The Mediterranean Diet is inspired by the cuisines, culinary traditions and dietary patterns of Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece. The menu is based on wholegrain products, plenty of fruits and vegetables, seafood, and olive oil.

The Food Pyramid

The Mediterranean Diet Food Pyramid is often used as a guide to the culinary and eating patterns to follow. Whole grain breads and pasta as well as fruits and vegetables occupy the base of the pyramid. Foods such as olive oil, seafood, and fish can be consumed liberally but less often than whole grains and vegetables. The consumption of red meat should be limited, but dieters can have poultry. Moderate consumption of wine is allowed.

Health Benefits

There are many health benefits and one is that the menu features products that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They are beneficial in that omega-3s lower high blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Consumption reduces the risk for second heart attack and other life-threatening conditions. Dieters also consume foods that are rich in fiber, potassium, and monounsaturated oils. Monounsaturated oils reduce the risk for stroke, heart disease, and breast cancer. Reduced cholesterol levels and healthy heart are major benefits. The consumption of foods that are rich in monounsaturated fats also aids weight loss. Persons with high blood pressure also benefit from following the Mediterranean Diet.

Saturated Fat

The diet is low in saturated fat (about 7 - 8 percent of the total calorie intake) which is an added benefit. Examples of foods that contain saturated fat are sausages, salami, bacon, butter, and milk. Dairies and fatty meats are the primary sources. The problem with saturated fat is that consumption increases the risk for strokes and heart attacks. A diet that limits the consumption of red meat and dairies helps reduce cholesterol levels and the risk for cardiovascular problems, obesity, colon and breast cancer, and other health issues. A healthy diet is one that recommends a modest consumption of fat (about 25 percent). Saturated fat should be about 30 percent of the total intake which is equal to the amount dieters eat. They consume dairies but mostly in the form of low-fat milk.

The Mediterranean Menu and Depression

The menu is also ideal for people who suffer from depression. In fact, people who eat foods that are rich in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids are at a lower risk for depression. Their BDNF levels are higher. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is a type of protein that regulates different functions of the brain. Low levels can lead to depression, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and other disorders. The Mediterranean menu has a positive effect on mood disorders, depression, and other cognitive and health problems. One reason is that the diet recommends eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with moderate consumption of alcohol. Plant-based food and wine contain polyphenols with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In the view of researchers, another explanation is the fact that the combination of foods in the menu is more beneficial than its components.

Alcohol Consumption

Dieters drink wine with meals. Wine helps increase good cholesterol, thus preventing cardiovascular problems. According to healthcare professionals, red wine is heart healthy because polyphenols reduce the risk of artery damage by protecting the lining of the arteries. Resveratrol is a substance in red wine that helps prevent the formation of blood clots, lowers bad cholesterol levels, and reduces the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other problems. These findings were reported as part of a preliminary research on mice. Some studies have shown that resveratrol is associated with a lower risk for blood clotting and inflammations.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that people who consume fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, and olive oil, and drink wine are at a reduced risk of stroke and heart attack.

Similarities with the AHA Diet

According to the American Heart Association, the Mediterranean cuisine is close to its recommendations although there are some differences. For example, AHA recommends a lower fat intake than the amount consumed by followers of the Mediterranean Diet.

Issues and Considerations

One of the main issues is that some types of fish are high in mercury. Examples include shark, king mackerel, and tilefish. They are the highest in mercury. Other fish species such as Chilean sea bass and grouper are in the midrange category. Fishes that are safe to eat include sardine, haddock, Pollock, and herring. Another problem is that cooking fresh takes more time. People with busy work schedules and many responsibilities find this diet difficult to follow.

The menu is not suitable for patients with iron deficiency. Thalassemia or Mediterranean anemia is more common among people of Asian, Greek, and Italian descent. The symptoms of thalassemia include irritability, shortness of breath, fatigue, and others. The reason for this is the abnormal level of hemoglobin.

The Mediterranean Cuisine and Meals

Dieters can choose from different healthy and tasty meals such as fresh tomato crostini, Mediterranean pasta salad, creamy Panini, chickpea patties, seafood grill with skordalia, and many others. They contain heart healthy ingredients such as olive oil, garlic, feta cheese, and red onion that are loaded with fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Salads made with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh vegetables are light and delicious. They are packed with vitamin C and are low in calories.