Mediterranean Diet: Pros, Cons, & Meal Plans

The Mediterranean diet has become popular all over the world. This diet is typical for countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea (as the name suggests). These include Italy, Spain, France, and Greece.


The Mediterranean diet is often recommended by doctors as a suitable lifestyle change to improve health conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s Disease, and others.


This diet includes foods which are controversial in the dieting world, such as potatoes, wine, pasta, and other grains. Furthermore, it does not set calorie or macronutrient guidelines.


This article guides you through the pros and cons of the Mediterranean diet to help you pinpoint its health benefits and pitfalls.


Let’s get started!


What is the Mediterranean diet?


The Mediterranean diet is generally plant-based and is similar to flexitarian and pescatarian diets. It includes the following foods [1]:

  • All fruits (fresh, frozen, dried)

  • All vegetables (fresh, frozen, dried, canned)

  • Whole grains (brown rice, pasta, bread, cereals, oats)

  • Legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas, soy)

  • Nuts and seeds (e.g., chia, pumpkin, sesame seeds, macadamia, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, pine seeds)

  • Herbs and spices (e.g., pepper, oregano, basil, rosemary, bay leaf, cumin)

  • Olive oil and other vegetable oils (sesame, walnut, canola, avocado oil)

  • Fish and seafood (at least twice a week; fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are recommended)

  • Poultry and eggs (small portions a few times weekly; white poultry meat is preferred)

  • Low-fat dairy foods (small portions a few times a week)

  • Lean red meat (limited to a few times per month)

Here are a few guidelines that are important parts of the Mediterranean diet [2]:


Choose unsaturated healthy fats over saturated fats. This means using olive, sesame, avocado, soybean, canola, safflower, and flaxseed oils in place of butter, margarine, shortening, animal fat, coconut, palm, and cocoa oil.


Fish and legumes are preferred sources of protein, followed by poultry and lean meats.

Moderate consumption of wine (up to 1 glass for women and up to 2 glasses for men) is allowed, although water is the primary beverage in a typical Mediterranean diet.


Processed foods, beverages, and food products high in refined sugars, saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium should be limited.


Incorporate regular physical activity into your lifestyle (including walking, dancing, jogging, yoga, cardio, etc.)

Mediterranean diet benefits


The Mediterranean diet is associated with various benefits, from easy adherence to management of different health conditions.

Easy adherence


It is relatively simple to stick to the Mediterranean diet. This meal plan does not exclude or restrict any food groups, making it a sustainable plan that will continue to foster a healthy relationship with food.


Unlike fad diets, this diet enables you to customize and plan your menu according to your food choices and preferences, which makes it easier to adhere to this diet in the long run.

Nutrition


As mentioned, the Mediterranean diet does not exclude any groups of foods and macronutrients. Instead, it focuses on balanced consumption of all food groups, encouraging intake of whole foods, high-quality protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.


Due to the diet’s emphasis of nutrient-rich foods, the Mediterranean diet is highly nutritious. This reduces the risk of related nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition, which are common for other more restrictive diets, like keto and vegan diets.

Health benefits


The health benefits for adults, adolescents, and children associated with long-term high Mediterranean diet adherence are evidenced by various studies and research papers: [2][3][4][5]

  • Reduction in high blood pressure

  • Balance cholesterol profile (lowering total and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL- good cholesterol)

  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes

  • Lower risk of metabolic-related health conditions

  • Reduced risk of depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease

  • Reduced risk of heart disease and stroke

  • Improved blood sugar balance

  • Reduced BMI and weight loss


Meal Planning for the Mediterranean Diet

  1. Add high-fiber vegetables to your meals. For example, a side salad, additional veggies to your pasta sauce, or stir-fry vegetable mix.

  2. Do not miss adding protein sources to your dish: soy products like tofu and tempeh, poultry, fish, legumes, or other plant foods.

  3. Prioritize cooking methods like boiling, baking, roasting, steaming, poaching, sautéing, stir-frying and air frying instead of deep frying. This will reduce oil, and therefore calorie, consumption

  4. Choose healthy unsaturated cooking oils; extra virgin olive oil is often recommended.

  5. Prepare diverse meals and use a wide variety of whole foods to achieve variety in your diet

  6. Prioritize home cooked meals instead of eating out, since you have better control over the ingredients used in the dishes. That being said, you can continue to enjoy eating out in moderation and choosing Mediterranean Diet-friendly choices when you can.


Concerns with the Mediterranean Diet: Eating too much


The Mediterranean diet does not set official recommendations for calorie intake and portion sizes. This may be challenging for those who have difficulty moderating portion sizes or eating mindfully.


Those who often overeat while following the Mediterranean diet may consume too many calories and eventually gain weight, or experience difficulty losing weight.


The advice from Claudia Hleap (Registered Dietitian):

Overall the Mediterranean Diet is a wonderful diet for anyone looking to make healthy changes to their diet and lifestyle. This diet is evidence-based and promotes a healthy relationship with food. This diet has been shown to improve many aspects of health, including: weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol management. The Mediterranean diet is based on listing foods to prioritize in the diet and which to limit, therefore, not completely restricting any foods from the diet. This way, you can still enjoy all the foods you love while practicing balancing out your plate and eating in moderation.