Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

By Stephanie Watson @YourCareE
November 21, 2023
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Following a plant-based Mediterranean diet could protect you against heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and an untimely death. Here's what you should know.

The Mediterranean diet, inspired by the traditional dietary habits of people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, earns high marks from doctors and dietitians alike for its emphasis on plant-based foods and healthy fats.

U.S. News & World Report has rated it the #1 Best Diet for six years in a row.

What makes the Mediterranean diet good for you? How can you incorporate this healthy way of eating into your lifestyle?


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What do Mediterranean people eat?

The Mediterranean diet is founded on foods people eat in countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, and Croatia. Their diets are primarily formed from locally grown and sourced foods, including:

  • Beans
  • Fish
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Red wine (in moderation)
  • Whole grains

In the 1950s, researchers discovered that people living in the Mediterranean region had lower rates of chronic disease and a higher life expectancy than those living in other Western countries, including the United States. In the early 1990s, a group of experts from the Harvard School of Public Health, Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, and the World Health Organization introduced Americans to the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.

What are the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet?

The healthfulness of the Mediterranean diet stems from its emphasis on plant-based whole foods and limited red meat, saturated fat, and sugar. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests the diet helps to:

  • Lower cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Protect cells from the damage oxidative stress causes
  • Alter hormones and growth factors involved in cancer development

Together, those effects contribute to a reduced risk for several chronic diseases compared to diets higher in processed foods, meat, and refined grains.


Protective effects against inflammation, DNA damage, and cell proliferation make the Mediterranean eating plan a potentially powerful tool against cancer. Evidence suggests that following this type of diet lowers your risk of dying from cancer overall, as well as the chance of being diagnosed with these cancers:

Cardiovascular disease

No other diet has been as well-studied as the Mediterranean when it comes to protecting heart health.

Key heart-healthy components of the diet are olive oil and fish, which are high in the unsaturated fatty acids that help remove cholesterol from arteries and prevent the blockages that cause heart attacks and strokes.

So much evidence supports the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health it’s received endorsement from the American Heart Association.


Eating a plant-based diet might also protect your brain from decline as you age. People who closely follow this eating pattern have a lower risk for dementia, regardless of their genetic risks for the condition.

As further evidence, a study from the National Institute on Aging found that the brains of people who closely followed a Mediterranean diet had fewer amyloid plaques, a sign of and contributor to Alzheimer's disease.  

Death from all causes

Lowering the risk of serious conditions like heart disease and cancer pays off in greater longevity. Studies show that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of dying prematurely from all causes, as well as from cancer and heart disease specifically.

Type 2 diabetes

The Mediterranean diet has a few components that are beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Its plant-based foods help improve blood sugar control.
  • Its high fiber content promotes weight loss.
  • The diet overall protects against heart disease, a common diabetes complication.

What you can do

You’ll reap the most benefits from the Mediterranean diet if you make it a consistent part of your lifestyle. One of the biggest advantages to the diet is that it isn’t restrictive. You don’t have to cut out any major food group, and the high fiber content will prevent you from feeling hungry.

If you’re new to this way of eating, start small. Swap a few of the packaged, processed foods you’d normally eat for fruits and vegetables. Think of creative ways to sneak produce and whole grains into your meals, like these:

  • Make mac and cheese with spinach and chickpea pasta.
  • Serve your sandwiches on whole-grain bread topped with vinegar and olive oil instead of mayo.
  • Add spinach to your morning scrambled eggs.
  • Have dried fruit or low-fat yogurt with berries for dessert.


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November 21, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O'Dell, RN