What Are the Pros and Cons of the Mediterranean Diet?
Let's cruise the Mediterranean (diet) ins and outs.
Over the years, you've likely heard about the Mediterranean diet. This eating style typically includes fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts, beans, legumes, whole grains and a moderate amount of red wine and dairy. Some people claim it is the ideal way of eating. But what are the actual pros and cons of the Mediterranean diet? Let's start with the pros — there are many!
Pro: The Mediterranean diet can help reduce disease risk
In a much-cited study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers followed 7,447 people and found that eating a Mediterranean diet, plus nuts or extra-virgin olive oil, strongly benefited heart health. "This study found that following a Mediterranean diet resulted in an absolute risk reduction of major cardiovascular events, from coronary heart disease to stroke," says Maya Feller, MS, RD, a dietitian in Brooklyn, New York, and author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook. Other research, published in The Journals of Gerontology, connects the Mediterranean diet with a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer.
Pro: Eating Mediterranean helps the planet
Every day is Earth Day when you eat more plants! In the past 50 years, says Feller, the Mediterranean diet has become associated not only with heart health but also with promoting sustainability. In fact, new research suggests that trading in meat for plant alternatives would result in a 35% to 50% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.
Pro: The Mediterranean diet can help your memory
Eating a Mediterranean-style diet may help decrease your chances of developing dementia, according to a study published in PLoS One. In the research, eating fish was particularly tied to cognitive health.
"When eating seafood, opt for responsibly harvested, low-mercury seafood when possible," advises Feller. "High levels of mercury in the diet can act as an endocrine disruptor." Low-mercury options include salmon, cod, tilapia and sardines.
Con: You don't get to consume unlimited amounts of red meat and alcohol
This is really the only "negative" to the Mediterranean diet! But it's really a positive, because limiting these foods is beneficial for your health. Regularly eating red meat, especially processed red meat, was linked with a higher chance of death in a study published in BMJ.
Ready to eat Mediterranean? Give these recipes a try:
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She's a regular contributor to many publications, including EverydayHealth.com, ReadersDigest.com, NBCNews.com, and more. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy's Eat List, where she shares easy, healthy recipes. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.