatty acids. These ingredients strengthen the immune system, can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are mainly found in fresh fish, are considered particularly healthy polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the formation of dangerous deposits in the blood vessels and thus prevent heart attacks. Ideally, you should ensure that you eat fish once or twice a week as part of your diet.

Olive oil is also considered very healthy and forms an integral part of traditional Mediterranean cuisine. The oleuropein it contains protects against cardiac arrhythmias and can even lower blood pressure.

Are you unhappy with your weight?

Our health advisors can give you tips on how to lose or gain weight. They also offer advice about a balanced and healthy diet.

Does the Mediterranean diet help with weight loss?

People who want to lose weight quickly often embark on extreme, unhealthy diets. That is not what the Mediterranean diet is about. The Mediterranean diet is ideal if you would like to achieve long-term weight loss without a yo-yo effect. This is because the high proportion of vegetables and whole-grain products in the diet, coupled with the use of healthy cooking oils, ensure that weight loss is achieved healthily and is long-lasting.

Something else that is very important: take a tip from the southern Europeans and eat slowly. If you eat too quickly, you will not feel full and will therefore consume more calories than you need.

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