All you need to know about the Mediterranean diet

Written by Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos, APD, PhD

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The traditional Mediterranean diet is more than just what you eat on a lovely holiday. It dates back to ancient times with key defining ingredients of wheat, wine and olive oil. It also included leafy greens and legumes.

The Mediterranean diet focuses heavily on plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. To follow this diet closely, it is recommended to eat a plant to animal food ratio by weight of four serves to one. For comparison, the typical Western diet has a plant to animal food ratio of one to one.

The many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Research has consistently found that following the Mediterranean diet, even for non-Mediterranean populations including Australians, is protective for deaths from heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

These results came from a review of past peer-reviewed research trials that investigated 37 different health outcomes in more than 12.8 million people around the world.

The Mediterranean diet has also been reviewed as the easiest dietary pattern to follow, the best plant-based diet, and best diet for healthy eating and diabetes management.

A study conducted in Australia examined the impact of a diet modelled on the traditional Mediterranean diet on the management of type 2 diabetes. This study showed that by incorporating the ten key principles of the diet into their eating plans, study participants achieved a better management of their blood sugar levels that was equivalent to drug therapy.

Ten steps to a more Mediterranean diet

The following steps include the key foods and ingredients of a Mediterranean diet that can easily be incorporated into any cuisine or eating pattern. Also note that sweets are consumed for special occasions only.

  1. Use extra virgin olive oil as the main added fat (around 60ml per day)
  2. Incorporate vegetables or salads with every main meal and use herbs and spices to flavour foods (more than 400 grams per day) and ensure to include leafy greens daily
  3. Add legumes into your meals twice a week (250 gram serve)
  4. Include fish or seafood into your meals twice a week (150 gram serve)
  5. Reduce meat intake and choose smaller portions
  6. Swap white bread for wholegrain sourdough breads
  7. Have fresh fruit everyday
  8. Include a fermented dairy snack such as yoghurt everyday
  9. Snack on a handful of nuts everyday (30 grams)
  10. Have wine in moderation and always with meals