Mediterranean Diet

  • Author:
    Betty Kovacs Harbolic, MS, RD

    Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick Guide12 Reasons to Love the Mediterranean Diet in Pictures

12 Reasons to Love the Mediterranean Diet in Pictures

Why is the Mediterranean diet beneficial to your health?

When trying to understand what the Mediterranean diet does for your health, just remember that "it's what inside that counts." The nutrients and phytonutrients in the foods, beverages, herbs, and seasonings are responsible for the health benefits. These nutrients have benefits ranging from anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antithrombic, and vasodilatory effects.

There are six essential nutrients in our diet: carbohydrates, protein, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals. They are essential because they are needed for your body to function optimally. When you are deficient in any of these, there are negative health consequences. You also need the correct balance of these nutrients for ideal weight and health. The Mediterranean diet gets this right with a high amount of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and high-fiber sources of carbohydrates while it is low in processed foods.

Along with the essential nutrients are phytonutrients (also called phytochemicals). These are not considered essential because there is no deficiency if we don't have them in our diet. But they are very beneficial because having them in our diet enhances our health and helps fight diseases. Phytonutrients are found in plant foods and are there to protect the plants from germs, fungi, bugs, and other threats. There are over 25,000 phytonutrients and possibly more to be discovered. This is the reason you want to eat foods to get these instead of taking them in the form of a supplement. The Mediterranean diet is full of phytonutrients.

So, what does the Mediterranean diet have that other diets don't? Here are the sources of some of the health benefits:


There are two essential fatty acids in our diet; omega-3 (n-3) and omega-6 (n-6). Human beings' diets originally evolved with an equal ratio of n-3 to n-6. That means we consumed an equal amount of each. Over the years, the amount of n-6 in our diets went up to about 20 times the amount of n-3 that we consume. This is important to know because the benefits of n-3 are clear, and many people choose to take a supplement without realizing that not all essential fatty acids work the same or are needed from a supplement.

The research on the benefits of n-3 fatty acids has shown that it can help protect against inflammation, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, arthritis, depression, insulin resistance, obesity, and aging. The Mediterranean diet is high in n-3 food sources. These include salmon, anchovy, sardines, bluefish, herring, mackerel, mullet, sturgeon, and tuna.

Olives and olive oil

The phytonutrients found in olives and olive oil, known as phenolic antioxidants, are linked to neuroprotective effects against cerebral ischemia, spinal cord injury, Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, aging, and peripheral neuropathy. Black olives and extra virgin olive oil have the highest content and need to be used in moderation to control the calories that you are getting from them.


Well-known legumes include green beans, peas, peanuts, soybeans, dry beans, chickpeas, lentils, alfalfa, clover, and broad beans. The majority of legumes contain phytonutrients that are linked to health benefits protecting against numerous diseases or disorders, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and inflammation.


Many people know how good garlic tastes but don't realize how good it is for you. The phytonutrient found in garlic, allicin, has turned out be helpful in acting as an antioxidant, an antimicrobial, for anticancer properties, and as a protectant against cardiovascular disease.


These flower buds from a shrub are used in the popular dishes chicken piccata, spaghetti puttanesca, and eggplant caponata. Few people realize the numerous health benefits of these little buds. Research has linked them to having antimicrobial, anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, anti-diabetic, anti-atherosclerosis, and antiviral properties.

This list goes on and on with all of the herbs, spices, and fresh foods that are consumed in the Mediterranean region. Getting to know the cuisine from the region can give you more ideas on what you can change in your diet.

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