The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating practice based on foods and recipes typical of Mediterranean cuisine. Here’s how to adopt the Mediterranean diet. If you are looking to adopt a healthy diet, the Mediterranean diet might be proper for you.
The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of a healthy diet – including fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and limiting unhealthy fats – with a drizzle of tasty olive oil characterizing the traditional cuisine of the countries bordering the Mediterranean.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet:
Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. This diet has been linked to a lower level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – the “bad” cholesterol that tends to deposit in the arteries and promote cardiovascular risk.
In fact, a meta-analysis of over 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that the Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality.
The Mediterranean diet is also associated with reduced cancer incidence and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women who follow a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil and dried fruits may reduce breast cancer risk.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:
- Foods of plant origin, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
- Replace butter with healthy fats such as olive oil
- Use herbs and spices instead of salt to season and flavor foods
- Limit red meat to no more than a few times per month
- Eat fish and poultry at least twice a week
- Enjoy meals with family and friends
- Get plenty of exercises
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains:
The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta, and rice. For example, the Greeks eat very little red meat and an average of nine servings per day of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants.
Grains in the Mediterranean region are generally whole grains and often contain very little unhealthy trans-fat; bread is an essential part of the Mediterranean diet.
However, throughout the Mediterranean region, bread is eaten soaked in olive oil, not with butter or margarine, which contain saturated or trans fats.
Dried fruits are another main component of the Mediterranean diet. Nuts are high in fat (about 80 percent of their calories come from fat), but most of these fats are not saturated.
Because dried fruits are high in calories, they shouldn’t be eaten in large amounts – usually no more than a handful per day. Avoid strongly sweetened or salty dried fruits.
The goal of the Mediterranean diet is not to limit total fat intake but rather to make the wise choice about what type of fat to eat. The Mediterranean diet advises against saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans fats), both of which contribute to heart disease.
The Mediterranean diet has olive oil as the primary source of fat. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fats – a type of fat that can help lower LDL cholesterol levels when used in place of saturated or trans fats.
“Extra virgin” and “virgin” olive oils – the less processed forms – also contain the highest levels of protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.
Some dried fruits contain linoleic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid). Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides, thin the blood (decrease blood clotting) and are associated with reduced heart attacks, improve the health of blood vessels and help normalize blood pressure.
Oily fish – like mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon – are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish is eaten regularly in the Mediterranean diet.
Put it all together!
The Mediterranean diet is a delicious and healthy way to eat. Many people who switch to this style claim that they will never eat otherwise. Here are some specific steps to get you started:
- Eat your vegetables and fruits and switch to whole grains:
An abundance and wide variety of plant foods should make up the majority of your meals. Aim for seven to ten servings per day of vegetables and fruit. Switch to whole-grain bread and grains, and start eating whole wheat pasta and rice.
- More dried fruits:
Keep almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts on hand for a quick snack. Choose natural peanut butter rather than the version with added hydrogenated fat. Try tahini (sesame seeds mixed into a paste) as a dip or spread on bread.
- Less butter:
Try olive oil as a healthy replacement for butter or margarine. Use it in the kitchen. Dip bread in olive oil or spread it lightly on whole-grain bread for a tasty buttery alternative.
Herbs and spices make food tasty and are also rich in substances that are beneficial to health. Season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
- More fish:
Eat fish once or twice a week. Tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring are healthy choices. Grilled fish tastes better. Avoid fried fish unless they are sautéed in a small amount of olive oil.
- Less red meat:
Replace red meat with fish and poultry. If you eat meat, make sure it is lean, and portions are small (about the size of a deck of cards). Also, avoid sausages, bacon, and other processed and high-fat meats.
- Choose low-fat dairy products:
Limit fatty dairy products, such as whole milk, cheese, and ice cream. Switch to skim milk, fat-free yogurt, and low-fat cheese, preferably goat or sheep.