The Mediterranean diet focuses on the traditional eating habits of people in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece and Italy. These countries have a low incidence of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer, and have a high life expectancy compared to other industrialized nations.
This diet appears to be healthier than the North European and American diets because meals are plant based, and feature grains such as spaghetti, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and olive oil, while red meat is consumed sparingly. In this diet as much as 40% of total calories come from fat. However the main source of fat is from olive oil, a monosaturated fat that does not have the same cholesterol raising effects as saturated fats, and it is also a potent antioxidant. In a typical meal a vegetable is the featured dish with fish, poultry or meat as a side.
Other characteristics of the Mediterranean diet include:
* Main sources of food come from fruits, vegetables, breads and grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Consumption of processed food is kept to a minimum.
* Total dietary fat should range from less than 25 percent to over 35 percent of energy, with saturated fat no more than 7 to 8 percent of total calories.
* Red meat is included in only one meal per month.
* Eat low to moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt daily.
* Consume low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry weekly, and limit eggs from zero to four servings per week.
* Drink a moderate amount of wine with meals, about one to two glasses per day.
* Eat fresh fruits as dessert and limit high sugar sweets and desserts that are high in saturated fat.
* Incorporate regular physical activity at a level which promotes a healthy weight, fitness and well-being