Is there a BEST way to eat to support our immune health? If we had to choose one, we’d say the research points to the Mediterranean Diet.

The internet is overrun with information and products regarding boosting the immune system. It can be very challenging to decipher what is fact, and what is marketing. Many diets and products are being pushed for personal gain. Now is a critical time to understand what the evidence says about the immune system. One we understand what the evidence says, we don’t have to live in confusion or fear.  

As we aim to understand the facts, what does the evidence say about immunity and food? Is there a specific diet that could help with immune function? The answer is yes: the Mediterranean diet. Lucky for us, this diet not only helps with immunity, but it also helps with other health conditions. The Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Those are some pretty substantial benefits. It’s no surprise that the Mediterranean diet is the #1 diet in the United States according to a panel of health experts (1). 

If you’re unfamiliar, the Mediterranean diet focuses on mono-unsaturated fats, omega-3 fats, and fiber. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, herbs, olive oil, and fish are all encouraged. The diet also includes some poultry/other meat, red wine, and dairy. 

Mediterranean Diet and Immunity 

cover of the prevention mediterranean table cookbook

Want some Mediterranean recipe ideas? Check out our cookbook

In response to a foreign substance or injury, our body becomes inflamed. This inflammation is helpful for a short period of time, but long-term inflammation actually decreases our immune function (3). This would leave us more susceptible to viruses such as the Coronavirus. 

Following the Mediterranean diet naturally lowers long-term inflammation and therefore boosts immunity.  High consumption of fruits, vegetables, omega-3 fats, and fiber decreases inflammation. Foods such as sugar, refined starches, and trans-fats increase inflammation (2). 

4 Simple Steps to Eat More Like a Mediterranean from Our Mediterranean Table Cookbook!

1. Go with the Seasonal Flow.

Sometimes the hardest part about meal planning for our families is to come up with what to serve. Instead of trying to create meals out of thin air, let the seasons be your guide. When we go with seasonal produce, they’re not only at the peak of deliciousness, they are usually less expensive than out of season produce.  With summer right around the corner, build your meals around seasonal veggies like bell peppers, carrots, and zucchini. 

2. Make A Meal Out of Sides.

Take a cue from Spanish-style tapas or Middle Eastern meze platters and create a meal from several veggie-centric, appetizer style dishes. You’ll be surprised at how satisfying a selection of small plates can be. The Mediterranean diet also includes a focus on slowing down and enjoying family style meals. Tapas and sides are perfect for this.

mezze platters

3. Treat Meat as a Flavor Enhancer.

Meat is not off limits, but the goal is to enjoy it in the right quantity. Many of the dishes from the Mediterranean diet use meat more as a flavor enhancer instead of being the star of the dish. Look for recipes that use smaller portions of meat IN vegetable or grain based dishes.  

4. End Meals with fruit.

For everyday meals, most Mediterranean eaters enjoy fruit for dessert.  This is a mindset shift away from traditional cookies or brownies, but once you do it consistently, you can actually retrain your taste buds to enjoy the natural sweetness from fruit. 

1. https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diets-overall 
2.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4443792/ 
3. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/take-your-diet-to-the-mediterranean 

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.