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Diet 101: The Mediterranean diet for healthy living

Diet 101: The Mediterranean diet for healthy living

A Mediterranean diet consists largely of plant-based foods with a moderate amount of seafood, dairy and poultry thrown in. Here’s a lowdown on this diet
Mediterranean diet
Representational image | Shutterstock

There was a time when being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at the age of 50 was not unusual. By that age, it was anticipated that bad lifestyle choices, unhealthy diets, and almost three decades of work-life stress would have an effect. However, people are now being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 40 and the bar is dropping with each passing year. The millennials are now being diagnosed in their 30s and even in their 20s.  

“I was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 24,” says Samar Pratap Singh who resides in Udaipur and runs an import and export business of clothes. He works for 12 hours every day and does not get the time to exercise or pay heed to his health. However, he loves to order sweets whenever he gets time from work. “I was hit by depression as I realised, I could not eat sweets and ice creams freely anymore. I decided to take control of my blood sugar level and life,” he adds. This was when he visited a dietician who put him on a Mediterranean diet. “The quality of my life changed drastically after that,” says Singh. 

A healthy eating choice? 

The Mediterranean eating pattern is cited as a healthy eating pattern in the 2020–2025 American dietary recommendations. The phrase “Mediterranean diet” refers to a broad range of traditional eating practices in the nations that border the Mediterranean Sea. There isn’t a single, standardised Mediterranean diet as the sea is bordered by at least 16 nations. Due to differences in culture, ethnic backgrounds, religion, economy, geography, and agricultural production, eating habits vary across countries and even within each country’s regions. There are some shared elements, though. 

What does this diet include 

Plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices, are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. Seafood, dairy, and poultry are included in moderation, and sweets and red meat are eaten only occasionally.  

The Mediterranean Diet consistently tops US News and World Report’s yearly list of the best diets. Various eating routines and well-known diets are evaluated by a panel of experts based on a variety of factors, such as how healthy they are, how well they perform, and how simple they are to follow. 

Numerous health organisations and nutritionists promote this form of eating as one of the healthiest. “The Mediterranean Diet does not have any set rules or restrictions, but usually promotes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and heart-healthy fats,” says Dr Veena Kumari, a Delhi-based dietician. It restricts processed grains, processed meats, and added sugar. “The Mediterranean diet can lower fasting blood sugar levels and improve hemoglobin A1C levels, which are markers of long-term blood sugar control,” Kumari adds. 

“It has also been shown to decrease insulin resistance, a condition that impairs the body’s ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar levels effectively. The diet also helps in improvements in cognitive function, memory, attention and processing speed in ageing adults,” she adds. 

The best part is that you can customise the Mediterranean diet to suit your needs. If you prefer whole wheat pasta and olive oil but don’t want to include salmon and sardines, start building delectable Mediterranean-inspired foods using your favourite food items like Greek salad with cheese, dalia khichdi, fruits and vegetable smoothies and the like. 

The downside 

Akin to any diet, restricting or eliminating certain food groups can be detrimental to your health. The Mediterranean diet can sometimes result in weight gain from eating more fat than advised, low iron levels from eating insufficient meat, and calcium loss from consuming fewer dairy products. 

“Eating nuts and foods high in fats like olive oil may cause you to gain weight and deplete your iron stores. If you decide to adopt the Mediterranean diet, be sure to include some foods high in iron or vitamin C, which facilitates the absorption of iron by the body,” advises Dr Saurabh Soni, a Delhi-based nutrition and lifestyle consultant. “If you should take a calcium supplement, consult your doctor. Although wine is frequently consumed in the Mediterranean region, if you are susceptible to alcohol abuse, at risk for breast cancer, pregnant, or have any other illnesses that alcohol could exacerbate, stay away from wine,” he says. 

“I believe that even if the Mediterranean diet has positive effects, it should be structured differently for individuals with various illness profiles and calorie needs. It is critical that you speak to a dietician first before starting it,” adds Soni. 

Dos and Don’ts of the Mediterranean Diet by Dr Saurabh Soni  

  • Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil can be consumed regularly 
  • Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt should be consumed in moderation 
  • Red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils, and other highly processed foods should be eaten rarely 

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