You may have heard people raving about the Mediterranean diet online or even in your friend group. It's a lifestyle known far beyond the Mediterranean sea for helping prevent a host of diseases such as diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease. It may even help fight cognitive decline.
Doctors and nutritionists alike recommend the Mediterranean diet as opposed to the traditional Western diet. If you're thinking of changing what you eat on a daily basis, this option merits consideration. Let's get into where the Mediterranean diet came from and how you can follow it to improve your health.
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Origins of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is based on the habits of people from Crete, Greece around the 1960s. These island inhabitants had long life expectancies and low rates of chronic diseases.
When some people hear the word "Mediterranean," they may think about juicy lamb chops or rich Italian pasta. However, the diet Mediterranean is comprised of mostly fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts, beans, seafood, and olive oil. Additionally, you should incorporate daily exercise and try to share meals with others.
The Mediterranean diet is recognized by the World Health Organization and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Making the change to a more plant-based lifestyle has the following benefits for physical and mental health:
Combined, all of the aspects of the Mediterranean diet can help you live a healthier, longer life. It's important to focus on the social part of the lifestyle as well. Eating with others can improve your mood as well as make it easier to appreciate eating healthy foods.
Foods You Can Eat
There is no one correct way to follow the Mediterranean diet. Different countries do so differently. The basic guidelines involve:
The Mediterranean diet requires unprocessed, unrefined ingredients in your meals. Some examples of foods you can add to your shopping list include:
You also want to cook with natural spices and herbs such as pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, mint, garlic, and basil. It's suggested that you consume eggs as well. The key to following the Mediterranean diet for weight loss is much like any diet made of plants: eat mostly single-ingredient, whole foods.
Fats are such a staple of the Mediterranean diet that they deserve their own category. While you need to avoid saturated and trans fats, you want to replace them with unsaturated, good fats. The primary fat source in this diet is olive oil.
Olive oil is monounsaturated fat, so it can help lower levels of bad cholesterol. (3) Other sources of this fat are nuts and seeds.
Fish give you a type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are good for your heart health because they reduce blood clotting, decrease triglycerides, and reduce inflammation.
What to Drink
Your main beverage on the Mediterranean diet should be water. However, the diet includes about one optional glass of red wine per day.
Some studies show that replacing hard liquor with red wine can be good for your heart. It's important to keep in mind that this is only possible in moderation. (4). If you do not wish to drink alcohol, it is by no means a requirement.
Lastly, you can drink tea and coffee as well. Avoid adding processed sugar and sweeteners to any of your beverages.
Foods to Avoid
Avoid obviously unhealthy foods. If you are unsure, check the nutrition labels for ingredients and stay away from:
What About Snacks?
The Mediterranean diet eating plans call for three meals a day. If you get hungry before mealtime, some snack options include:
Any other plant foods, fruits, or veggies could make a good snack.
The Mediterranean diet offers you plenty of options for meals. There are so many ways to get your variety of healthy vegetables, protein, and whole grains every day. Here is a sample meal plan for three days on the diet.
Fortunately, you don't have to count calories on this diet. If you need to for health reasons or by the recommendation of a doctor, you can add extra proteins or veggies to any of these dishes.
Remember that you online want moderate amounts of dairy and sweets. Don't forget to pair your eating plan with physical activity to meet your fitness needs.
Much like your snack options, your choices for dessert should be plant-based. If you envision a Mediterranean diet pyramid, you should see sweets (along with meats) taking up the smallest section. You want to limit your intake of added sugar, so some healthier desserts could be:
If you are a dessert person, you can find plenty of online Mediterranean diet recipes for making sweets while healthy eating. You can also keep things simple by doing small servings of fruit as a sweet snack after dinner.
Starting the Mediterranean Diet
Are your current eating habits the opposite of the Mediterranean diet food pyramid? It can be a challenge to make long-lasting changes, if so. Fortunately, there is advice out there from experts to help you ease into a Mediterranean diet. These tips include:
Practice building meals around whole-grains, nuts, beans, and natural foods. A few small steps to get started are: replace the butter content in your diet with olive oil, eat pasta meals in small portions, and limit your fat consumption.
Perks of The Mediterranean Diet (Compared to Other Diets)
There are several reasons to love the Mediterranean diet. For starters, it doesn't take a lot of effort. You don't have to purchase fancy body monitors or keep a detailed account of what you consume. For this reason, you can stay focused on what matters and not become distracted by numbers.
You also get to enjoy fresh, colorful meals. Some restrictive diets limit what you can put on your plate. But, once you get used to Mediterranean eating, you'll find it can be freeing instead of constricting.
In addition to everything positive about Mediterranian food, the best part is that it includes bread! Go ahead and enjoy your wheat breads and sandwiches. Lastly, this diet is medically-reviewed and based on evidence. You don't have to fear that you're taking a gamble with your health.
To follow a Mediterranean diet, you want to consume a diet of mostly organic shrimp and shellfish, fish, seeds, legumes, nuts, grains, vegetables, fruits, eggs, olives, cheese, and tubers. Use virgin olive oil as a healthy fat. When you eat grains, go for anything whole-grain.
There are many options for breakfast on a Mediterranean diet. You can fill your plate with a serving of healthy foods such as:
If you feel stuck when coming up with dish ideas, look for a Mediterranean diet recipe book. There are many out there that cater to individuals of all kinds, and they should help you solve your problem. Try to avoid items that are overly processed, sugary, and fatty, such as pastries or breakfast sausage, for instance.
The reason the Mediterranean diet appeals to so many people is that it's something anyone can do. Compared to other diets, Mediterranean diet is not overly strict. The idea is that you create a lifestyle of plant-based eating, exercising, and building community.
However, you do need to cut out processed foods for the best results. Fill your pantry with produce and get rid of cookies, crackers, white bread, frozen pizza, candies, and sodas. If you keep healthy food in your kitchen, it will be easy to get used to eating it.
You should also avoid refined oils and anything that a company may have created in a factory.
You can consume nut butters on the Mediterranean diet. Some people think they must avoid nuts because of their fat content. Nuts actually have good types of fat and they help you feel full. Unfortunately, some brands of peanut butter can be full of bad ingredients that lower their nutritional value.
When you get peanut butter, look for a type that is organic and almost 100% peanuts. Avoid hydrogenated oils, palm oil, and stabilizer E471. Don't overdo it, though, and stick to a moderate amount each day. Done consciously, peanut butter can be a nice addition to your Mediterranean diet meals.
Final Thoughts - Mediterranean Style Living
There are lots of perks to the Mediterranean diet. You can get the entire family to eat in a way that is good for their brain health, cholesterol levels, and mental wellness. Depending on your purposes, you can even use the Mediterranean diet to lose weight.
If you eat like most people in the United States, it can be difficult to adjust to a diet based on plants. But this diet has reached far beyond the Mediterranean sea, and you'll find it well worth it. Your heart will thank you for the positive change and, let's not forget, you get to drink wine!
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George, E. S., Marshall, S., Mayr, H. L., Trakman, G. L., Tatucu-Babet, O. A., Lassemillante, A. C. M., ... & Thomas, C. J. (2019). The effect of high-polyphenol extra virgin olive oil on cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 59(17), 2772-2795.
Liberale, L., Bonaventura, A., Montecucco, F., Dallegri, F., & Carbone, F. (2019). Impact of red wine consumption on cardiovascular health. Current medicinal chemistry, 26(19), 3542-3566.