Introduction to the Mediterranean Diet

You’ve probably come across the Mediterranean diet if you’re big on healthy eating. The diet is credited with reducing the risk of developing heart ailments, depression, certain cancers, diabetes, and weakness in older adults.

It emphasizes the consumption of plant-based foods, small portions of red meat, and low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry.

The Mediterranean diet is quite traditional compared to the widespread inclination to fast and overly processed foods in modern-day societies.

It only shows its great potential in promoting healthy eating habits and foods. We look at its historical roots and cultural significance.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is one that focuses on the traditional foods and eating habits of people living along the Mediterranean Sea, i.e., Crete, Greece, France, Italy,and Spain.

The concept came alive after a Seven Countries Study that discovered that people living in those regions lived longer, healthier lives.

The researchers also found that they had lower rates of cardiovascular disease than those who lived elsewhere.

Upon further research, they found that the natives’ diet comprised whole grains, fruits, nuts, healthy fats, vegetables, legumes, and lean proteins which had a protective effect on their bodies.

History of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet dates back to the Middle Ages, borrowing greatly from ancient Roman traditions. The diet comprised vegetables (mushrooms, leeks, lettuce), fish, and seafood, but it soon clashed with German food preferences.

The Germans, who were mainly nomads, raised pigs of fat and grew vegetables and grains for beer. It was this fusion of two cultures that crossed to the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Later, Muslims influenced the model, introducing plant species like rice, spinach, sugar cane, spices, and citrus fruits like lemons and oranges.

The discovery of America by the Europeans altered the model’s components further, adding new foods like corn, potatoes, chili, pepper, tomatoes, and different varieties of beans.

The tomato was the first red vegetable in the Mediterranean diet, enriching the basket of vegetables already in the diet.

These iterations led to the creation of the Mediterranean diet we know today. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that the diet was publicized.

Researchers began examining the effects of diets and lifestyles of middle-aged men in Europe, the United States, and Japan as they had lower rates of cardiovascular problems.

They discovered that their diet was rich in fruits, legumes, nuts, healthy fats, seeds, and lean proteins, hence the reported low rates of heart disease.

The researchers also found a strong correlation between cholesterol levels, saturated fats, and heart disease because the diet emphasized on the consumption of healthy fats.

Prior to the Seven Countries Study, an American biologist Ancel Keys and Margaret Keys, a chemist had publicized the diet but it didnt gain much traction until the 1990s. Researchers from the Harvard University School of Public Health presented about the diet in the mid-1990s, leading to widespread recognition.

However, they noted that the diet was based on a paradox as people who lived near or around the Mediterranean consumed large amounts of fat yet had low rates of cardiovascular disease compared to those in the United States consuming similar amounts.

They discovered that the primary difference between the two groups is that the latter consumed foods rich in unhealthy fats, increasing the risk of developing heart disease. By comparison, the former group consumed traditional foods which had a protective effect on their bodies.

The researchers found the Mediterranean diet so effective that it became a weight loss diet in 2011. In 2016, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association recommended it as a healthy dietary pattern to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, respectively.

Cultural Significance

While science regards the Mediterranean Diet as a nutritional model, we can’t overlook its rich cultural significance. The primary elements of the Mediterranean Diet are the consumption of plant-based foods over animal products, variety, moderation, and a focus on relationships.

Its ability to create a sense of belonging and identity is at the core of promoting healthy eating habits and foods. Although this cultural aspect differs by geographical regions, and the re-inventions made over time, one factor remains unchanged- its people-centered approach to life.

Its core objective is sharing and enjoying meals with family and friends, however modest, and resting thereafter. A look at all its gastronomic characteristics shows the diet is designed to make eating enjoyable around people. Without relationships, there’s no culture; neither the stomach nor the palate can operate extra-culturally.

Every culture reveals human traits, as illustrated by the Mediterranean protoculture, which later informed the Mediterranean diet and culture we know today.

Its rich culture led UNESCO to recognize the Mediterranean Diet as an intangible cultural heritage of Morocco, Italy, Greece, and Spain in 2013. While the Mediterranean culture could inform and change the poor eating habits and practices adopted over time, we must consider factors that may hinder this traditional view:

Nutritional Biases
The differences between the diet’s definition by nutritionists and natives’ preferences from particular regions create a massive divide in adopting this culture. On the one hand, nutritionists are immersed in the nutritional value of each diet component. On the other hand, natives are more focused on teaching the Mediterranean culture through their food.

Climatic and Geographical Diversity

Every Individual’s dietary behavior and food choice are influenced by climatic, geographical, religious, and socioeconomic factors.

For example, People living in Northern Italy have a diet that doesn’t match the nutritional boundaries of the modern Mediterranean model. On the other hand, only a small region of France follows the Mediterranean food culture while Malta has an entirely different dietary pattern.

Conversely, Asian and African countries within the Mediterranean basin are rarely considered in the context of the diet, albeit following diets that match Mediterranean diet principles.

Modern Eating Practices

We must look at modern eating practices in our homes. People now prefer eating alone due to busy work schedules, the likelihood of living alone, and the infiltration of the fast food culture. This makes it challenging to take on the Mediterranean culture, which leads to poor appetites and a sense of taste.

Research shows that eating with other people is one habit that differentiates man from his natural egoism.

Urbanization and Economic Development

Factors such as economic development, availability of food from other cultures, and urbanization have also modified the traditional characteristics of the Mediterranean diet and culture.

Rapid urbanization makes it nearly impossible for people to live in communities that share meals together.

It’s important to factor in all such dynamics when examining the cultural significance of the Mediterranean diet in modern-day spaces.

Overview of the Diet’s Composition

The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based foods grown organically, minimally processed, and seasonally fresh. This means your meals contain herbs, whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Some additional points worth noting:

  • Red meat taken in small amounts a few times a month
  • Yogurt and cheese are taken in low to moderate amounts
  • Water is preferred, but you can take wine in moderation during meals. A glass for women and one or two glasses a day for men
  • Poultry and fish are the most preferred animal protein sources: Fish can be eaten twice a week, while poultry and eggs should be taken in low to moderate amounts daily or a few times a week.
  • Emphasizes using healthy fats: Olive oil is the preferred source of added fat, replacing other fats and oils. However, you incorporate other healthy fat sources like nuts, avocados, and oily fish like sardines and salmon.

Foods to Limit

In addition to eating healthy food options, it’s important to acquaint yourself with the foods and drinks you must avoid or reduce consumption when on a Mediterranean diet:

  • Refined grains like crackers, white bread, chips, pasta, tortilla
  • Foods or beverages with added sugar, e.g., baked goods, ice cream, soda, table sugar, candies, table syrup
  • Highly processed foods like granola bars and microwave popcorn
  • Trans fats found in fried foods, margarine, and other processed foods
  • Processed meat options like hot dogs, processed sausages, beef jerky
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas
  • Liquor and beer
  • Fruit juices with added sugar

This dietary composition ensures your body has loads of minerals, vitamins, and proteins, minimizing the risk of developing chronic problems like heart disease, cognitive decline, and Type 2 Diabetes.

The U.S. News & World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet as number 1 on its 40 Best Diets in 2022. According to the report, the diet has many health benefits. Its emphasis on eating healthy makes it unique from the usual calorie-restrict diets.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has undoubtedly come a long way. Tracing it back to the Middle Ages, people living along the Mediterranean Basin ate fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, bread, wine, and oil in communities. Although it has been re-invented several times, it provides a blueprint we can follow to protect our bodies from various ailments.


Is the Mediterranean Diet suitable for vegetarians?

Absolutely! The Mediterranean Diet is highly adaptable for vegetarians, focusing on plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains, with olive oil as the main source of fat.

What types of fats are recommended in the Mediterranean Diet?

The diet recommends healthy fats, primarily from olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. These sources provide monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit heart health.

Can I drink alcohol on the Mediterranean Diet?

Moderate consumption of wine, especially red wine, is allowed within the Mediterranean Diet, aligning with its emphasis on enjoying meals and social gatherings. However, moderation is vital, with recommendations typically up to one glass per day for women and up to two for men.

How does the Mediterranean Diet impact diabetes?

The Mediterranean Diet can positively affect blood sugar control due to its focus on fiber-rich foods, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Studies have shown that it may improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Physical activity is an integral part of the Mediterranean lifestyle, complementing the diet for overall health. Regular exercise such as walking, cycling, swimming, and gardening are encouraged to support heart health and well-being.

How can I start following the Mediterranean Diet?

Add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats to your meals. Gradually replace red meat with fish or poultry, and cook with olive oil instead of butter. Embrace meals as a social activity to enjoy with family and friends. At Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine, you’re always treated like family. Whether dining in, ordering takeout, or catering a particular event, we go above and beyond to ensure our food quality and service are impeccable.