Health experts are frequently touting the benefits of the “Mediterranean diet,” and with good reason: People prone to this way of eating tend to have better heart health, better brain health and greater longevity overall. A large, randomized Spanish study published online today provides solid evidence that the diet can seriously reduce heart attacks, stroke and death, even among high-risk groups like smokers and diabetics.
But though the term “Mediterranean diet” is tossed around frequently these days, it generally comes with little explanation. Something about fish, something about wine, something about nuts. Add olive oil and stir. Have further questions? Consult elsewhere.
Unlike commercial diet plans or those geared around some half-credible hook (the blood type diet, for instance), the Mediterranean diet actually doesn’t include an extensive set of rules. This is because no one “created” the Mediterranean diet; people in the region simply ate that way, organically, and at some point researchers began to take note of their good health.
With no creator to lay down laws and no publisher screaming for simplification, the Mediterranean diet is refreshingly flexible—more about guidelines than maxims; more eating a certain way that eat-this-not-that. The most important of these is to avoid processed snacks and junk food, focusing instead on fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, good fats and whole grains. Dairy and meat are to be limited; red wine is encouraged.
Here’s a look at what Mediterranean dieters in the new Spanish study ate. While not the only way to follow a Mediterranean diet, it provides an excellent general blueprint.
Extra virgin olive oil: At least 4 tablespoons per day (this is including any oil used in cooking, salad dressings, etcetera).
Fresh fruit: At least three servings per day.
Vegetables: At least two servings per day.
Nuts: At least three servings per week are recommended. Study participants were given one serving of nuts daily, composed of walnuts (15 grams), almonds (7.5 grams) and hazelnuts (7.5 grams).
Seafood: At least three servings per week, especially of fatty fish like anchovies, salmon and sardines.
Legumes: At least three servings per week. This includes beans, peas and lentils.
Wine: At least 7 glasses per week, for those inclined to it; the researchers don’t recommend anybody take up drinking alcohol if they don’t already.
Sofrito: At least two servings per week. Sofrito is a sauce made of tomato and onion, often with garlic and other simmered herbs.
Foods to be limited: White meat. Dairy.
Discouraged: Red meat. Soda. Commercial bakery goods. Processed meats.