Mediterranean Diet: What You Need to Know

Mediterranean cuisine is about fresh, healthy foods and balanced meals. Onions, olives, chicken, whole grains, cabbage and loads of flavor mean this meal is sure to keep your taste buds entertained and your waistline in check. See more weight loss tips pictures.

At any given time, the media touts several different diets as being the best new thing for weight loss -- not to mention the near-countless diets that have fallen by the wayside. But there may be no more sensible and delicious diet than the Mediterranean Diet.

The Mediterranean Diet isn't a diet in the sense of counting calories (though one should always keep an eye on them). Rather, it's a culinary shift away from unhealthy Western eating habits toward the typical diet enjoyed by people bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Researchers have noted this diet (and its effects) for many decades, but it gained widespread appeal in the 1990s, largely through its promotion by Dr. Walter Willett and Dr. Frank Sacks of the Harvard School of Public Health.

As opposed to being a regimented diet -- one of those that focuses almost exclusively on eating or avoiding a certain food type (carbs or protein, for example) -- the Mediterranean Diet is more of a lifestyle change. In fact, it's not a specific diet at all, and any two people on the Mediterranean Diet may have quite different eating habits, though broad-stroke similarities would certainly exist.

While Mediterranean-influenced dietary decisions alone may not be responsible for weight loss (overall caloric intake and your activity level also play large roles), evidence does show it's a heart-healthy diet, especially when accompanied by lots of exercise and other good health decisions.

The Lyon Diet Heart Study revealed that people who switched to a Mediterranean-style diet after having a heart attack were at reduced risk of having another heart attack than those who didn't [source: American Heart Association]. In fact, subjects who adopted a Mediterranean-style diet were half as likely to have recurrent heart disease as those who ate a regular (but conscientious) diet. For this reason, it's a diet that may be ideal for people whose Western eating habits have negatively affected their health.

What foods make up a Mediterranean-style diet, and why is this diet beneficial to our health? Read on to find out.