By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
The Egg Nutrition Center partnered with Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD to write this blog post.
Although it has the word “diet” in the name, the Mediterranean Diet is a flexible style of eating that isn’t centered around weight loss. There aren’t any strict rules or calorie counting on the Mediterranean Diet, either. Rather, it encourages eating like people do in the Mediterranean region — a nutritious eating pattern full of whole foods.
Named as the #1 Best Overall Diet by US News & Report, the Mediterranean Diet is a healthy style of eating that promotes portion control, whole foods and an active lifestyle. Eating the Mediterranean way includes plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, fish, poultry, eggs, olive oil and fresh herbs. Even a glass of red wine in moderation is encouraged. However, this eating pattern also involves limiting intake of refined grains, red meat, processed or packaged foods and foods that are high in added sugar.
In addition, lifestyle factors are an important aspect of the Mediterranean Diet. Avoiding tobacco and exercising regularly are healthy habits no matter what, but the Mediterranean Diet also encourages cooking your own meals, choosing seasonal ingredients and enjoying mealtime with family and friends.
The benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
As one of the top diets in the world, there is an abundance of research surrounding the Mediterranean Diet and how it affects certain health conditions. Below are some of the most promising fields of study.
The Med Diet is rich in nutrients that are associated with good heart health, like fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. With that, the Mediterranean Diet has been shown to help protect against cardiovascular disease. As a matter of fact, a large observational study of over 30,000 women found that those who followed the Med Diet for a 10-year period had lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.
With the revision of the Dietary Guidelines in 2015 to remove cholesterol as a nutrient of concern, eggs have been considered a part of a heart healthy diet. On top of that, the American Heart Association (AHA) Nutrition Committee published a science advisory on Dietary Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Risk in 2019. The advisory stated that following a heart-healthy eating pattern, such as the Mediterranean Diet, is more important than adhering to a specific cholesterol number.
The advisory also noted that healthy individuals can include one whole egg per day in their heart healthy eating patterns. Older adults can include up to two eggs per day, and vegetarians who do not consume cholesterol from animal foods may include more eggs in their diet, in moderation.
Type 2 Diabetes
According to a 2015 review, the Mediterranean diet is associated with better glycemic control in those with Type 2 Diabetes. Researchers attribute these positive results to the high intake of polyphenols (beneficial plant compounds) from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Pairing eggs with plant-based heart-healthy foods also helps with the absorption of important nutrients, like Vitamin E and carotenoids. In addition, eating an egg-based breakfast, rich in protein (about 26 grams of egg protein), has been shown to promote glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes, as compared to a high-carbohydrate breakfast.
Another reason to incorporate Mediterranean approved eggs into your diet is that nutrients in eggs have been shown to have brain benefits. Researchers at the University of Illinois published two studies looking at the relationship between lutein status, as measured using a non-invasive eye test called Macular Pigment Optical Density (MPOD), and cognition in children. They found that MPOD concentration was positively associated with academic performance. Eggs also contain choline, a nutrient that is vital for the development of brain and spinal cord development in utero. Plus, dietary choline has been shown in some studies to be linked with reduced risk of cognitive decline with age.
Eggs in the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is not only nutritious, but it’s also very accessible. By incorporating plenty of whole foods in your diet, you’re already on your way to eating the Med way. Eggs are not only a staple of the Mediterranean Diet, but they also play a role in weight management, muscle strength, healthy pregnancy, brain function, eye health and more. Here are some meal examples that combine the power of the Med Diet with the benefits of eggs.