Lessons from the Mediterranean Diet

While every region of the world has its own traditional diet, perhaps none are as well known, and studied as the diet that is typical of the Mediterranean region that includes Greece, Italy and France among other countries. 

Rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish – the diet that is typical of this region is low in artery clogging saturated and trans fat, high in fibre and antioxidants and rich in heart healthy unsaturated fat. 

The Mediterranean diet first made headlines in the early 1990’s when researchers noted its exceptional nutrient content.  Today, the diet is still making waves after extensive research has shown the extent of its health benefits, including offering protection against heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The science

Study findings released last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a Mediterranean-style diet beat out a low-fat diet in terms of controlling diabetes. Researchers randomly assigned either a low fat diet or a Mediterranean-style diet to 215 overweight people who were recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  After four years, researchers found that only 44 percent of the people receiving the Mediterranean style diet required drug treatment to control their diabetes, compared to 70 percent in the low fat group.  What’s more, the Mediterranean-style diet was also associated with greater weight loss and a healthier body mass index.

It seems the diet doesn’t only help control diabetes; it also plays a role in preventing the onset of the disease.  Study findings released in the British Medical Journal examined the eating habits of over 13,000 Spanish university graduates and found that participants who ate a Mediterranean-style diet had a lower risk of developing diabetes.  In fact, people who followed the diet the closest had a staggering 83 percent reduced risk of developing the disease, compared to people who didn’t follow the diet.

The Mediterranean-style diet has also been found to offer protection from cardiovascular disease and cancer.  One of the largest studies to date on the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet was released in 2003 by Harvard researchers.  After analyzing the diets of over 22,000 people living in Greece, they found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean style diet tended to live longer and were less likely to die from heart disease and cancer.

Mediterranean staples 

Take a cue from this exceptionally healthy diet, by adding these staples to your diet.

Olive oil

Contrary to most other healthy diets, the Mediterranean diet stands alone in that it doesn’t limit fat, instead it promotes the intake of healthy fat.  Olive oil is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet and is used almost exclusively for cooking.  Olive oil gets two thumbs up when it comes to health because it’s rich in monounsaturated fat, which lowers unhealthy LDL cholesterol and raises healthy HDL cholesterol.


Fish is one of the leanest sources of protein around.  It rivals red meat in its protein content, but instead of containing artery clogging saturated fat, is rich in heart healthy unsaturated fat.  Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring lead the pack when it comes to omega-3 fatty acid content.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables of all kinds are enjoyed in abundance in a Mediterranean-style diet.  Opt for the most nutrient dense produce by choosing items that are brightly coloured, such as sweet potatoes, spinach, red peppers and carrots.

Nuts and seeds

They may be high in fat, but that’s where many of the health benefits of nuts come from thanks to their exceptional monounsaturated fat content.  The best nuts to add to your diet include walnuts, almonds, cashews and hazelnuts.  Opt for dry roasted or blanched nuts for the most health benefits. 


About Michelle:

Michelle Gelok is a Canadian Registered Dietitian currently based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Prior to her relocation to Abu Dhabi, Michelle graduated as a Registered Dietitian upon completing the Dietetic Internship Program at University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto.  She holds a Bachelor of Applied Science and a Minor in Family Supports and Community Practice from the Food and Nutrition program at Ryerson University.  Michelle is a licensed Registered Dietitian with the Ontario College of Dietitians and member of Dietitians of Canada.

Visit Michelle’s website at www.michellegelok.com

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