Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Greeks who live on the Island of Crete have significantly less heart disease and cancer than Americans.  Research studies suggest it is the Mediterranean diet that may give Cretans their health advantage.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and nuts such as almonds and walnuts.  It has been associated with lower risk of recurrent heart attacks than people who followed the traditional low fat, low cholesterol Step I American Heart Association diet, in which fat intake is less than 30% of daily calories. 

The Mediterranean diet is low in the animal fat of red meat as well as the  hydrogenated fats found in margarine and processed food. Instead, monounsaturated oils such as olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil are used. The diet does recommend limiting fat in general in people trying to lose weight.

The Mediterranean diet also includes up to one glass of red wine for women and up to two glasses per day in men.  However, if you do not already drink red wine, you should not start drinking just to get the benefits to the heart.  Remember that alcohol is addictive, and that the health benefits are lost when more than recommended amounts of alcohol are  consumed.

You may be able to get the same health benefits by drinking purple/red grape juice.  Purple grapes contain Oligomeric Proantho Cyannidins (OPCs) which neutralize free radicals in the body.  This may help prevent cancer and heart disease.

Low fat dairy, including yogurt, is consumed by Greeks in the Mediterranean.  However, like most healthy diets, sweets and processed foods (including tropical oils) are limited.

Nuts are an important part of the Mediterranean Diet because they provide heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Remember that because they are high in fat, no more than a handful of nuts should be eaten daily.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is provided courtesy of

Last updated January 15, 2012 by Dr. Vee