Seven science-backed benefits of the Mediterranean diet

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You’ve probably heard that the Mediterranean diet is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world, but what does science say about its potential benefits? Decades of research have shown that following the Mediterranean diet can help us to live longer and healthier lives. If you’re wondering why, read on.

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional cuisines of Italy, Greece and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a primarily plant-based approach, with the preferred animal protein being fish and seafood. The Mediterranean diet is high in whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, nuts, herbs, and spices. It also encourages moderate red wine consumption and cutting down on processed foods.   

Here, we’ve rounded up seven science-backed benefits of the Mediterranean diet. And if after reading this article you decide to give this diet a try, make sure to check our easy Mediterranean diet plan for useful tips and advice. 

1. It may help you live longer

The Mediterranean diet could be one of the keys to centenarians’ longevity and slower aging. Many studies have shown that elderly individuals who follow this diet are more likely to live longer. 

There is also evidence that following a Mediterranean diet could help seniors retain their strength and mobility. Frailty is a syndrome that combines the effects of natural aging with outcomes of multiple chronic conditions and a loss of physical fitness. It can significantly impact the quality of life in old age. And according to a meta-analysis published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of frailty.  

elderly woman working out at home

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2. Reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases

The most widely-known benefit of the Mediterranean diet – and the most well-researched – is its impact on cardiovascular health. This could be partly attributed to the effect it has on endothelium: the cells lining the inside of our blood vessels. According to a review published in the Journal of Nutrition, Mediterranean diets help to improve the endothelial function, which in turn prevents cholesterol plaques from building up in the arteries. 

Multiple studies have shown that this dietary pattern may particularly protect against coronary heart disease and stroke. There’s also evidence that it can lower our risk of heart failure.

3. May prevent cognitive decline and dementia

Better brain health in old age is another potential benefit of the Mediterranean diet. Many studies have demonstrated how this dietary pattern can contribute to better cognitive function and a lower risk of cognitive decline in healthy older adults. What’s more, there’s convincing evidence that Mediterranean diets may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, as described in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. In Alzheimer’s disease, abnormal proteins called amyloids form plaques that disrupt the communication between neurons. That’s why they’re used as biomarkers for this serious condition.

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4. Helps you lose weight

The Mediterranean diet is not only healthy, but it can also help you lose weight. A calorie deficit is the most important principle behind weight maintenance, and Mediterranean diets naturally include many low-calorie foods. 

A 2020 PREDIMED-Plus Study followed 6,355 overweight participants on their weight loss journey. Researchers found that those who adhered to the Mediterranean diet the most also recorded the best weight loss results. Evidence is also emerging that this dietary pattern may be a great strategy for bodyweight maintenance. According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with two-fold increased likelihood of keeping the weight off long-term. If you want to try it for yourself, make sure to check our guide on the Mediterranean diet for weight loss.

5. May prevent type 2 diabetes

One of the lesser-known benefits of the Mediterranean diet is that it may help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. As described in the Nutrients journal, there are several ways in which this dietary pattern can improve blood glucose levels, including containing high levels of anti-inflammatory antioxidants, low glycemic index (GI) foods and better gut health. According to a meta-analysis published in the Advances in Nutrition journal, even modest adherence to a Mediterranean diet could decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Young woman measuring her blood sugar using glucometer sitting at the table in living room.

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6. May protect against cancer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in 10 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life. Cancer is also the second most common cause of death in the US today. Although there are many cancers and contributing factors, healthy nutrition consistently remains a major preventative strategy. Many studies point particularly to the Mediterranean diet as a way to avoid these serious diseases. 

According to a review published in the European Journal of Nutrition, higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is related to a lower risk of dying from cancer. It also vastly reduces the risk of developing colorectal, head, neck, respiratory, gastric, liver and bladder cancers. 

7. May help with rheumatoid arthritis

The Mediterranean diet could also bring benefits to those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition characterized by severe joint pain and stiffness, to which there is no known cure. 

One of the main features of this disease is a high level of eicosanoids: compounds that promote inflammation. Multiple studies have shown that anti-inflammatory diets, including plant-based and Mediterranean dietary patterns, are an effective way to reduce the eicosanoids production and associated joint pain. According to scientists from the Rheumatology International journal, the Mediterranean diet can also help increase physical function in people living with this condition.

man holding his arm with joint pain

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.

Anna Gora
Health Writer

Anna Gora is a health writer at Live Science, having previously worked across Coach, Fit&Well, T3, TechRadar and Tom's Guide. She is a certified personal trainer, nutritionist and health coach with nearly 10 years of professional experience. Anna holds a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, a Master’s degree in Nutrition, Physical Activity & Public Health from the University of Bristol, as well as various health coaching certificates. She is passionate about empowering people to live a healthy lifestyle and promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet.