The Many Science-Backed Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

In January 2020, the Mediterranean diet was voted the best overall diet by U.S. Health News. The eating plan comes from Italy and Greece, and it focuses on vegetables, fruits, beans, lean meats, olive oil, and fish. Scientists have been studying its health benefits for years.

The more research that came out, the more this diet impressed people. From its impact on cancer to its ability to lengthen your lifespan, this healthy diet has multiple benefits. See how you can enhance your life with the Mediterranean diet.

It Sharpens Your Mind

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Mikhail TereshchenkoTASS via Getty Images

In April 2020, CNN reported some encouraging news–that the Mediterranean diet may slow your risk of mental decline. Dr. Emily Chew, who led a study on the diet, said that participants “had almost a 45% to 50% reduction in the risk of having an impaired cognitive function.”

The results may have stemmed from the number of fish people ate, said Richard Isaacson, the director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic. Participants ate fish at least twice a week with plenty of fresh food, both of which are known to encourage brain health.

How Diet Relieves Depression

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AdinaVoicu/Pixabay
AdinaVoicu/Pixabay

At the 2019 American Psychiatric Association meeting, scientists announced that the Mediterranean diet may lower the risk of depression. Greek researchers observed participants who adhered to the diet, some moderately, others strictly. On average, participants developed a 25% lower chance of depression.

Why does this happen? According to researchers, depression is worsened by inflammation in the brain. An anti-inflammatory diet, such as a Mediterranean one, can protect the brain against damage. Unprocessed foods, healthy fats, nuts, oil, and spices all contribute to a healthy brain.

It Improves Your Eyesight

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Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images

Recently, scientists have explored how diet influences peoples’ age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a fancy term for losing eyesight over time. In 2018, the American Academy of Ophthalmology observed the Mediterranean diet. People who ate the diet had a 41% lower chance of losing their sight with age.

Researchers also noted that switching to components of the Mediterranean diet did not help. For instance, simply eating whole grains more didn’t improve eyesight; the entire diet did. Even people in the early stages of the disease experienced better vision while on the diet.

Help Your Heart With The Mediterranean Diet

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In 2013, scientists tested over 7,000 people with type 2 diabetes and a high risk of heart disease. Participants ate a Mediterranean diet. Those who ate the diet had fewer heart problems, despite having few changes to their exercise routine. The diet may reduce peoples’ chances of heart disease and stroke.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Its main source of fat comes from heart-healthy olive oil. According to Circulation Research, the evidence of the diet improving heart disease “is large, strong, and consistent.”

Several Cancers Bow Down To This Diet

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Marco Secchi/Corbis via Getty Images

Much research has linked the Mediterranean diet to a lower risk of cancer. In 2019, a scientific review in Nutrients analyzed 152 of these studies. They noted that the diet protected DNA in participants, which lowered the risk of breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

According to the review, the Mediterranean diet also reduces the risk, intensity, and mortality rate of prostate cancer. People on the diet have a smaller chance of gastric and bladder cancer as well. The scientific results of the Mediterranean diet and cancer are promising.

Lengthen Your Life

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Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images

In 2015, Harvard researchers announced that the Mediterranean diet may help you live longer. The diet protects telomeres, which are sequences at the end of your chromosomes. These telomeres deteriorate as one ages, but the Mediterranean diet helps them last longer.

In 2017, another study explored the diet’s effect on longevity. Participants on the diet had a lower risk of breast cancer and cognitive decline, which lengthened their lifespans. According to the study’s author, “the Mediterranean diet represents the gold standard in preventive medicine.”

Eat Well, Lose Weight, Get Healthy

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Joan Slaking/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Because the Mediterranean diet is low in saturated and trans fats, it may help people lose weight. In one study, scientists placed people with metabolic syndrome on a Mediterranean diet. Participants lost an average of 8.8 pounds on the Mediterranean diet, as opposed to 2.6 pounds on a low-fat diet, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In Nutrition & Diabetes, another study observed the Italian Mediterranean diet. Participants had a reduced risk of obesity on the diet and a smaller waist circumference. This may be why U.S. News ranked the Mediterranean diet as the number one best diet.

It May Be Better For Acid Reflux And GERD Than Medication

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John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

According to recent research, the Mediterranean diet may be just as effective–if not more–than heartburn medications. During a 2018 study, the diet assuaged symptoms of acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Scientists credit the largely plant-based diet with healthy fats and lean meats.

In 2012, scientists compared GERD patients on the Mediterranean diet to those off of it. When people were not on the diet, they were three times more likely to experience GERD symptoms. Plus, people on the diet were less likely to be overweight, which reduces acid reflux.

It May Soothe Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

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Binnur Ege Gurun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Although little research explores the Mediterranean diet and rheumatoid arthritis, the current studies are promising. In 2016, a study in Rheumatology International noted that the diet may manage symptoms. Participants experienced less pain and greater joint mobility while on the diet.

Another study by the Swedish Epidemiological Investigation of RA spanned eight years. In the end, the Mediterranean diet decreases peoples’ chance of rheumatoid arthritis by 8%. Strangely, the diet showed greater effects on men than on women. Still, it could be a healthy lifestyle choice for RA patients.

How Food Can Lift Your Mood Overall

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@sebastiancoman/Unsplash

Research suggests that people on the Mediterranean diet have a better quality of life. In 2018, the HELENA Study suggested that the diet may lower stress. Nutrients from the diet improve biomarkers in the brain, which reduces the chances of stress and mental distress.

In the University of Southern Australia, scientists linked the Mediterranean diet to a better overall mood. A Spanish study in the Archives of General Psychiatry stated that people have a 50% lower risk of anxiety and depression while on the diet.

Your Asthma Symptoms May Decrease

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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Yes, the Mediterranean diet may assuage asthma, too. In 2008, research in Allergy followed pregnant women on the diet. After their children were born, they had a lower chance of developing asthma. People with asthma reported less sneezing, watery eyes, and wheezing while on the diet.

In the Frontiers of Pediatrics, a scientific review analyzed over 40 studies about the diet. The Mediterranean diet has “a protective effect on asthma/wheezing symptoms,” the researchers reported. Although it did not influence eczema or allergic rhinitis, it shows promise for asthma patients.

Lower The Risk Of Alzheimer’s By Eating Well

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BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the Mediterranean diet may lower your risk of dementia. A 2018 study in Neurology published brain scans of people on the diet. Compared to an average Western diet, a Mediterranean diet had fewer signs of Alzheimer’s over time.

Researchers credit the diet’s high amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. The high-nutrient foods prevent beta-amyloid deposits, a protein that collects in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. According to research, the diet may delay Alzheimer’s by up to three-and-a-half years.

The Diet May Protect Against Type 2 Diabetes

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Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet may reduce peoples’ risk of type 2 diabetes. In Diabetes Care, researchers analyzed participants with different eating habits. Those on the Mediterranean diet had a 52% lower risk of diabetes after four years. However, they didn’t always lose or gain weight.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the Mediterranean diet may improve glycemic control in people with diabetes. Because the diet relies on vegetables, fish, and lean sources of protein, it may stabilize blood pressure and insulin levels.

Preserve Your Kidneys On This Diet

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Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images

Long-term studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet may enhance kidney health. In 2013, researchers at Columbia University reported that the diet may help preserve the kidneys. Participants experienced a 42% lower chance of rapid kidney function decline and a 50% lower risk of chronic kidney disease.

According to the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, the diet may also help kidney transplant patients. After surgery, participants on the diet had better kidney function than those on a different diet. The DASH diet was also reported to improve kidney health.

Post-Menopausal Women May Benefit From The Diet

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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

After menopause, bone and muscle mass decline. A Brazilian study scanned women’s muscle and bone density after menopause. On the Mediterranean diet, participants had higher bone density and greater muscle mass despite entering menopause early.

In another study, the Mediterranean diet improved menopausal symptoms. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women on the Mediterranean diet were 20% less likely to experience hot flashes and night sweats. Meanwhile, those on a high-sugar, high-fat diet were 23% more likely to experience these symptoms.

It May Prevent Blood Vessel Diseases

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Herman R. Lumanog/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

While most research on the Mediterranean diet explores heart disease, some evidence suggests that the diet can benefit the blood. In 2018, a study in JAMA Network Open reported that the diet reduces the risk of blood vessel diseases by 25%. The diet lowers chronic inflammation, a primary trigger of some blood illnesses.

Further research in Nutrients notes that the Mediterranean diet stabilizes blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, may damage the heart, kidneys, and brain over time, according to the Pulse Heart Institute. Fortunately, the Mediterranean diet offers some benefits for the blood.

Breathe Easier With Better Lung Function

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@stavrialena/Unsplash

As if the benefits couldn’t get better, the Mediterranean diet also encourages lung health. Research in BMJ Specialty Journals reported the food’s effect on lung disease. On the diet, participants had a 50% lower chance of chronic progressive lung disease (COPD). Of course, participants were also encouraged to quit substance abuse.

In smokers, the Mediterranean diet may enhance lung function. A 2015 study linked the diet to easier breathing in people with lung damage. The “nutritional intervention” reduces the risk of respiratory disease, researchers said.

Promote Gut Health With The Diet

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@nci/Unsplash.

Because the Mediterranean diet is high in fiber and nutrients, it’ll keep your gut happy. In 2019, researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen analyzed the microbiome of people on the diet. Participants had a lower chance of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other intestinal diseases.

Registered Dietitian Sharon Zarabi told WebMD that the diet provides many different kinds of healthy bacteria. These bacteria improve gut function and halt inflammation in the intestines. It makes sense that a healthy diet results in a happy gut.

Exercise Longer And Build Muscle On The Diet

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Alex Pantling/Getty Images

If you want to build muscle, the Mediterranean diet can help. In 2019, scientists from Saint Louis University confirmed that the diet improves exercise endurance. After four weeks of eating healthy, participants could exercise longer and build more muscle than before.

Exercise can also “activate” the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. According to a study in Molecular Cell, olive oil (a staple of the diet) breaks down during exercise. After it breaks down, the oil’s nutrients contribute to better heart health, blood pressure, and weight management.

Slow The Progression Of Liver Disease

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Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images

The Mediterranean diet may slow down the onset of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, the diet has “potential to improve liver status.” Its combination of fiber, essential fatty acids, protein, and antioxidants reduces the chances of liver disease.

The Mediterranean diet also manages weight, and obesity is a large risk factor of NAFLD. “Research shows that following a Mediterranean diet is probably the healthiest choice for both promoting weight loss and promoting liver health,” says Dr. Maya Balakrishnan, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at Baylor.