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The Mediterranean diet is here to stay

The traditional Mediterranean diet dates back to ancient times (5000-2000 BC) when the key defining ingredients were the trio of wheat, wine and olive oil, as well as wild edible leafy greens and legumes. In more recent times, this dietary pattern has come to include a broad range of colourful fruits and vegetables including citrus fruits, tomatoes, chillies, eggplants, and potatoes which were introduced from South America to Europe in the 1500s by explorers such as Christopher Columbus.

The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet, incorporating a wide range of colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil

The traditional Archetypal Cretan Mediterranean diet was first described in the scientific literature by Ancel Keys and co-workers who investigated the link between diet and lifestyle behaviours and death from heart disease and all causes in the 7 countries study1 – the researchers found that the group from Crete had almost no deaths from heart disease after 15 years of follow-up which this was linked to their plant-based olive oil rich diet.

The traditional Mediterranean diet is described as a plant-based diet, with a plant to animal food ratio (by weight) of 4:1 – a typical Western diet has a plant to animal food ratio of 1:1. This dietary pattern is abundant in…

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens and tomatoes
  • Rich in legumes which are a key source of protein
  • Moderate in dairy with fermented dairy foods such as yoghurt and feta cheese enjoyed most days
  • Extra virgin olive oil is the main added fat and enjoyed in all cooked and fried meals and salads
  • Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are often eaten as snacks in between meals
The traditional Mediterranean diet also includes some fish, while meat, wine and sweets are only consumed in small amounts, if at all.  

Legumes are a key source of protein in the Mediterranean diet

The traditional Mediterranean diet is now the most researched dietary pattern worldwide and a recent ‘umbrella’ review of 13 meta-analyses of observational studies and 16 meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials investigating the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and 37 different health outcomes (covering more than 12.8 million people), has shown that adherence to a Mediterranean diet is protective against deaths from all causes, and from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, some cancers, neurodegenerative diseases and Alzheimer’s and other dementias2.

The Mediterranean dietary pattern was recently awarded the best diet of 2021 by the US News and World Report3. The review analysed 39 different diets and found the Mediterranean diet was the best diet for healthy eating, also emerging as the best plant-based diet, best diet for diabetes and easiest diet to follow.

The Mediterranean dietary pattern has recently been awarded the accolade of best diet of 2021 

How can we all enjoy a more Mediterranean diet?

The following 8 steps include the key foods and ingredients of a Mediterranean diet that can easily be incorporated into any eating style.

  1. Extra virgin olive oil as the main added fat
  2. Vegetables and salads with every meal >400g per day
  3. Legumes two-three times per week 100g each serve
  4. Whole grain breads
  5. Fresh fruit everyday
  6. Fermented dairy every day: yoghurt, kefir
  7. Nuts everyday – 30g per day
  8. Meat and poultry - if you choose to include, eat sparingly, increase meat-free days and pack your plate with plants.

So why not give the Mediterranean diet a go! It’s easier than you think. Check out this collection of Mediterranean recipes that will be a delicious explosion of flavour for your taste buds.

Want more information? Our nutrition fact sheets, created by accredited dietitians, provide the latest nutrition and lifestyle information to help you understand which foods are the best to eat. Click here to see the diabetes type 2 nutrition fact sheet.

Written by Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos, APD phD & Dr Hannah Mayr, AUSMED Heart Trial Research Group. Reproduced with permission from GLNC. View the original article here.

  1. Keys et al. The Diet and 15-year death rate in the Seven Countries Study. Am. J. Epidemiol. 1986. 124 (6):903-15
  2. Mayr, H., Tierney, A. C., Kucianski, T., Thomas, C. J., & Itsiopoulos, C. (2019). Australian patients with coronary heart disease achieve high adherence to 6-month Mediterranean diet intervention: preliminary results of the AUSMED Heart Trial. Nutrition, 61, 21-31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2018.10.027
  3. US News & World Report. 2021. U.S. News Reveals Best Diets Rankings for 2021 https://www.usnews.com/info/blogs/press-room/articles/2021-01-04/us-news-reveals-best-diet-rankings-for-2021