The Mediterranean Diet: Everything You Need to Know

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the intake of fruits and vegetables, which generates a positive impact on the functioning of the body. If prepared well, it is very appropriate.
The Mediterranean Diet: Everything You Need to Know
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 03 April, 2021

The Mediterranean diet is classified as one of the healthiest. Many experts recommend it for the treatment and prevention of various pathologies. However, it isn’t perfect, it has strengths and weaknesses. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about it.

The first thing to mention is that the Mediterranean diet complies with one of the principles of healthy eating, which is variety. It’s a very non-restrictive eating plan in terms of food groups, which gives it advantages in terms of adherence.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet usually includes fish.
Fish is a vital part of the Mediterranean diet.

This diet is committed to emphasizing the consumption of products from the southern area of the Iberian Peninsula and the area of France bathed by the Mediterranean Sea. It has a wide spectrum of different products, prioritizing the intake of fresh ones over ultra-processed ones.

One of the bases of this kind of diet is that it’s committed to including a large amount of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. According to a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, eating vegetables on a daily basis reduces the risk of mortality from all causes, which is why it’s considered very healthy.

On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet also encourages the intake of carbohydrates. This is one of the most controversial points, since it recommends the presence in the daily diet of pasta, bread and other grains and refined flours.

This class of products is not endorsed by most experts, as they’re associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes in the medium term.

Fats in the Mediterranean diet

Another of the central and healthy elements of the Mediterranean diet are fats. It always prioritizes those of the unsaturated type, as these lipids help to modulate inflammatory processes and prevent cardiovascular diseases.

In fact, one of the central foods in terms of fat is olive oil. According to research published in The New England Journal of Medicine , regular intake of this product is associated with a lower risk of heart-type accidents.

Likewise, another of the foods with a high content of fatty acids that are part of the Mediterranean diet are nuts. These products also have a significant protein concentration, although of low biological value. Of course, they have an outstanding concentration in various minerals.

However, the eating model is committed to reducing the contribution of saturated lipids. On this point, there are opposing opinions. Saturated fats have generally been associated with a higher incidence of complex pathologies.

However, this claim is currently being questioned, as can be seen in an article published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Proteins in the Mediterranean diet

As far as protein consumption is concerned, the Mediterranean diet echoes the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). It offers a daily intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of weight per day for sedentary adult subjects. However, the most current research advocates increasing this consumption, even by 50%.

In addition, it should be noted that at least half of the ingested proteins must come from foods of plant origin. These have a high biological value, offering all the essential amino acids and a good level of digestibility. This point is fulfilled by the Mediterranean diet itself.

Now, to complete this intake, you have to count on the presence of plant foods with a high concentration of proteins, such as legumes and the already mentioned nuts.

As far as legumes are concerned, the Mediterranean diet advises the intake of these products at least once or twice a week. Keep in mind that they also contain large amounts of fiber, a substance that has been shown to prevent constipation.

The food pyramid in the Mediterranean diet

As we’ve mentioned, the Mediterranean diet proposes the regular and daily intake of fruits and vegetables in large quantities, at least 5 servings in total. On the other hand, it also encourages the presence of compound carbohydrates in the diet, including flours and derived products.

Likewise, it values the presence of proteins from foods of animal origin. It recommends the consumption of fish at least twice a week, and a greater intake of white meat versus red. All this using olive oil as the main fat source for cooking.

In general, it recommends that fresh foods take priority over ultra-processed ones. Thus, sausages, sweets, pastries, and precooked products should only be consumed occasionally.

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Eating a Mediterranean diet has a number of health benefits. We’re going to mention them, along with the scientific position on the matter.

Lower cardiovascular risk

As we’ve mentioned, the increase in the consumption of unsaturated lipids and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases. As evidenced by a study published in Circulation Research, this diet is capable of preventing the development of heart attacks, hypertension, and problems associated with the lipid profile…

However, it’s important to supplement it with other healthy lifestyle habits. Exposure to sunlight will help a lot. This increases the synthesis of vitamin D, which generates a lower degree of systemic inflammation. From here the incidence of atherosclerosis is significantly reduced.

Fluid intestinal transit

The Mediterranean diet, thanks to its high fiber content, can help prevent problems related to digestion. It generates a more efficient transit, which reduces the incidence of constipation.

Likewise, this substance can ferment in the colon, generating a growth of the bacteria that inhabit the digestive tract. This can improve a person’s general health.

To optimize this effect, it’s important to alternate between soluble fiber and insoluble fiber intake. One is capable of retaining water in its interior, increasing the volume of the bolus, the other provokes fermentation and generates short-chain fatty acids.

Both are necessary, but they’re not always found in the same foods. For this reason, it’s recommended to guarantee the presence of whole grains and fruits into the diet.

Reduction in the incidence of cancer

There’s research that links the Mediterranean diet with a lower risk of developing cancer in the medium term.

This is because antioxidant compounds from plants are capable of neutralizing the formation of free radicals, which has a positive impact on DNA replication, thus reducing mutations.

In parallel, inflammation is reduced, another of the underlying mechanisms that’s behind the formation of tumors and the appearance of cancer cells. However, to enhance this effect it’s necessary to take care of other lifestyle habits. Regular exercise and rest are crucial.

Even the inclusion of certain supplements in the guideline could help in this mission. Certain antioxidants, medium-chain fatty acids, or even melatonin, can be beneficial in reducing mutations in the replication of genetic material. This causes a lower risk of cancer cell growth.

Disadvantages of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet has flaws.
The consumption of alcoholic beverages is allowed on this diet, although it’s a controversial issue.

Not all that glitters is gold. The Mediterranean diet has benefits and is classified as healthy. However, certain aspects could be improved to make it even more beneficial.

First of all, this diet allows moderate alcohol intake, especially wine. However, it has been shown that the consumption of this drink, regardless of its amount, is harmful to health in the medium term. For this reason, it would be best to restrict its appearance in the diet.

On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet says that carbohydrates are essential and necessary for everyone, when this isn’t the case.

Much recent research affirms that a low carbohydrate diet could be beneficial for the prevention and treatment of certain complex diseases. Especially in the context of sedentary individuals.

Furthermore, flour and its derivative products are not considered healthy at all. They’re quickly digested and absorbed, generating an effect similar to that of simple sugars. Although there are quality carbohydrates, these are those from tubers and legumes, as well as some whole grains.

Finally, we mustn’t forget that the Mediterranean diet doesn’t offer recommendations regarding cooking methods. Subjecting lipids to high temperatures causes a change in their spatial configuration, from cis to trans type. The latter are associated with a greater risk of becoming ill, as they have inflammatory properties.

It’s important to ensure energy balance

Although the combination of foods that the Mediterranean diet proposes can be beneficial and adequate, it should also guarantee energy balance.

If more calories are ingested than are expended, there will be a progressive accumulation of fatty tissue in the body. Taking into account that being overweight is associated with a worse state of health, this is not recommended at all.

Therefore, it’s vital to ensure that this balance is met. It’s also advisable to practice physical activity on a regular basis. Exercise helps to burn more calories and increase muscle mass, positively impacting the metabolism of the human body.

Likewise, it’s important to avoid drinking beverages other than water or dairy products. Simple sugars create a consumption of higher sugars, which makes the optimal use of fats as an energy source impossible. In this situation, it could be a lot easy to put on weight.

The Mediterranean diet, a healthy approach

As you’ve seen, a well-planned Mediterranean diet is considered to be healthy. Its implementation can help prevent various complex pathologies, such as cardiovascular diseases and some types of cancer.

However, its effects are noticeable in the medium and long term, not overnight. You have to be consistent in its implementation.

However, on certain occasions, it may be beneficial to establish a parallel supplementation protocol, in order to increase the supply of certain nutrients. One of those that could be included in a complementary way is vitamin D, which is difficult to obtain through food and very important for the body.

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Los contenidos de esta publicación se redactan solo con fines informativos. En ningún momento pueden servir para facilitar o sustituir diagnósticos, tratamientos o recomentaciones provenientes de un profesional. Consulta con tu especialista de confianza ante cualquier duda y busca su aprobación antes de iniciar o someterse a cualquier procedimiento.