Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

A delicious Mediterranean eating plan can help protect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer - even help with weight loss.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

When we think of the Mediterranean diet, we picture Europeans leisurely dining on meals of fish, vegetables, fruits, olives, and crusty whole-grain bread dunked in olive oil, along with a glass of wine.

For thousands of years, residents of the Mediterranean coastal region have enjoyed this kind of delicious diet -- high in plant foods and monounsaturated fats (like olive oil) -- while getting plenty of regular physical activity. They don't think of their eating habits as a diet plan; it's simply their way of life. And it's a way of life that apparently leads to long, healthy lives virtually free of chronic disease.

For the past 50 years, scientists have studied the eating patterns characteristic of the Mediterranean diet -- and they continue to find additional health benefits. Recently, a large study published in journal BMJ showed that healthy people who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Further, a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicineshowed that a restricted-calorie Mediterranean diet (as well as a low-carb diet) could be even more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet, while also offering other health benefits.