The 7 Wonders of a Healthy Mediterranean Diet

By Martin Brown

Diet. It’s a subject that most of us would rather ignore. But the simple truth is that our health outcomes have a lot to do with the type of diets we regularly eat. Study after study has shown that what we refer to as the “Mediterranean Diet,” is a shining example of this truth. From lower cancer rates to healthier hearts, think Mediterranean if a long healthy life is your goal.

So what is a Mediterranean Diet, and why does it produce these wonderful health benefits?

First, let’s examine the basic foods that are consumed in countries—notably Italy—that border the Mediterranean Sea.
They eat generous amounts of fruits and vegetables. The fats they consume are “healthy fats,” such as nuts, olive oil, and canola oil. They typically consume very little red meat, and they eat fish once or twice a week. Additionally, they will often have a glass of red wine with their main meal of the day.

Now, let’s look at our perception of Italian food.
Many of us who grew up on the heavy pastas and cream sauces—a perverted American version of Italian food—have a hard time imagining Italian food as a healthy diet. It’s funny to me because I still remember the meals I had as a kid served by the Italian immigrant parents in my New York City neighborhood. If there was flesh food on your plate, it was fish, hardly ever red meat. And pasta was always served with vegetables. And dessert was mostly fruit with a small cookie or pastry served on the side.

When you eat the American version of this diet, there is veal, pork sausage, ground beef in the lasagna, and so on. You rarely see fruits and vegetables generously piled on plates on this side of the Atlantic. And the drink, especially for us kids, was a glass of milk on the American dinner table, as opposed to a glass that was 20% wine and 80%  water on the Italian table.  I still laugh about what a thrill it was for us to drink “real wine” just like the adults.

The goal now: To alter your vision—and your diet—from the bad to the good.
It’s not complicated stuff. The small changes that equal big changes in health outcomes are relatively simple. Red meat out, fish in, or no meat at all. Lots of vegetables and fruit. Olive oil yes, butter and cream based sauces no. Bread, is dipped in olive oil, not slathered with butter, pasta and breads are made from whole grains that have no trans fats.

If you make most of your meals at home, you can master these key guidelines by reviewing a variety of authentic Italian recipes. Nuts are a snack in these cultures: in moderate amounts, almonds, walnuts, and other nuts are a wise choice.

As for red wine, a glass with dinner, is generally considered to be a wise addition to your diet. That does not mean consuming a bottle of wine every night is a path to good health. If you don’t drink alcohol, consider a glass of grape juice. It has many, not all, of the health benefits found in a glass of wine.

The bottom line: Great food, lower rates of heart disease, and a reduced risk of cancer.
Who says there’s no such thing as a win-win? With a Mediterranean Diet you can have delicious meals and live long enough to show your grandchildren how to eat a healthy diet as well.

More SMW Health and Diet Advice

Healthy Eating for Busy Lives

The Great Switch: Five Tips for Changing Bad Habits to Healthy Ones

Is Organic Really Better?

© 2008 All rights reserved. Permission to reprint this article must be obtained from