Why Is The Mediterranean Diet So Good For Us?

By Ellie Smith

3 weeks ago

From boosting brain health to increasing longevity, we delve into the evidence

From exclusively eating animal products to TikTok’s ‘oatzempic’ craze, it seems like every week a new trending diet goes viral. But many have little scientific evidence behind them – and are, at worst, dangerous. There’s one, though, that has stood the test of time: the Mediterranean diet, widely viewed as one of the healthiest ways one can eat. Over the years an array of studies have delved into the benefits, from improving cardiovascular health to lowering blood pressure – but now new research shows eating like our Mediterranean neighbours could slow brain ageing too. Here’s everything you need to know.

The Mediterranean Diet: Foods To Eat & Scientific Benefits

What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a style of eating which is widely followed in European countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including Spain, Greece, Italy and France. While there are no concrete rules, it generally involves eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, alongside moderate amounts of fish, white meat and some low-fat dairy produce. The diet generally includes a low consumption of foods high in saturated fats, such as butter and ghee, instead opting for unsaturated fats like olive oil. Generally, the Mediterranean diet involves a low consumption of ultra-processed foods.

What Are The Health Benefits?

Improves heart health

The first landmark study into the Mediterranean diet came back in the 1950s, now known as the Seven Countries Study, which looked into diet and lifestyle across a number of countries over an extended period of time, focusing in particular on the rate of coronary disease. This found that people living in and around the Mediterranean had lower rates of cardiovascular disease than participants who lived elsewhere. 

Since then, it has garnered a reputation for being the holy grail of healthy eating – particularly when it comes to looking after our hearts. Another study from 2018 saw researchers assessing 25,994 women from the US, finding those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 28 percent reduced risk of developing a cardiovascular disease. Then, in 2021, scientists compared the Mediterranean diet with a low-fat diet, finding the former to be more effective in slowing the development of plaque in the arteries (a build up can lead to heart disease).

Salmon and vegetables

Getty Images

Boosts brain health

There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest the Mediterranean diet has positive effects on brain health. A 2023 study, for instance, linked the diet to fewer signs of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults, while a large review concluded a Mediterranean way of eating positively benefits cognitive function and memory. The latest piece of research into the topic, published in Nature Aging, linked nutrients in the Mediterranean diet to slower brain ageing – such as vitamin E and certain fatty acids. 

Increases lifespan

Evidence suggests following the Mediterranean diet could limit your risk of developing conditions such as high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, which could consequently help us live longer. This 2015 study from Harvard specifically linked the Mediterranean diet to longevity, and more recently researchers found it could be particularly useful for women. Published in the JAMA Network Open, the study followed more than 25,000 women for 25 years, finding those who closely followed the Mediterranean diet lived much longer than those who did not.

‘For women interested in longevity, our study shows that following a Mediterranean dietary pattern could result in about one quarter reduction in risk of death over more than 25 years with benefit for both cancer and cardiovascular mortality, the top causes of death,’ wrote senior study author Dr. Samia Mora, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Brunette woman sleeping with beige pillow and white duvet

(c) Pexels

Improves sleep

Struggling to get good shut-eye? Eating like our friends from the Med could help with that too. Multiple studies have linked the diet to better sleep – with one 2022 review suggesting someone who adheres to a Mediterranean way of eating is more likely to sleep better and for longer. This is because of the foods prioritised: the Mediterranean diet tends to include foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and mackerel, which can help regulate the body’s melatonin production, a hormone which helps control sleep.

Other potential benefits of the diet include:

  • Reduced inflammation
  • Better vision as you age
  • Better mental health
  • Weight regulation and maintenance