“The never-ending pasta bowl: what the popular Mediterranean Diet is and what it is not”

By: Wendy Wesley, RDN, LDN
Registered/Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist

For News Talk Florida

It’s easy. It tastes great. It’s affordable. It’s lauded by doctors and scientists around the world as the number one diet. What is this miracle plan of eating?

It’s the Mediterranean Diet and it exists 100% at your produce stand and grocery store. No pills, shakes or supplements, Just 100% real food.

Heart-healthy? Check. Preventative of diabetes? Check. Cancer and dementia prevention? Check. Fresh, simple and recognizable? Check, check and check.

The Med Diet blends the basics of healthy eating with the flavors and cooking methods of the Mediterranean. It is based on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, seafood, some whole grains, some lean protein and some unsweetened dairy, olive oil and red wine – in moderation.

It is not, as some think, based on the never-ending pasta bowl or pizza. Nor is it based on fancy cooking with esoteric ingredients. Basic kitchen skills and equipment apply here: a sharp knife, cutting board and a series of simple pans or a grill.

Will you lose weight of the Med Diet? Yes. Can you reduce blood pressure and blood glucose? Yes. Can you reduce or eliminate medications? Yes?

Will you doctor endorse the Med Diet? Yes. Will you have more energy and stamina? Yes. Want more fiber to keep your gut moving along happily? Yep.

Worried about dementia and Alzheimer’s? The Med Diet is for you.

Why the Med Diet?

Interest in the Med Diet began in the 1960s with the observation that coronary heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy, than in the U.S. and northern Europe. Subsequent studies found that the Med Diet is associated with reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The Med Diet is one of the healthy eating plans recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to promote health and prevent chronic disease.

What is the Med Diet?

The Med Diet is a way of eating based on the cuisine of countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. It is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil.

The main components of Mediterranean diet include:

  • Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits and healthy fats
  • Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans, legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds for protein
  • Moderate portions of unsweetened dairy products
  • Limited intake of red meat
  • Red wine in moderation
  • Dessert once per week
  • Pasta limited to 1/2 cup cooked
  • Elimination of highly processed, low fiber, high sodium foods
  • Elimination of sugar-sweetened beverages and dairy (except for special occasion desserts)

Other important elements of the Mediterranean diet are sharing meals with family and friends and being physically active.

Plant Based, Not Meat Based

Meals are built around plants and the foundation of the Med Diet is fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, pulses, herbs, fruits, spices, herbs and seafood. Some unsweetened dairy, poultry and eggs are permitted. Red meat and desserts are enjoyed occasionally.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats, all unsaturated, are a mainstay of the Med Diet. They’re eaten in lieu of saturated fats found in animal products and trans fats found in highly processed and shelf-stable foods which contribute to heart disease.

Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Med Diet which provides monounsaturated fat found to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat.

Fish are also an important in the Med Diet. Fatty fish like mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon and lake trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and decrease the risk of stroke and heart failure.


The vinaigrette below is a beautiful and easy homemade dressing that works as a salad and vegetable dressing plus a marinate for roasted or grilled vegetables, poultry and fish.

Lemony Greek Vinaigrette

¾ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic pressed or minced
1 and ½ tsp dried oregano or 3 tbs fresh, copped
1 big pinch each salt and fresh ground pepper

Put all the ingredients into an old jar or mason jar and shake. The longer it sits, the stronger the flavor. Serve with fresh vegetables and salad greens. Buy what is in season and what you can afford.