Mediterranean Diet Benefits | Mediterranean Diet GROCERY LIST & Mediterranean Diet MEAL PLAN


When I first moved to a city with my family, I remember that I was super excited about drinking coca-cola eating sweets and ice creams, pizza and burgers. Before that we lived in a village quite isolated and did not have access to all of those that we do today. As a teenager, I would use my money to eat outside of the home environment and specifically I would eat food high in sugars, most of the social outings with my friends included food and I did struggle with weight and body image. I was never overweight though but I think that was mainly because when I was eating at home the food was made with simple fresh ingredients so I was balancing the unhealthy choices of eating out with the healthier ones when I was eating in the house. I remember my mom would cook in the evenings after she would come back from work and we would have a meal after school for a couple of days or maybe more, something that today we call meal planning. I moved to the UK a few years ago and lived there for almost nine years. I was cooking while I was a student but I became really unbalanced when I started working. I would work for hours on end not because I was asked to but because I really liked my job and I wanted to do the best that I could. That took a toll on me a couple of years later. I was surprised actually it took so long to be honest maybe because I was in my 20s and the body is more resilient then.

After that I started studying and learning about how food choices affect health and performance. I got certified as a health coach and in 2018 I attended a nutrition course in a Greek university here in my hometown of Thessaloniki. I got interested in the science of food and learned more about the principles of the mediterranean diet. So this is just to say living in one of the mediterranean countries does not mean that you are healthier because we are affected by globalization, marketing and being time poor does not help either. However, time and time again the Mediterranean diet comes as one of the best lifestyles to follow for well-being and longevity. I think the interesting thing about this diet is the focus on local and seasonal ingredients and the fact that no food is actually evil, especially when it comes to carbs. Nowadays, carbs are being vilified but constantly people that consume low animal products and high whole food products and fresh fruit and vegetables tend to have better health and performance results. A study published in the lancet public health studied 15,400 us-based individuals these individuals filled out questionnaires on the food and drink they consumed along with portion sizes. After following the group for an average of 25 years researchers found that those who got 50-55% of their energy from carbohydrates had a slightly lower risk of death compared with the lower and high carb groups. So, in this documentary type of video, I have asked two of my friends from the dietetics industry to help present how the Mediterranean diet looks how we can easily follow it in order to improve our health and performance. We have also prepared a Mediterranean Meal Plan sample with a Mediterranean Shopping List that I will let you know how to get at the end of this video.


What are the biggest misconceptions people have about the mediterranean diet?

Myth #1 - The Mediterranean diet is all about pizza pasta and cheese.

If you think of the most famous dishes of Italy maybe yes, pizza and pasta are the winners. However, there are many countries and food cultures that fall under the mediterranean umbrella and the countries that encompass the mediterranean sea and play a role in the Mediterranean diet are Greece the southern parts of Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Morocco and several others.

Myth #2 - One of the biggest misconceptions people have about the mediterranean diet is that it is really high in carbs and that wine is a mandatory daily ritual.

People worry that they will gain weight following this diet and tend to turn to other diets that are low in carbs. In reality there is emphasis on carbohydrates that come from fruits and vegetables as well as whole grain sources such as beans and legumes. Approximately, 30 percent of the diet contain as main sources being extra virgin olive oil, olives, nuts and fatty fish. However even in the Mediterranean we are seeing the majority of population deviating from the structure of the diet. As we mentioned before there are various countries around the Mediterranean sea which of course don't follow the same habits as a result of different cultures and traditions. For example people in northern Italy or France more commonly use lard or butter in cooking which keeps their diets balanced toward more saturated fats than you see in southern Italy or Greece where people use extra virgin olive oil. In general the part of the Mediterranean lifestyle that promotes better health was inspired by Crete, the largest Greek Island and of course other areas of Greece plus Spain morocco and southern Italy.

Myth #3 - Drinking as much wine as you want is heart healthy. Of course not, wine certainly has unique health benefits for your heart but to stay on the health side, if your doctor approves, enjoy a glass of wine with your meal once per day. Frequently drinking, more than two glasses of wine per day can be really bad for your heart and not only your heart.

What does the Mediterranean diet consist of?

The traditional Mediterranean diet is primarily but not exclusively a plant-based diet it allows for a low consumption of meat and animal products, fermented dairy, and moderate consumption of fish. The Mediterranean diet term was going back in the 1960s by Enzo Keys and his team when they tried to describe the dietary model followed by people in the Mediterranean diet countries included in the seven countries study. The seven countries study was the first study that tried to relate diet with cardiovascular diseases. The countries included in the seven countries study were USA, Finland, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Former Yugoslavia and Japan. In 1993 a team of scientists from Harvard University created the pyramid of the Mediterranean diet as we know it today. In 2013 UNESCO added the Mediterranean diet to its representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

The Mediterranean diet is also linked with longevity as it is shown in the blue zones project people from villages with the highest longevity come from different parts of the world and they are from Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Loma Linda in California. The mediterranean diet is based on what people ate in Greece and Italy. Back in the 1960s researchers noticed that people in these two countries lived longer and had significantly less occurrences of diseases that resulted from poor lifestyle. Obviously in the 1960s people used to live differently to how they lived today in 2011, a review was published in public health nutrition journal that adjusted the Mediterranean diet pyramid to meet the needs of the current populations. The Mediterranean diet pyramid includes three levels depending on the frequency of consumption of these foods. At the bottom, there are foods that should be consumed daily while at the top are those that should be consumed infrequently and in small quantities. You will notice that plant-based foods are recommended for daily, high in proportion and frequency consumption, as they provide key nutrients, fiber, protective substances that promote well-being satiety and are responsible for the prevention of many chronic diseases and for weight control.

The three main meals should contain three basic elements which can be also found throughout the day, grains one or two servings per meal in the form of bread, pasta, rice, couscous and others preferably whole grains since some valuable nutrients and fiber can be lost during processing. Grains are also low in fat and help the proper function of the intestine and reduce cholesterol. Vegetables should be present at lunch and dinner and one or two servings per meal should be included. At least one of the servings should be raw fruits, and they should be chosen as the most frequent dessert. Both fruits and vegetables are good source of antioxidants and many vitamins and they act protectively against cardiovascular disease and various forms of cancer. Also a daily intake of 1.5 to 2 liters of water should be guaranteed, non-sugar rich herbal infusions and broths can also count towards the requirements, dairy products are recommended in the form of yogurt cheese and other fermented dairy products as they contribute to bone health but they can also be an important source of saturated fat. Olive oil is located at the center of the pyramid it should be the principal source of dietary lipids because of its high nutritional quality. Spices, herbs, garlic and onions are a good way to introduce a variety of flavours and palatability to dishes and contribute to the reduction of salt. Additionally, olives, nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fiber and certain reasonable consumptions can be great snack choices. Wine or alcohol in general is optional and it depends on individuals needs and beliefs.

Weekly fish (two or more servings), white meat (two servings) and eggs (two to four servings) are good sources of animal protein. Fish and shellfish are also a good source of healthy proteins and lipids. Consumption of red meat (less than two servings, preferably lean cuts) and processed meats (less than one serving) should be in smaller quantity and frequency. The combination of legumes (more than two servings) and cereals are a healthy protein and lipid source. Potatoes are also included in this group, as they are a part of many traditional recipes with meat and fish (three or less servings per week, preferably fresh potatoes).

In the vertex of the pyramid are represented the sugary and unhealthy fats rich foods (the sweets). Sugar, candies, pastries and beverages such as sweetened fruit juices and soft drinks, should be consumed in small amounts and left for special occasions.

The Mediterranean diet is not limited to what you eat but it is more of a holistic approach that takes into consideration lifestyle and cultural elements which is the innovative part of this pyramid. These elements include moderation in portion sizes which should be based on frugality adapting energy needs to urban and modern sedentary lifestyles. Socialization, sitting around the table and serving food in the company of family and friends is a social support and gives a sense of community. Cooking should be an important activity that takes the proper time and space. Cooking can be relaxing and fun and you can do it with your family and friends. Seasonality, biodiversity, eco-friendliness, traditional and local food products are presented at the bottom of the pyramid to highlight how the new revised modern Mediterranean diet is compatible with the development of a sustainable diet model for the present and future Mediterranean generations. Regular practice of moderate physical activity at least 30 minutes throughout the day is a basic complement of the diet for balancing energy intake for healthy body weight maintenance and for many other health benefits. Walking, taking the stairs versus the lift, house work are simple and easy ways of practicing activities. Resting is also a part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

What are the health benefits of following a Mediterranean diet and its role in disease prevention?

In a 2018 study of Estruch and others that was published in the new England Journal of Medicine more than 7,000 individuals with high risk of heart disease followed either a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with added nuts, or a low fat control group. The study lasted four years and eight months and the main focus was on diet's potential effects on heart attack stroke and death from cardiovascular causes. The results showed that the risk of combined heart attacks stroke and death from heart disease was lowered by 31% in those that followed the Mediterranean diet with additional olive oil and 28% in those that followed the Mediterranean diet with additional nuts.

In a 2008 study of Shai and others that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, 322 people with obesity followed either a calorie-restricted low fat diet, calorie-restricted Mediterranean diet, or an unrestricted low carb diet. The results showed that the low fat group lost 6.4 pounds (2.9 kg), the low carb group lost 10.3 pounds (4.7 kg), and the Mediterranean diet group lost 9.7 pounds (4.4 kg). In those with diabetes, blood glucose and insulin levels improved on the Mediterranean diet, compared with the low fat diet. A Mediterranean diet may be more effective than a low fat diet for weight loss and managing diabetes.

In a 2018 study of Vassilaki and others that was published in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 278 participants over 70 years old that at the time of the questionnaire completion were cognitively unimpaired filled out the Food Frequency Questionnaire and 3.5 years later underwent PET imaging. What the study showed is that participants that either followed a Mediterranean diet or ate higher portions of vegetables were less likely to have elevated levels of amyloid deposition in the brain. Amyloid is a protein that is found in elevated levels in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

There are a lot of studies on the benefits of Mediterranean diet and you are free to look through them via Google Scholar (show). Some of them are free and some of them you will need to have a paid access to.


Is Mediterranean diet friendly for the environment?

The recommendations in the Mediterranean Diet are not limited to what you eat but also focuses on the sources of what you consume. There is a significant emphasis on locally grown and produced ingredients, thus reducing the burden caused by the long distance transportation. The animal based products are in modest amounts as the majority of the ingredients in this diet should be plant based and minimally processed which tend to be prepackaged. In 2010, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization report on sustainability and biodiversity recommended the Mediterranean Diet as a model for a sustainable diet, and in 2013, a research in Spain studying the current Spanish diet and the Mediterranean in comparison with a diet that follows western dietary patterns determined that adherence to the Mediterranean diet would reduce:

  • greenhouse gas emissions by 72%

  • land use by 58%

  • energy consumption by 52% and

  • water consumption by 33%

According to this study following western dietary patterns requires more resource from the environment to meet the needs.

Can someone with a vegetarian or a vegan lifestyle follow it?

Starting from the base of the mediterranean pyramid you will first find the high consumption of food from plant sources including all grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Second you will see the emphasis on the variety of minimally processed seasonally fresh, locally grown foods and of course extra virgin olive oil as the main daily fat. But as you go up you will find a daily consumption of low to moderate amounts of dairy products, mainly cheese and yogurt after that you will see a twice per week consumption of low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry and up to 7 eggs per week. On the top is red meat only few times monthly. So, if your lifestyle requires diet choices without meat or animal products just look for other sources of protein more congenital to your ethics. Instead of dairy you can choose soy milk, coconut, nut milk, instead of meat choose legumes, soy, tofu, quinoa, seeds.

Although, plant-based products are incomplete meaning that its ingredient does not contain all the 12 amino acids, a combination of plant-based protein sources can cover the amount of the 12 amino acids you need. Of course as a vegan or a vegetarian you must check your iron and B12 levels and if you needed to add supplements to your diet regime. Consumption of vitamin C with your plant-based sources of iron helps increase the amount of iron that is absorbed from these foods. In conclusion the Mediterranean diet generally supports a lifestyle by paying attention to the food quality, promoting working out frequently, and helping you control your consumption levels. It also recommends serving our meals accompanied by friends and family. After all I strongly believe that a vegan or a vegetarian would benefit a lot if they follow the mediterranean diet.

Is it appropriate for athletes?

Athlete's requirements in complex carbohydrates is quite high and you can find that the Mediterranean diet is all about high complex carbohydrates such as beans and legumes. These foods alongside fruit and vegetables, oily fish and healthy fats create meals that slow down the digestive system sustaining one's energy level for a long time which is great for athletes. In the Mediterranean diet a variety of protein sources is recommended which is important for repairing damaged muscle cells after strenuous workouts.