For Patients & Caregivers
How It Works
The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduction in the incidence of many diseases, but may not be suitable for everyone.
A Mediterranean diet is commonly consumed in regions that border the Mediterranean Sea. It consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and moderate intake of red wine with meals. Epidemiological studies show that the Mediterranean diet is a model of healthy eating that contributes to better health and overall quality of life, and can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, and death.
- Heart disease
Several studies support this use.
- Disease/cancer prevention
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be beneficial in several studies.
- Weight management
Several studies support its use for weight loss.
- Diabetes management
Mediterranean diet was found to be helpful in managing diabetes.
- Cholesterol management
Several studies support this claim.
Do Not Take If
For Healthcare Professionals
The Mediterranean diet is consumed in regions that border the Mediterranean Sea. Epidemiological studies show that it contributes to better health and overall quality of life. It is also an established model of eating for primary and secondary prevention of various chronic diseases. The Mediterranean diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and moderate intake of red wine with meals (1). Olive oil, a monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), comprises 15% to 20% as the major source of dietary fats in this diet (2). Another hallmark is the low consumption of meat and dairy products (3).
Epidemiological analyses suggest that over 90% of type 2 diabetes, 80% of coronary heart disease, and 70% of stroke can be avoided by adopting healthful food choices that model the traditional Mediterranean diet (4).
Although there were no significant associations with reduced bladder cancer risk (11), other large prospective studies found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet resulted in significant reductions for hip fracture incidence (12), risk of sudden cardiac death (13), gastric adenocarcinoma incidence (6) , modest reductions in colorectal cancer risk (14), and overall reduction in cancer risk (7). A randomized controlled trial demonstrated that a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events (10). Conclusions of various meta-analyses also indicate associations between greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet and significant reductions in weight gain (15) (16) as well as risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (8) (9) (15), overall mortality, cancer incidence and mortality, and incidence of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (1). Results from PREDIMED, the largest long-term randomized trial in Spain examining disease and mortality outcomes with the Mediterranean diet, also confirm these findings (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22). Moreover, secondary analyses of PREDIMED suggests that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil confers benefits in the prevention of breast cancer (29), and improves atheroprotective functioning of high-density lipoproteins for individuals at high risk for cardiovascular disease (30). Other studies suggest it can reduce systolic blood pressure, improve endothelial functioning (31), and protect against macular degeneration (32).
Interestingly, a large cross-sectional study identified certain factors that improved adherence to the Mediterranean diet, including female sex, older age, higher levels of physical activity, and moderate alcohol consumption, while poorer adherence was associated with males and obesity (23). However, these results may not be translatable to the general public and may be unique to the culture of the Spanish populations studied.
Cancer patients may have special nutritional needs and should consult a dietician before changing diet. Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of certain cancers (5).
Mechanism of Action
The health benefits of the diet are attributed to the synergistic interactions across nutrients, and not to a single nutrient (1). At the same time, specific activities have been identified to partly explain the cardioprotective and anti-inflammatory effects, including decreases in oxidative stress, inflammation, plasma N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) concentrations, and tumor necrosis factor α (24) (25) . Greater polyphenol intake from lignans, flavonols, and hydroxybenzoic acids found in the Mediterranean diet may be associated with decreased cardiovascular disease risks (26). Extra virgin olive oil, which contains phenolic compounds, vitamin E, and other lipid molecules, also has antiatherogenic effects, improving endothelial function, lipid profiles, insulin sensitivity, glycemic control, and blood pressure levels (17) (27) (28).