Want to lose weight and live longer? Eat Mediterranean!

School Of Nutrition Posted Aug 29, 2013 Future Fit Training

Research continues to demonstrate that eating a Mediterranean diet can enable people to control weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and basically protect against chronic diseases. So what is it about the Mediterranean diet that makes it so healthy?

Want to lose weight and live longer? Eat Mediterranean!

Benefits of a Mediterranean diet – by Victoria Trowse

Research continues to demonstrate that eating a Mediterranean diet can enable people to control weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and basically protect against chronic diseases. So what is it about the Mediterranean diet that makes it so healthy?

The Mediterranean diet is based on what is considered a paradox from the point of view of mainstream nutrition - that although the people living in Mediterranean countries tend to consume relatively high amounts of fat, they have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease than those living in countries with similar levels of fat consumption.[1]   Studies have shown that adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health status, as seen by a significant reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), incidence of mortality from cancer (6%) and incidence of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease (13%).[2]

The traditional Mediterranean diet is characterised by a high intake of olive oil, nuts, vegetables, legumes, fruit and unrefined cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats and sweets plus wine in moderation, consumed with meals.[3] A key characteristic of this diet is the low amount of animal and trans fats. Virgin olive oil, the primary source of fat, along with plant foods and nuts, makes the Mediterranean diet ideal because these fresh foods undergo minimal processing so they are rich in antioxidants, essential micronutrients and fibre [3] [4].

Olive oil is particularly characteristic of the Mediterranean diet. It contains a very high level of monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid, which studies suggest may be linked to a reduction in coronary heart disease risk.[5] There is also evidence that the antioxidants in olive oil regulate cholesterol levels and reduce LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and that it has other anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects.[6] A randomized Spanish trial published in 2013[7] found that individuals on a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or mixed nuts had a 30% reduction in risk of having a major cardiovascular event and a 49% decrease in stroke risk, compared to a low fat diet. Furthermore, the antioxidant properties of olive oil and nuts have also been recently suggested to improve brain cognitive function when compared with a low fat diet.[8]

The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes an abundance of vegetables and fish, both of which contain a substantial amount of diverse polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (omega-3, 6, 9). Several large studies have drawn a correlation between regular PUFA consumption and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.[9][10] Extending this knowledge, comparative studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids and, to a lesser extent

Omega 6, protected the heart from myocardial infarction.[11] In the Lyon Diet Heart Study [12] an omega-3 fatty acid was incorporated into a diet altered to develop a ‘Mediterranean diet’ intervention.The trial reported a 50-70% reduction in cardiovascular mortality. However, since the diet altered many other variables such as fibre and antioxidants (by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption), direct attribution of benefits to omega-3 fatty acids is difficult to establish.

Regular consumption of wine is also an integral element of the Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown that moderate consumption of wine has a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system.[13] The cardio-protective benefits of red and white wines [14] are usually attributed to their phenolic components, which have powerful antioxidant properties.[15] 

Generally, consuming a Mediterranean diet leads to a low glycaemic index diet and a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids, as well as a low intake of trans fatty acids and a high ingestion of dietary fibre, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory factors. It is thought that all this may also help reduce obesity and protect against the development of type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome.[16][17][18]    Similarly, the biological mechanisms for cancer prevention associated with the Mediterranean diet have been related to the favourable effect of a balanced ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, as well as the high amounts of fibre, antioxidants and polyphenols found in fruit, vegetables, olive oil and wine.[19]

In conclusion, adoption of a healthy dietary pattern like the Mediterranean diet, together with physical activity, is the cornerstone in the prevention of chronic diseases. You can embrace the Mediterranean style of eating by making smart food choices. Select whole grains for your breads, cereals and starches. Choose fish, low-fat dairy, poultry, nuts and legumes to satisfy your protein needs. You can include some lean meat as well. Bulk up on vegetables and fruits and, most importantly, reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by replacing butter with olive or canola oil. If you enjoy wine, women can include one serving a day and men can have two servings daily and still meet the recommendations.





1.  Keys A., Menotti A., Karvonen M.J. et al (1986). The diet and 15-year death rate in the Seven Countries Study Am J Epidemiol 124: 903–915.

2. Sofi F., Cesari F., Abbate R., Gensini G.F., Casini A., (2008).  Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis BMJ 337: 1344. 

3. Willett W.C., Sacks F., Trichopoulou A. et al (1995). Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating Am J Clin Nutr 61: 1402S-1406S.

4. Serra-Majem .L, Bes-Rastrollo M., Roman-Vinas B. et al (2009). Dietary patterns and nutritional adequacy in a Mediterranean country Br J Nutr 101: Suppl 2S21–28.

5. Buckland G., Travier N., Barricarte A. et al (2012). Olive oil intake and CHD in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Spanish cohort. Br J Nutr 108: 2075-2082.

6. Covas M.I. (2007). “Olive oil and the cardiovascular system”. Pharmacol. Res. 55 (3): 175–86.

7. Estruch R. et al (2013). "Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet.  N Engl J Med 368: 1279-1290.

8. Martinez-Gonzalez M.A. et al (2013). Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psych 2013

9. Dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E after myocardial infarction: results of the GISSI-Prevenzione trial. Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell’Infarto miocardico. (1999).  Lancet 354: 447–455.

10. Yokoyama M., Origasa H., Matsuzaki M. et al (2007). Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on major coronary events in hypercholesterolaemic patients (JELIS): a randomised open-label, blinded endpoint analysis. Lancet 369: 1090–1098.

11. Nageswari K., Banerjee R., Menon V.P. (1999). Effect of saturated, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids on myocardial infarction. J Nutr Biochem; 10:338–344.

12. de Lorgeril M., Salen P., Martin J.L. et al (1999). Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation 99: 779–785.

13. Di G.R., De L.M., Salen P. et al (2009). Alcohol consumption and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in healthy men and women from 3 European populations. Am J Clin Nutr. 89: 354–362.

14. Mukherjee S., Lekli I., Gurusamy N., Bertelli A.A., Das D.K., (2009). Expression of the longevity proteins by both red and white wines and their cardioprotective components, resveratrol, tyrosol, and hydroxytyrosol. Free Radic Biol Med. 46: 573–578.

15. Micallef M., Lexis L., Lewandowski P., (2007). Red wine consumption increases antioxidant status and decreases oxidative stress in the circulation of both young and old humans. Nutr J. 6: 27.

16. Shai I., Schwarzfuchs D., Henkin Y. et al (2008). Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial (DIRECT) Group. Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. N Engl J Med 359 (3): 229–241.

17. Ajala O., English P., Pinkney J. (2013). Systematic review and meta-analysis of different dietary approaches to the management of type 2 diabetes. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 97 (3): 505–51.

18. Kastorini C.M., Milionis H., Esposito K. et al (2011). The Effect of Mediterranean Diet on Metabolic Syndrome and its Components. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 57 (11): 1299–1313.

19. Giacosa A., Barale R., Bavaresco L. et al (2013). Cancer prevention in Europe: the Mediterranean diet as a protective choice. Eur J Cancer Prev 22(1): 90-5.

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