What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

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The Mediterranean diet is filled with a variety of flavors and colors, and it is widely praised for its health-boosting and weight loss properties. The Mediterranean diet is based on the eating habits of people in coastal Mediterranean countries including Italy, Greece, Spain, Northern Africa and France. This diet embraces mostly vegetables and fruits, complex grains, healthy fats, lean proteins and the occasional glass of red wine, while minimizing intake of processed foods, added sugars and cholesterol-laden fats. This diet is very flexible, so there is no single way to reap the benefits.

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Numerous studies have shown that people who eat a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of heart disease and obesity, as well as improved blood glucose levels in type II diabetes, as reported by Mayo Clinic. The abundance of heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts, helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, while the abundance of antioxidants in fruits, vegetables and red wine help to reduce inflammation in the body and lower the risk for certain types of cancer. Complex carbohydrates help promote weight loss and better digestive health due to the higher levels of fiber compared to starchy white bread and cakes.

Choosing Foods for the Mediterranean Diet
Switching to a Mediterranean diet does not have to be a daunting task. Simply switching up certain foods in place of others can go a long way in creating a healthy, vibrant diet. Follow these tips to incorporate some of the key components of the Mediterranean diet into everyday meals.

  • Healthy Fats: Switch out butter, margarine and other types of oil for heart-healthy olive oil. Use it in salad dressings, sauces and soups, or flavor it with garlic, red pepper, herbs and sun-dried tomatoes and use it as a dip for breads. Drizzle it over fish, chicken and vegetables before and after roasting or grilling, and try replacing olive oil for butter in mashed potatoes. Dieters should limit the intake of whole-fat dairy products and enjoy milk, yogurt and cheese in moderation. Snack on nuts such as cashews, walnuts, pistachios and almonds in place of chips or crackers, but try to eat no more than a handful per day and limit the eating of fried foods.
  • Proteins: Seafood is a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet. Try upping the intake of fish or shellfish to twice a week. Some of the top contenders rich in omega-3 fatty acids include tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines, but white fish like cod and tilapia are also appropriate choices. Poultry and lean beef are versatile proteins, and portion sizes should be limited to the size of a deck of cards. Beans are packed with protein and make an excellent addition to salads, sauces or soups.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: The sky's the limit when it comes to adding produce under this diet. Experiment with more dark, leafy greens such as escarole, spinach and kale. Add these to salads or saute with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and white beans for a flavorful pasta sauce. Snack on seasonal fruits and vegetables, or try drizzling veggies with olive oil and roasting, sauteeing, steaming or grilling them. Experiment with different herbs and seasonings, and don't be afraid to try something new to mix things up.