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Principles of the Mediterranean diet

Food pyramid | Red wine in the diet | Foods to avoid | Dietary Benefits | Sample menus

This Mediterranean diet is a balanced and nutritious diet followed by  such populations as the French, Italians, Spanish and Greek as well as the general countries around the north eastern Mediterranean basin of southern Europe. These populations have definitely shown a lower rate of heart disease amongst them. The Mediterranean diet is considered to be a high fat diet, but how can people from these  countries enjoy an excellent state of health when 40% of their daily energetic requirements come from the intake of fats?

Studies indicate that besides the actual quantity, the quality of fats in play a determining role in overall health. The most common feature of most Mediterranean populations is the extensive use of olive oil as a principal source of fat. Olive oil  substitutes for the saturated animal fats so typical in northern European cuisine.

More importantly, the overall calorie intake must be taken into consideration. People can lose or maintain weight while on a Mediterranean diet given that the amount of calories is adjusted to reach or maintain a desirable weight.

Mediterranean diet foods & pyramid

Fruits grains and vegetables in the Mediterranean diet

The traditional diet among some Mediterranean countries includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice, for example, residents of Greece eat very little red meat and average nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

In the Mediterranean diet pyramid, Grains in the Mediterranean region typically contain very few unhealthy trans fats, and bread is an important part of the diet there. However, throughout the Mediterranean region, bread is eaten without butter or margarines, which contain saturated fat or trans fats.

Olive oil, canola oil and nuts in the Mediterranean diet

Olive oil is the principal fat in the Mediterranean diet pyramid. It is a monounsaturated fat that lowers ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels and raises the good HDL levels. Olive oils antioxidants also keep LDL from damaging arteries with plaque. It helps reduce blood pressure and regulates blood sugar, and is known as the longevity food. In the Mediterranean diet pyramid, all types of olive oil provide monounsaturated fat, but "extra-virgin" or "virgin" oil are the least processed forms, and so contain the highest levels of the protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.

The Mediterranean diet includes nuts which are high in fat — up to 80 percent of their calories — but tree nuts, including walnuts, pecans, almonds and hazel nuts, are low in saturated fat. Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts provide an easily accessible and highly nutritious food during cold winter months, when other food sources were scarce. For the best nutrition, avoid honey-roasted or heavily salted nuts. The Mediterranean diet pyramid places nuts in the same category as fruits, vegetables, beans, and other healthful plant-based foods.


Less than 15% is red meat and generally consumed on a monthly basis rather than on a regular weekly basis. Fish on the other hand is far more important, although it is more and more difficult to get fish that has not been contaminated by pollution in the sea and rivers, fish is a source of omega3 fatty acids that protect against heart attacks.

Fish consumption has long been recognized as important in keeping blood vessels in a healthy state. Protective effects and benefits of omega-3 fatty acids amongst others,  docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid.

Mechanisms of benefit for omega-3 fatty acids are under investigation. Several studies have shown that in addition to lowering triglycerides and providing a possible anti-inflammatory effect, omega-3 fatty acids improve parameters of autonomic function, including heart rate variability.

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Red wine in the Mediterranean diet

The key is moderation, with a doze of 2 small glasses of red wine for men and one glass of red win e for women per day. In France and Italy people enjoy enjoy a glass or a bottle of red wine with their meals and this can help reduce the risk of heart attack by up to 50% according to various studies. You should always check these facts with your doctor to see if they suite you and your physical condition. Red wine, not white, can increase the good cholesterol and fight off LDL, the bad one. This 4,000 year old remedy does contain antioxidants that can help substantially to reduce the blood’s tendency to clot. A garlic and red wine combination offers even more health benefits. The health effects of alcohol have been debated for many years, and some doctors are reluctant to encourage alcohol consumption because of the health consequences of excessive drinking. However, light intake of alcohol is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

Red wine has an aspirin-like effect, reducing the blood's ability to clot, and also contains antioxidants. The Mediterranean diet typically includes some red wine, but this should be consumed only in moderation.

If you are unable to limit your alcohol intake to the amounts defined above, you have a personal or family history of alcohol abuse, or you have liver disease, refrain from drinking wine or any other alcohol. Keep in mind that red wine may also trigger migraines in some people.

Herbs and dairy products in the Mediterranean diet

 These also contribute to health as they contain many essential essences. They also enhance the taste of food greatly but do try to buy organic herbs which have not been sprayed with chemicals. I love scattering fresh dill on top of my tomatoes together with a little sea salt. I do the same with fresh thyme which I love above all herbs. Medicinally, thyme was a good all-round cure in Nicholas Culpeper's day, used as a digestive and for whooping cough and hangovers, as a purge for catarrh and for any lung-connected illnesses. Today as a tisane, it is still considered beneficial for coughs and digestion.

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Does the time that I eat influence weight gain?

Steaming, boiling, raw, ohitashi, nishime, nitsuke, kinpira, sukiyaki, nabe, oven baking, baking in a pressure cooker, tempura, frying.

Foods to stay away from

Trans-fatty acids are produced when vegetable oils undergo a hydrogenation process. In the United States, these partially hydrogenated oils have gradually replaced animal fat in the diet because they are less expensive and provide longer shelf life for many products. However, trans-fatty acids increase the risk of CAD at least as much as saturated fat.

Margarine accounts for between 20% and 30% of trans-fatty acid intake in the United States, with the remainder coming from shortening, baked goods, chips, fried fast food, and other junk food. Trans-fatty acids increase LDL-C levels to the same extent as saturated fat; the difference is that trans-fatty acid intake also decreases HDL-C levels, whereas saturated fat typically raises them.

Does the time that I eat influence weight gain?

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Several large studies have found a relationship between intake of trans-fatty acids and risk of CAD. It appears that long-term CAD risk is more than doubled in persons who consume a diet high in trans-fatty acids.

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Benefits : Mediterranean diet

Studies indicate the Mediterranean diet lowers risk of CAD - coronary artery disease

Olive oil may have a cardioprotective effect studies indicate, by lowering blood pressure, inhibiting oxidation of LDL-C, providing antithrombotic effects, and improving insulin sensitivity. A recent randomized double-blind study found that olive oil reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension; the improvement was enough to allow for a 50% decrease in antihypertensive drug dosage.

The strong taste of extra-virgin olive oil is partly caused by the presence of significant quantities of flavonoids, which are polyphenolic antioxidants that have been shown to inhibit LDL-C oxidation. Foods rich in flavonoids (including berries, apples, onions, tea, and red wine) are also part of the Mediterranean diet.

Consumption of alcohol, notably red wine in moderation is suggest to protect against CAD? A substantial portion of the protection may be attributable to increased levels of HDL-C. Alcohol also has an antiplatelet effect that may protect against cardiac events in much the same way as aspirin.

In the GISSI-Prevenzione study, a 3 1/2-year trial involving more than 11,000 patients, a supplement containing 850 mg of omega-3 fatty acids decreased the risk of sudden cardiac death by 45% and improved all-cause mortality by 20%, even in patients who were already receiving standard therapies (including beta-blockers, 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitors, and aspirin).

In general the Mediterranean diet has shown its beneficial effect on human health  and is attributable to its low in content in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat, mainly from olive oil, high in complex carbohydrates, from legumes, and high in fibre, mostly from vegetables and fruits. The high content of vegetables, fresh fruits, cereals and olive oil, guarantee a high intake of b-carotene, vitamins C and E, polyphenols and various important minerals. These key elements have been suggested to be responsible for the beneficial effect of diet on human health, and especially cardiovascular disease

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Example menus and meals

Mediterranean diet food is more of a style of eating rather than a prescribed menu for a period of time like many of the fad diets. Instead of very quick, unsustainable weight loss, the Mediterranean diet food plan will help you lose weight and keep it off for life. Mediterranean diet food can be eaten indefinitely because it is delicious, exciting, diverse and healthy.

Mediterranean diet menu : Marinated Shrimp kebab - 4 servings requiring 4 skewers

Prep Time: 35 Minutes, Cook Time: 15 Minutes, Total Time: 50 Minutes
* 16 Peeled Jumbo Shrimps
* 12 Cherry Tomatoes
* 12 Onion cubes (1 inch square)
* 4 Oz. Lemon & Herb Dressing and Marinade
In a glass bowl mix the Shrimp with 4 ounces of  Lemon & Herb marinade. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Divide ingredients and skewer, and then grill on hot charcoal. Baste while cooking one side for about 8 minutes, then turn the Kebab over and grill for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve with whole grain rice or salad

Mediterranean diet menu : Grilled Asparagus and Tomato salad with shrimp - Serves 4

Prep Time: 10 minutes, Cook Time: 10 minutes, Total Time: 20 minutes
* 4 Plum Tomatoes, cut in half
* 12 pieces Asparagus
* 8 medium Shrimp, peeled
* 4 ounces Lemon & Herb Dressing & Marinade
BBaste vegetables and Shrimp with 2 ounces of  Lemon & Herb Dressing. Open flame grill them for 5 minutes on each side. Remove to cutting board and cut them into 1/2 inch pieces. Toss all ingredients with 2 ounces of  Lemon & Herb dressing. Serve on a large platter.

Mediterranean diet menu : Grilled iceberg salad with walnuts - Serves 4

Prep Time: 5 minutes, Cook Time: 5 minutes, Total Time: 10 minutes
* 1 Head Iceberg Lettuce, cut in quarters
* 2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
* 2 ounces  Famous Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
* 2 ounces Extra Virgin Olive Oil
* 1 Tsp dried Dill
* 1 ounce  Walnut Halves, chopped
Baste lettuce with  Olive Oil. Open flame grill one side for 3 minutes then turn over and grill the other side until the lettuce is wilted. Place on flat plate and sprinkle with crumbled gorgonzola cheese, dried dill, chopped walnuts and  Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing. Serve on flat plate
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