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Embracing a healthy start – ditch fad diets for the Mediterranean diet this year!

Embracing a healthy start – ditch fad diets for the Mediterranean diet this year!

With the new year upon us, it is the time that many people are eager to make lifestyle changes to improve their health, and nutrition and diet is often the first thing that comes to mind.  Unfortunately, this can lead to unhealthy or unachievable goals and an increase in fad diets.  While intentions are often admirable, following these extreme diets which frequently cut out whole food groups, or drastically reduce calorie/kilojoule intake, is generally unsustainable – not to mention unenjoyable!  So, this new year, instead of chasing trends that promise quick fixes, why not try a well-researched and sustainable eating pattern like the Mediterranean diet!

What is the Mediterranean diet?

While the Mediterranean diet is referred to as a ‘diet’, it is more of an eating pattern and a lifestyle than a typical ‘diet’.  Instead of being prescriptive about what foods can and can’t be included, it focuses on principles, and what foods should be consumed MORE.  The lifestyle part of the diet incorporates ideas like eating food together with friends or family, rather than alone in front of the TV or at a desk. It also encourages regular physical activity and eating seasonally. The Mediterranean diet is also mostly plant based, with a ratio of plants to animal foods of about 4:1.  When it comes to nutrition, some of the key principles include:

  • Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, legumes (beans, chickpeas, and lentils), nuts & seeds and wholegrains every day.
  • Use extra virgin olive oil as the main source of healthy fats – use liberally (aim for 2-3 tablespoons per day).
  • Choose fish and seafood a few times a week.
  • Choose moderate amounts of chicken, poultry, eggs and dairy.
  • Choose red meat only sometimes/infrequently.

Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Along with being a sustainable eating pattern, the Mediterranean diet is also one of the most researched in the world. Studies have highlighted its benefits for heart health, Type 2 diabetes, mental health and cognition, gut health and cancer prevention1-3.  In fact, the diet was recently voted as the best diet overall for the SEVENTH year in a row by a panel of health experts4.  US News & World Report convened a panel of leading medical and nutrition experts (including dietitians, doctors, researchers and epidemiologists) to rate 30 popular diets for a number of categories, and the Mediterranean diet won for not only best overall, but also:

  • Best diet for diabetes,
  • Best heart-healthy diet,
  • Easiest diet to follow,
  • Best diet for bone and joint health,
  • Best family-friendly diet,
  • Best diet for healthy eating

Interestingly, the Mediterranean diet also came in at number two for best weight loss diet, even though this is not necessarily the focus of the diet. This is supported by published research which shows the Mediterranean diet is an excellent option for those looking to sustainably lose weight5,6.

Conclusion

If you’re looking to make changes to your lifestyle this new year, then instead of trialing fad diets, look no further than the Mediterranean diet. It is a sustainable eating pattern that can improve your health and wellbeing in the long term, rather than a quick fix involving cutting out important foods and food groups.

View article references

  1. Dinu M, Pagliai G, Casini A et al. Mediterranean diet and multiple health outcomes: an umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017;27(1):doi:10.1038/ejcn.2017.58
  2. Rejeski JJ et al. The Impact of a Mediterranean Diet on the Gut Microbiome in Healthy Human Subjects: A Pilot Study. Digestion. 2022;103(2):133-40.
  3. Ibáñez-del Valle, V., Navarro-Martínez, R. and Cauli, O. (2023) "Association between Depressive Symptoms and Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet in Nursing Students", Nutrients, 15(14), p. 3158. doi: 10.3390/nu15143158
  4. US News & World Report. Best Diets Overall 2024 [Internet]. US News & World Report. 2024 [cited 12 Jan 2024]. Available from: https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diets-overall
  5. Poulimeneas D et al. Exploring the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and weight loss maintenance: the MedWeight study. Br J Nutr. 2020;124(8):874-80.
  6. Mancini JG, Filion KB, Atallah R, Eisenberg MJ. Systematic Review of the Mediterranean Diet for Long-Term Weight Loss. Am J Med. 2016 Apr;129(4):407-415.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2015.11.028. Epub 2015 Dec 22. PMID: 26721635.