We Surveyed People on the Mediterranean Diet: Here’s What They Say

We Surveyed People on the Mediterranean Diet: Here’s What They Say

The Mediterranean diet has long been identified as an all-around healthy diet with many benefits – from preventing heart disease and cancer to encouraging weight loss and improving diabetes management and gut health. In 2020, U.S. News ranked the Mediterranean diet No. 1 in four categories: Best Diets Overall, Easiest Diets to Follow, Best Diabetes Diets and Best Plant-Based Diets.

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Another perk of the diet: The food is delicious, though there isn’t just one Mediterranean diet. Greeks eat differently than Italians, who eat differently from the French and Spanish. But they all share many of the same principles, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, seafood, legumes and flavorful herbs and spices.

The health editors at U.S. News teamed up with the food pros at America’s Test Kitchen to find out more by surveying more than 230 people who follow this healthy way of eating. The group included those who’ve been following a Mediterranean way of eating for over five years to others who’ve been doing it for less than six months. Most surveyed cook for just themselves and one other person – with 72{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} of other household members also following the Mediterranean diet.

Why Mediterranean?

Most – about 68{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} – initially decided to try the diet based on their own research, though about 16{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} started because their doctor recommended it. The majority surveyed, 83{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9}, say their goal was better overall health. Weight loss, preventing a chronic disease (like diabetes) and lowering cholesterol also factored as important goals.

Resources

Because this is an eating pattern – not a structured diet – you’re on your own to figure out how many calories you should eat to lose or maintain your weight, what you’ll do to stay active and how you’ll shape your Mediterranean menu. To get help and recipe inspiration, cookbooks (75{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9}) and websites (71{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9}) are the top resources used by those surveyed – though apps and expert advice from a trainer or nutritionist were also mentioned. “The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook: 500 Vibrant, Kitchen-Tested Recipes for Living and Eating Well Every Day” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen was specifically mentioned numerous times. It’s also their best-selling cookbook ever.

Changing Habits

About 25{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} say they’re exercising more since starting the diet. For those who do exercise, about 70{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} believe being physically active has positively impacted the success of the diet.

Flexibility, Not Restrictions

While you still have to practice moderation in terms of portion sizes, sweets and red meat, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t ban entire food groups. And over the long term, the Mediterranean way of eating is considered relatively easy to follow and sustainable. The easier a diet is to follow, the better the odds are of sticking to it.

In fact, experts ranked the Mediterranean diet as the No. 1 Easiest Diet to Follow in 2020. That’s because it doesn’t impose stringent requirements, like strict eating times or obscure, hard-to-find foods.

As one person wrote, “I’m not mindlessly eating just to be eating. I have a plan for the day … and I’m excited to fix the evening meal. I like the variations and find that my skin is brighter, healthier, I’m sleeping longer and going back to sleep more quickly, waking rested, I’ve lost weight a bit at a time and it’s staying off with no feelings of being deprived or wishing I could eat a lot of ‘not included’ foods. I feel good. I’m happier, more comfortable in my skin, and I’m enjoying the whole food process from start to finish because I have a definite goal. For me, this is an enormous break-through!”

Challenges of the Diet

About 33{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} surveyed say they rarely or never cheated on the diet. And 66{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} reported that they cheat sometimes or often. Again, this isn’t a diet in the strict sense, rather an approach to eating that allows for the occasional treat or indulgence, so intermittent “cheating” in some way is part of the whole approach.

When cheating did take place, it was usually outside of the home. Restaurants (57{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9}) were the biggest culprit, followed by travel, special occasions and other people’s homes.

  • Desserts like cookies, cake and ice cream.
  • Bread and carbs, especially pizza.
  • Meat.
  • Fried foods.

People were asked to pick their biggest challenges – up to three. This methodology means that even if it’s their biggest challenge, it may not have been all that challenging. About 40{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} noted that the time it takes to prepare, plan and shop for food was the biggest hurdle. The cost of ingredients and special foods, and having the self-control required to follow the diet, were second and third, respectively. However, 13{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} of people wrote in to tell us they had no challenges or that these challenges were relatively small.

Favorite Foods

Many said that they haven’t added anything that they don’t enjoy. It’s more about cutting out certain foods. Of course a different way of eating offers the opportunity to discover new foods. The top new favorites listed were:

  • Olives and olive oil.
  • Vegetables.
  • Grains.
  • Fish.
  • Chickpeas.
  • Seeds and nuts.
  • Beans (lentils).

One respondent wrote, “My biggest addition has probably been the increase in the amount of healthy fats I consume, such as EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil). I’ve also started using more marinated artichoke hearts, capers and various sorts of olives, and I really enjoy the depth of flavor and briny attributes they bring to dishes.”

Similarly, respondents identified these as among their favorite Mediterranean-inspired dishes to make:

  • Grains like tabbouleh , couscous, orzo, quinoa, farro and bulgur.
  • Fish and seafood, including salmon.
  • Hummus.
  • Pasta.
  • Greek salad.

Many mentioned that they “like experimenting with different grains.”

Health Benefits

Most are happy with the results they’re seeing, with 79{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} reporting positive or very positive changes to their health. Those changes include weight loss and improvements in blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, plus higher energy levels. One participant wrote, “I feel as though I have more energy and sleep better. I began eating this way two years ago. And one year ago I went off of blood pressure medicine!”

Another noted that they were “eating more vegetables and my overall health has improved. My skin looks better. My clothes are getting looser, and my stomach is shrinking.”

It’s true that weight loss was not as dramatic as the weight loss reported by those following the keto diet, but other notable health benefits were significant. As one person said: “While my weight has not decreased as much as I would like, that is primarily attributable to my busy day-to-day schedule, lack of exercise and beer consumption. Overall I definitely feel healthier, my blood pressure has reduced a bit, and I suffer fewer illnesses than I used to.”

Respondents say that they would recommend the Mediterranean diet to a friend with an 8.25/10 likelihood of recommending – so if you were on the fence about trying this delicious way of eating, now might be a good time to try.

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