A Mediterranean diet plan focuses on high-quality nutritious foods from each food group — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and more
For decades, the Mediterranean diet plan has been praised as one of the best to follow for better health. But how does it help and why?
Marisa Gutierrez, a registered dietitian nutritionist, works with Arizona Heart 360, a cardiology practice with a holistic approach. In her job, she meets with patients with various diseases and promotes better diets for their health.
Gutierrez took time to answer our questions about a Mediterranean diet plan. What follows is an edited version of our interview.
What is a Mediterranean diet plan?
The Mediterranean diet is based on the diets of people in countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy, where scientists noticed lower rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease. It has been rated at the top of U.S. News & World Report’s best diets list for years and is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans because it is easy to follow and includes a wide variety of nutritious foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, seafood, whole grains, and healthy fats such as those in avocados and olive oil.
Rather than requiring intense tracking, the Mediterranean diet focuses on high-quality nutritious foods from each food group in specific quantities throughout the day and week. For example, according the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, someone consuming 2,000 calories per day on it would to eat 2.5 cups of fruits, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 6 oz. of whole grains, and 2 cups of low-fat dairy per day with 15 oz. seafood, 26 oz. lean meats or eggs, and 5 oz. nuts/seeds per week.
The focus on anti-inflammatory foods and the emphasis on exercise are why a Mediterranean diet plan has been shown to help people improve their blood glucose and lipid levels and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
What types of symptoms can be alleviated?
By focusing on a meal pattern of meals and snacks spaced throughout the day, as well as high-quality protein and carbohydrate sources, the Mediterranean meal pattern can help maintain blood glucose levels without large spikes or drops. The healthy fat, antioxidant, and fiber content can reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular disease markers such as increasing “good” HDL cholesterol levels, lowering “bad” LDL levels, and lowering triglyceride levels.
There is also evidence that a Mediterranean diet plan can improve cognitive function. The nutrients highlighted in the Mediterranean diet such as healthy fats and fiber help patients feel fuller for longer, have consistent energy levels, and improve digestion.
What types of ailments can be helped by someone following a Mediterranean diet?
Because the diet is rich in antioxidants (such as lycopene), fiber, healthy fats (such as omega 3 fatty acids), and key vitamins and minerals, it has been linked to decreased risk of several disease states from cardiovascular to liver disease and more. The high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have been linked to decreased risk of several cancers such as breast, colorectal, stomach, and ovarian.
It is also recommended by the American Heart Association (potentially in conjunction with the DASH diet) for cardiovascular health as it includes healthy fats and fiber, while limiting processed foods and red meats. It is recommended for patients with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and especially for healthy individuals who are trying to reduce the risk of these diseases.
Are there any particular evidence-based studies that back this up?
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most-researched diets that exists so there are thousands of articles that detail the relationship between it and various disease states. For example, a 2015 review in The American Journal of Medicine describes how all aspects of the Mediterranean Diet work synergistically to improve cardiovascular health. There are also more recent reviews such as a 2019 review which details the relationship between specific foods found in the Mediterranean diet and decreased risk of cancers (breast, colorectal, stomach, etc.).
There are also several great books that have recipes and meal plans. Some examples are The Mediterranean DASH Diet Cookbook by Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN, or The DASH Diet Mediterranean Solution by Marla Heller, MS, RD.
How can chiropractors encourage patients to embrace and follow a Mediterranean diet?
Overall, a Mediterranean diet plan is great for your health, not restrictive, and provides a wide variety of delicious dishes, which are aspects any health care provider can get behind. I recommend that chiropractors focus on all of the positive aspects of the Mediterranean diet and provide resources and recipes that make it easier for patients to understand and apply to their current lifestyles.
For patients who may be struggling or have more questions, registered dietitians are always happy to help with individualized meal plans and recommendations.
Is it easy to convert to a Mediterranean diet?
Yes! The Mediterranean diet is much easier to convert to than fad diets because it’s meant as a long-term healthy lifestyle. Rather than focusing on restrictions and foods you can’t have, it highlights all of the healthy and delicious foods to increase in your diet such as nuts, avocados, fresh fruits, and even foods like dark chocolate and red wine which are always fan-favorites.
Research has detailed how specific foods in the Mediterranean diet are linked to improved health in an additive way so the closer you follow the diet, the more health benefits you will experience.
- Abenavoli, L, Boccuto, L, Federico, A, Dallio, M, Loguercio, C. et al. (2019). Diet and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: The Mediterranean Way. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16, 3011. doi:10.3390/ijerph16173011
- American Heart Association. What is the Mediterranean Diet? https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/mediterranean-diet
- Dernini, S, Berry, EM, Serra-Majem, L, La Vecchia, C, et al. (2016). Med Diet 4.0: the Mediterranean diet with four sustainable benefits. Public Health Nutrition, 20(7), 1322-1330.
- Mentella, MC, Scaldaferri, F, Ricci, C, Gasbarrini, A, & Donato Migginao, GA. (2019). Cancer and Mediterranean Diet: A Review. Nutrients, 11, 2059. doi:10.3390/nu11092059
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 Eighth Edition.
- Widmer, RJ, Flammer, AJ, Lerman, LO, Lerman, A. (2015). The Mediterranean Diet, its Components, and Cardiovascular Disease. The American Journal of Medicine, 128, 229-238. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.10.014