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The Mediterranean Diet and Good Health

mediterranean foods In the 1950s, studies found that adults living in the Mediterranean (Crete, part of Greece, Southern Italy, and other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea) were living longer than people in other parts of the world. They also found that the rates of coronary artery disease (CAD), some cancers, and other health problems due to diet were low.

Their health did not seem to be because their health services were better. Instead, their dietary patterns were found to be the cause of their good health. These patterns share features that have been linked with low rates of diseases and long lives in many studies done around the world.

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

Mediterranean people eat:

How it Compares to the American Diet

Americans tend to eat:

  • Animal products daily, as main source of protein
  • Mostly white starches
  • Moderate to low amounts of fruits and veggies
  • High amounts of saturated and trans fats

Unlike the American diet, the Mediterranean diet is high in fiber and low in saturated fat. It is not low in total fat. But, the types of fats in it are healthy monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil. These fats do not raise cholesterol.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

The pyramid is arranged this way:

  • Along the base is daily exercise and eating meals with friends and family.
  • The next layer is food that should be eaten daily, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes and seeds, and herbs and spices.
  • The layer above has fish and seafood. These should be eaten more often (at least 2 times per week).
  • The second layer from the top has poultry and eggs. Eat these every 2 days or once per week. Cheese and yogurt are also in this layer, which should be eaten daily to weekly.
  • The final layer has meats and sweets, which should be eaten less often.

Water and wine are on the side of the pyramid. Drink plenty of water. Limit wine to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.

Health Benefits

Eating this way may:

Other things can also affect these benefits, such as lifestyle factors or the environment.

Tips for Mediterranean Eating

Here are some tips to help you get started eating this way:

Habit Changes

This diet is a healthful and pleasing change from the foods most Americans eat. But other habits are just as important, such as exercising and having a strong social support system.


The American Heart Association

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


Canadian Digestive Health Foundation

Dietitians of Canada


Mediterranean diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 21, 2020. Accessed February 12, 2020.

Mediterranean diet. American Heart Association website. Available at Updated January 9, 2020. Accessed February 12, 2020.

Last reviewed November 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN