This post is part of the “To Try or Not to Try” blog series. Written by a registered dietitian (RD) or dietetic intern, each post explores the claims and science surrounding a different dietary pattern or trend. After compiling this research, each RD or RD2be gave the diet a grade based on whether it appears to hold up to the hype. A = “yes, go for it!” and F = “no way, absolutely not!”
About the Author:
Kelsey Cantor, MS, RDN obtained her bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Sciences from Penn State University. She completed her master’s degree and dietetic internship through Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio.
What is it recommended for?
The Mediterranean Diet has been growing in popularity and is widely recommended for general health, weight loss, and reducing the risk and progression of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and inflammation and oxidative stress.
Are the claims supported by science?
The Mediterranean Diet is significantly linked to various positive health outcomes. A meta-analysis of 10 studies found that following the Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of diabetes (Koloverou et al., 2014). Another study observed that treatment including following a Mediterranean diet had positive effects on insulin resistance and sensitivity (Gelli et al., 2017). Following the Mediterranean diet also increased the time before requiring antihyperglycemic drug therapy in another study (Esposito et al., 2009).
The Mediterranean diet has also been implicated in preventing and treating cardiovascular and liver disease. An extensive review published in 2017 found a positive effect of adherence to the Mediterranean diet and lower risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and heart attack (Dinu et al., 2017). Following the Mediterranean Diet also led to lower rates of high blood pressure and high cholesterol (Koloverou et al., 2016). A study published in 2017 observed improvement in liver health in adults with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease who followed the Mediterranean diet (Gelli et al., 2017).
Who should definitely not try the Mediterranean diet?
For most individuals, it would be an appropriate dietary pattern.
What foods are allowed?
Foods that are encouraged as the base of the dietary pattern are vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Regular consumption of nuts, seeds, and olive oils is encouraged. Fish and shellfish are recommended 2x per week. Dairy is to be regularly consumed in low to moderate amounts. Red meat consumption should be low in frequency and amounts. Reduced intake of sweets and refined grains is also advised.
What is the overall nutrient profile?
The Mediterranean diet is a well-balanced eating approach that focuses on vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, whole grains, and legumes. There is not one specified macronutrient distribution for the Mediterranean Diet. Ranges typically vary from 45-60% CHO, 10-15% proteins, and 25-35% fat (predominantly unsaturated fatty acids).
For the general healthy population, there are not significant micronutrient concerns if the diet is planned appropriately. Red meats are a rich source of iron, zinc, and b12. Individuals following the Mediterranean dietary pattern should be encouraged to either eat grass-fed red meats in small amounts or to be consistently consuming fish and poultry on occasion as well as plant sources of iron (legumes, whole grains, dark green vegetables, nuts).
Is this diet realistic and sustainable?
The Mediterranean diet can be realistic and sustainable if it is an approach to eating that focuses on whole foods rather than a list of do’s and don’ts.
What are the overall pros and cons?
The overall pros of the Mediterranean Diet include its flexibility and inclusion of a variety of healthy, anti-inflammatory foods. It has been shown to provide a range of health impacts on heart disease, diabetes, oxidative stress and liver disease. The cons of the Mediterranean Diet is that it may not fit all cultures and food preferences and thus needs to be tailored to the individual.
What grade do you give this diet?
I would give the Mediterranean Diet a B due to the scientific support and inclusion of a variety of foods.
What is your recommendation for an eating pattern for the average human?
For the average human, I would recommend a mindful eating approach that is plant-based with an appropriate balance of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, unsaturated fats, and lean meats.
This content is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice, medical nutrition therapy, or individualized nutrition counseling. Talk to your doctor or another licensed healthcare practitioner before making any changes to your diet, medications, or exercise routine. The opinions of these authors are their own and are not approved, sponsored, or endorsed by any professional organizations including but not limited to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association, and American Diabetes Association.