A lot of people will tell you they know what the best diet is, but there is only one diet that has the most research support and is recommended by the majority of health professionals as the healthiest diet known to us. It’s a diet that is not only rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats, but is also delicious, easy to prepare, and perhaps most importantly, easy to stick to, because it’s so enjoyable.
If you guessed the Mediterranean diet, you are correct! The vast body of science supporting this diet is the reason I use it as the basis for the Vibrant Diet I created (I’ll explain more about this in a few paragraphs). I follow this diet myself, and recommend it to anyone who asks me how they should be eating.
So, what can the Mediterranean diet do for you?
For starters, many studies through the decades have clearly demonstrated that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. One 2019 study published in a scientific journal called Circulation Research concluded that: “The available evidence is large, strong, and consistent. Better conformity with the traditional MedDiet is associated with better cardiovascular health outcomes, including meaningful reductions in rates of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, and total cardiovascular disease.”
Other research shows the Mediterranean diet’s benefits for what is now being called “cardiodiabesity,” a term referring to a four closely linked conditions: obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and type-2 diabetes. A 2019 study published in Nutrients, which compiled results from many different studies, concluded that there is “a high level of evidence showing that MedDiet adherence plays a role in the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease and improves health in overweight and obese patients,” and that there is also good evidence that it prevents increases in weight and waist circumference in people without obesity, improves and reduces the incidence of metabolic syndrome, and that it plays a primary and secondary role in preventing type-2 diabetes. It has also been shown to prevent obesity and decrease the incidence of type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in healthy people.
Still more studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to a decrease in many types of cancer, especially breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and cancer of the prostate, lungs, stomach, bladder, head, neck (including mouth, nose, and throat cancer), pancreas, stomach, bladder, gall bladder, bile ducts, and cancers of the reproductive system in women. This widespread effect is likely due to the Mediterranean diet’s high antioxidant content, which can reduce inflammation and minimize DNA damage and cell proliferation.
As if all that wasn’t enough, I’ve also seen studies linking the Mediterranean diet with longer life expectancy, better quality of life, the prevention or slowing of cognitive decline, and significantly reduced frailty in senior populations. In active people, it has been shown to improve endurance during exercise in as little as four days.
No other diet has this level of proof and this range of benefits backing it up.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
What is this amazing diet and how can you start following it? Here is where things get a little less clear. Generally, the Mediterranean diet consists of mostly whole foods, with lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and seafood, along with olive oil and small amounts of alcohol.
However, the “rules” are broad, and there can be many different version of the Mediterranean diet. Some may eat a high-fat version with a lot of fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados, whereas others might eat a low-fat version focusing mostly on vegetables, fruits, and beans. A Mediterranean diet could look like a paleo diet, or a keto diet, or a vegan diet. It could include a daily glass of wine, or no alcohol. It could include daily seafood, or no seafood. It could include a lot of grains, or no grains, small amounts of eggs and cheese, or not. It might include yogurt, or the occasional serving of red meat or poultry, or it might not. People tend to take the parts of the Mediterranean diet they like, and ignore the parts they don’t. That can (although it doesn’t always) result in an imbalanced diet that might, for example, be far too high in appetite-stimulating carbohydrates and too low in healthful fats.
This problematic non-specificity has been a challenge for researchers, and many studies spell out what version of the Mediterranean diet they tested, but even these can look quite different. Knowing how people tend to prefer more exacting guidelines, when I used the Mediterranean diet as the basis for the Vibrant Diet, I decided that I needed to get a bit more specific. That’s why I drilled down and gave it more structure.
What Is the Vibrant Diet?
The Vibrant Diet is a lower-carb, modified Mediterranean diet that includes fewer grain-based carbohydrates, fruit-based natural sugars, and alcohol, while emphasizing heathy fats, fiber, and nutrient-dense vegetables. It also emphasizes portion control, which most versions of the Mediterranean diet don’t mention. But they should! In the traditional Mediterranean cultures, people tended to have much smaller plates of food (and much smaller glasses of wine) than we default to in our “more-is-better” modern world.
In my experience, these refinements make the nebulous Mediterranean diet even more effective at maximizing nutrient density. They help meals feel more satisfying with less lingering hunger, and lower the risk of chronic diseases, due to the high level of antioxidants. This diet also notably optimizes the gut microbiome, which in turn improves the intelligence of the immune system. It increases energy, improves digestion, helps with reducing excess body fat, and may even have a positive impact on mood and mental health. It will probably also improve your quality of life and may even extend your lifespan.
The Vibrant Diet is still flexible, allowing for individual preferences and certain dietary restrictions (for example, you can make the Vibrant Diet 100% plant-based, if you so choose), so it’s not a “one-size-fits-all” diet, but its basic components work. I’m living proof, and so are the many people I know who follow this diet. Will you try it?
For more detailed information about how to follow the Vibrant Diet, and for a meal plan and recipes, check out my new book, Vibrant, available on March 23.