The Mediterranean diet is among the most studied and well-known dietary patterns, worldwide. Traditional to the Mediterranean region – encompassing Greece, Crete and Southern Italy – the Mediterranean diet, naturally high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, is widely considered to represent the ‘gold standard’ for longevity and chronic disease prevention. In particular, the Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced incidences of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and dementia.
Generally speaking, adopting a Mediterranean dietary pattern can foster a sense of vitality and promote healthful ageing, particularly for those of us without underlying health conditions or concerns. However – as always – individuals with pre-existing health conditions, allergies, specific nutritional deficiencies, or other factors affecting their dietary requirements should consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian before making any changes.
Notably, following the Mediterranean diet does not necessarily translate to consuming only Mediterranean-style dishes. Rather, the Mediterranean diet refers to an overall pattern of eating that features an abundance of dietary fibre, polyphenols (antioxidants), and essential fatty acids.
- Mostly plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, and extra-virgin olive oil (which is used as the primary source of dietary fat).
- Moderate amounts of seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products (particularly yoghurt and cheese).
- Liberal use of herbs, spices, garlic, onion and other aromatics to amplify flavour, in place of excess salt.
- Small, occasional, amounts of meat and discretionary foods (like desserts and other sweets, for example).
- Water, herbal teas and tisanes accounting for the majority of fluid intake.
Lifestyle factors including frequent – often incidental – movement, social connection and adequate rest also feature within the Mediterranean diet. Importantly, the Mediterranean diet is not rigid or overly prescriptive, and can be adapted to suit individual needs, preferences and cultural backgrounds.
Below, find our suggestions for mindful inclusions and simple swaps to emulate a Mediterranean-style dietary pattern:
- Feature a diverse array of vegetables and legumes as an integral component of every meal, rather than as a side dish. To take it one step further, try incorporating one plant-based meal (featuring a high-quality source of protein) per day.
- Enjoy a multitude of different-coloured fruits and vegetables each day.
- Use cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) – a wonderful source of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants – for cooking and in salad dressings; despite some myths out there, EVOO has a high smoke point and can be used at temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius whilst retaining it’s antioxidant content.
- Enjoy fish – especially oily fish varieties high in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. salmon, trout) – and seafood often, at least twice per week. Other animal-derived protein sources that may feature approximately twice per week, each – as part of the Mediterranean diet include poultry (e.g. chicken, turkey) and eggs (one serve = two eggs). Meanwhile, try limiting red meat (like beef and lamb) to once per week.
- Opt for wholegrain carbohydrates (including oats, barley, brown rice and rye) in place of refined alternatives.
- Enjoy up to two servings of calcium-rich dairy products, including cheese, milk and natural or Greek-style yoghurt, daily.
- Seek out social connection, enjoying meals in the company of loved ones away from technology and other distractions.
- Continue to enjoy culturally-significant and comforting foods, especially as part of social gatherings and seasonal holidays.
- Moderate alcohol consumption, consuming up to two standard drinks – mostly red wine (note 1 standard drink = 100ml wine) – per day, primarily with meals. Consume no more than ten standard drinks per week to maintain alignment with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
- Adopt an active lifestyle and move mindfully every day. This might look like walking or cycling to work, participating in team / social sports (such as soccer, netball, sailing or golf, for example), practising yoga or Pilates to promote mind-body connection, and/or engaging in higher-intensity training.
For expert dietary advice tailored to your unique needs and preferences to support you on your way to optimal health, book your first appointment with one of our wonderful accredited practising dietitians today.
Written by Caitlin Branch, Student Nutritionist, and Amanda Smith, Accredited Practicing Dietitian.
Guasch‐Ferré, M., & Willett, W. C. (2021). The Mediterranean diet and health: A comprehensive overview. Journal of Internal Medicine, 290(3), 549-566. https://doi.org/10.1111/joim.13333
Wahlqvist, M. L. & Gallegos, D. (2020). Food and nutrition: Sustainable food and health systems (4th ed.). Allen & Unwin.