Must Haves When Adopting a Mediterranean-Style Diet

Sean Kelley
By Sean Kelley , MDVIP
November 17, 2022
plate of Mediterranean greens and protein

The food most of us eat could be slowly killing us. The Western diet, laden with sugary processed foods and red meats, is one of the top reasons the American life span had declined  in recent years. This type of diet raises our risk for overall death as well death from heart disease and cancer. 

That said, there’s good news if you’re still eating a Western-style diet: Switching to a Mediterranean-style diet, which involves adding:

  • Legumes
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains to your meals (while swapping red meats for lean protein rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish) 

Of course, you’ll reap more benefits from this style the younger you begin; however, you can still live longer even if you change your diet late in life. 

For example, revamping your dietary habits at age 20 can add more than a decade to your life span. Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet at age 60 can increase your life by eight years. And improving your diet at 80 can mean an extra three years.

You don’t even have to go all in to reap the rewards. Studies show that people who blended a Western diet with Mediterranean-influenced eating still added years to their lives. 

What are Mediterranean diet must-haves?

There is no official Mediterranean diet prescription. Various cultures around the Mediterranean Sea have different approaches but, in general, meals are built around:

  • Leafy greens
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Whole grains

These are daily Mediterranean diet staples.

The diet also consists of lean proteins like chicken. But it’s eaten in moderation as are yogurt, eggs and cheese. And by moderation, we mean a few times a week.

Fish — especially lean varieties that are good sources of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids – are also eaten several times a week. Examples include salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod and tuna.

Meals are prepared with olive oil instead of butter and seasoned with herbs and spices, not iodized salt. Nuts and seeds also are common ingredients 

Sweet foods are not off the diet. However, they come from fruits not sugary confections.

Lastly, red meat is eaten sparingly, and this diet severely limits processed foods, added sugar and refined white flour products like:

  • Flour
  • Rice
  • Bread

Other advantages of Adopting a Mediterranean Lifestyle

The broader Mediterranean lifestyle can also contribute to longevity. Meals are shared, so you can benefit from socializing. Physical activity is prized, and so are activities that minimize stress.

If you’re struggling to make a change to your diet, talk to your primary care doctor. They can help you or connect you with a dietitian. 

Similar Posts
Why Heart Experts Swear by the Mediterranean Diet / Sean Kelley / April 26, 2019
Mediterranean Diet Linked to Slower Aging / Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES / May 13, 2020
Dash Diet for Hypertension Lowers Heart Attack Risk / Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES / July 15, 2021

About the Author
Sean Kelley
Sean Kelley, MDVIP

Sean Kelley, an award-winning health journalist, is director of content for MDVIP.

View All Posts By Sean Kelley
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