The South Beach Diet, the Paleo diet, the Whole30…there are so many diets out there, it can feel overwhelming to choose one. If you have food allergies or intolerances, some of these may work great for you. But if you are looking for a holistic, healthy, sustainable way to eat well, the Mediterranean Diet is well-balanced approach to eating that can last for the rest of your life.
The Mediterranean diet is more than just a diet—it is really a lifestyle plan for eating and achieving wellness. Best of all, you can incorporate parts of it into your meals and still get some great benefits for your overall health and health conditions.
What is the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet gets its name from the traditional cooking and eating style of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, a few are Greece, Turkey, Israel and Spain. The diet includes the basics of healthy eating with fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains. Specifically, the main themes of the Mediterranean diet include:
- Focusing on plant-based foods
- Replacing butter with extra-virgin olive oil
- Flavoring foods with herbs and spices rather than salt
- Only eating red meat a few times a month
- Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
- Staying away from sugar-sweetened beverages, processed foods, refined grains and refined oils
A big part of this diet/lifestyle includes partaking in leisurely meals with family and friends. The emphasis on sharing meals helps us to focus on taking time to enjoy the food we eat. The diet also advocates drinking red wine in moderation and getting plenty of exercise. In the Mediterranean countries, walking is favored over driving a car.
Benefits of Eating the Mediterranean Diet
As with most diets that focus on plant-based foods and reduce processed foods and refined fats and sugars, you will likely lose weight. For those of us looking to trim down, eating this way will help you do it while still enjoying many delicious foods.
The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality, incidence of cancer and occurrence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. It may even reduce breast cancer in women, due to the emphasis on extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts. The truth is that most scientific organizations encourage this eating lifestyle as a part of a preventative health plan and to improve overall health and wellness.
Getting Started Eating Well
These are the foods to include and exclude from this eating lifestyle.
- Generous helpings of fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds – almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Legumes– beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas
- Tubers – foods grown underground such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips
- Whole grains
- Seafood and fish at least twice a week
- Dairy – Greek yogurt, cheese
- Extra-virgin olive oil, and healthy fats such as avocados
- Herbs and spices – garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper
Stick with whole, single-ingredient foods.
STAY AWAY FROM
In general, processed and multi-ingredient foods are to be avoided. To know what to avoid, you’ll likely want to get in the habit of reading labels more carefully. Specifically, steer clear of:
- Anything with added sugar – ice cream, sodas, candy
- Table sugar
- Refined grains – non-whole grain breads, cereal, pasta
- Anything containing trans fats, especially margarine
- Refined oils – canola, vegetable, soybean
- Highly processed foods – deli meats, things made in a factory or labeled “diet”
Yes, red wine is a part of the Mediterranean diet. However, it’s meant to be consumed in moderation. Studies have connected wine with a reduced risk of heart disease in some research studies. But how much is moderate?
A moderate amount of wine means no more than 5 ounces of wine daily for women (or men over age 65), and no more than 10 ounces daily for men under age 65. This is about one glass per day.
Water is actually the main beverage in the Mediterranean diet. Coffee and tea are OK (both are made from water) but avoid anything sweetened with sugar.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a chore….it can be a joyful experience full of delicious explorations with positive benefits to your health and wellbeing. Look up Mediterranean diet on google and check out sample recipes. Here is one below!
Mediterranean Vegetable Barley Soup
- 2 quarts vegetable broth
- 1 cup uncooked barley
- 2 large carrots, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Pour the vegetable broth into a large pot. Add the barley, carrots, celery, tomatoes, zucchini, garbanzo beans, onion, and bay leaves. Season with garlic powder, sugar, salt, pepper, parsley, curry powder, paprika, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 90 minutes. The soup will be very thick. You may adjust by adding more broth or less barley if desired. Remove bay leaves before serving.