For the second year in a row, the Mediterranean Diet tops the list for the best diet to follow in 2019. The list, published every year by U.S. News and World Report, not only puts this diet as the best overall, but also number one for easiest diets to follow, best diet for healthy eating, and best diet for both diabetes and heart health. That's a substantial endorsement; so how does the Mediterranean Diet rise above the others?
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet can most simply be explained as an eating pattern based on the traditional foods of countries nestled around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. The food is simple in ingredients and preparation, but full of flavor. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural organization explains the Mediterranean diet as one that encompasses the original Greek meaning of the word "diet," meaning "way of life."
The Mediterranean Diet as an eating pattern places a huge emphasis on vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, lean proteins, nuts, wine, cheese, oils, and many herbs and spices. As a lifestyle, the diet encourages meals to be made at home with fresh and whole-food ingredients. It also focuses on the social aspect of the meal, enjoying your food, and maintaining smaller portion sizes than what you may be accustomed to.
Weight Loss on the Mediterranean Diet
When looking for a diet, you are most likely looking for a weight loss diet. The Mediterranean Diet is not a fad diet. It is not meant to produce huge amounts of weight loss in a small amount of time. A research study, published in The Lancet indicated that those who followed a diet supplemented with olive oil and nuts, two key foods in the Mediterranean Diet, lost more weight and decreased their waist circumference — more than the low-fat diet control group. This study had a follow up period of 4 to 8 years, which means this diet is meant to be a lifestyle change. It is important to note that the study participants were not instructed to exercise or follow any type of calorie-restricted diet.
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
One of the biggest reasons the Mediterranean Diet has been studied is from the discrepancy between the poor health of those who follow the western diet compared to those living near the Mediterranean Sea. In the 1950s, American nutritionist Ancel Keys was the first to recognize that wealthy Americans had much higher rates of heart disease than poorer citizens of southern Europe. So, what have researchers learned since then? To explain the health benefits of the diet, it's helpful to break down the main parts of the diet to see why the Mediterranean Diet is number one for 2019.
Fruits and Vegetables
First and foremost, the Mediterranean diet is plant powered. Vegetables, grains, beans, and fruits are considered the cornerstone of the Mediterranean Diet. Research published in The American Journal of Medicine indicates the health benefits associated with increased fruit and vegetable consumption include reduced risk for heart disease, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass index. Reduction in high caloric foods, the vitamin content, and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are all potential reasons for the health benefits. In addition, a 2017 article published in Nutrients state that the polyphenols, antioxidants, and flavonoids in fruits and vegetables can also reduce C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the body.
The Mediterranean Diet is not a low-fat diet. It is low in saturated fat, but high in monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids. The diet is rich in plant fats, such as olive oil and nuts. This diet also encourages fish, such as salmon, sardines, and tuna which contain omega-3 fatty acids. The National Institutes of Health indicate that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in healthy cognitive function and may help reduce the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
What Can I Eat on the Mediterranean Diet?
For starters, it's important to stick to the foods that are the core of the Mediterranean Diet. It may be helpful to make a hierarchy of foods when shopping or planning meals.
Eat High Amounts
- Fruits, such as apples, oranges, pears, plums, berries, figs, pomegranates, grapes
- Vegetables, such as potatoes, peas, squash, bell peppers, carrots, onions, eggplant
- Nuts, seeds
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Beans and lentils
Eat Moderate Amounts
- Cheese and dairy
- Lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, eggs
Eat Small Amounts
- Red Meat
- Processed food
Following the Mediterranean diet at home is probably easier than you think. Registered Dietitian Serena Ball, co-author of The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: 101 Easy, Flavorful Recipes for Lifelong Health, says "you may already have a Mediterranean kitchen and not even know it; Mediterranean pantry staples include olives, beans (canned or dried), canned tomatoes, nuts and seeds, pasta, brown rice, and canned tuna. Using these ingredients, you can throw together quick Mediterranean meals."
If you'd like more information on what to eat, check out a full 28-day Mediterranean diet plan here. This diet doesn't have to break the bank either, Ball explains, "following the Mediterranean diet is budget-friendly as it uses simple ingredients from a regular grocery store."
What are you waiting for? There is no single right way to follow the Mediterranean Diet. Find the way that works for you and your lifestyle. Keep it plant based, watch your portions, and enjoy every bite.