By Audrey Kessler, RD, LDN
The Mediterranean diet isn’t just another fad that will soon fade away. For one thing, research has revealed that it has numerous health benefits. Following a traditional Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduce risk of heard disease, cancer and cancer-related deaths, as well as a lower prevalence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Secondly, it may be an effective way to lose weigh and keep it off. Third, it is delicious!
Not a “diet” per se, the Mediterranean diet is more like a healthy way of life. It incorporates food, exercise, sharing meals with loved ones, and--if you already drink--wine in moderation with meals. Also, when it comes to food choices within this lifestyle, there is no single dietary plan to follow. After all, the Mediterranean diet is based on the eating patterns of over a dozen coastal fishing regions that border the Mediterranean Sea.
Of course, there are basic qualities to the Mediterranean diet. Here are five key components to Mediterranean-style eating. Included are ways to incorporate these diet recommendations into your every day.
- Eat your veggies. And a lot of them. Not to be saved for supper only, there is an appropriate vegetable for any meal of the day. Serve spinach sauteed with garlic alongside your morning toast and eggs. Top your pizza with a mountain of colorful vegetables, like green peppers, mushrooms and onions. For meetings at the office, order a vegetable tray including tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and celery. Keep a spring mix in the fridge for a quick sandwich stuffer or plate-filler at dinner. Raw or cooked, include as many vegetables into your daily menu as you can.
- Stay wholly. The Mediterranean way is to focus on fresh, whole foods, preferable in season and locally grown. THink whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, and unprocessed legumes, such as beans and lentils. Try to eat fewer refined foods. For smoothies or cereal toppers, choose fruits like blueberries and strawberries, which are in season come May. Remember, this also includes frozen unsweetened fruits, whose wholesomeness and beneficial nutrients stay intact when picked and then flash-frozen.
- Fat is not forbidden. Just keep it healthy. Good sources of fats include extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, olives and avocados. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat and antioxidants. Drizzle it over salads and steamed vegetables. Make a trail mix with your favorite unsalted nuts or seeds--like walnuts, peanuts, cashews and sunflower seeds--and eat a small handful before lunch. Green or black olives make a great savory snack. Use slice avocado to add creaminess to sandwiches in place of condiments like mayonnaise or mustard. Or, try substituting half the amount of butter in baking recipes with mashed avocado. It might sound strange, you will never tell the difference.
- Eat meat in moderation; choose fish more often. For meat-eaters, make your portions small. Use thin strips of sirloin in sauteed vegetables or garnish spaghetti with grilled chicken. In the Mediterranean diet, red meat is eaten rarely, about once per month. So, start incorporating more fish into your diet. Instead of your usual hamburger, choose a fresh piece of salmon or mackerel for your mid-day meal. Some supermarkets even steam your fish onsite upon request. Add a little salsa or lemon for flavor and you’ve got a lower-fat, lower-calorie entree.
- Don’t diet, live it. Did you know “diet” in the original, Latin sense of the word diaeta, meant “way of living”? Now, think about the people living in the Mediterranean on which this diet is based. They probably lead a more relaxed life, savoring their meals with friends and family and regularly engaging in physical activity. Truly following the Mediterranean lifestyle means slowing down--to enjoy good food, including the time spent preparing and sharing it with others--and speeding up, when it comes to making exercise a daily priority.
Mediterranean Diet & Pyramid. Oldways Web site. http://oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-diet-pyramid. Accessed March 25, 2015.
Mediterranean Diet: Best for Your Heart? Dr. Weil Web site. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA401258/Mediterranean-Diet-Best-For-Your-Heart.html. Published March 1, 2013. Accessed March 25, 2015.
Mediterranean Diet: A heart-healthy eating plan. Mayo Clinic Web site. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801. Published June 14, 2013. Accessed March 25, 2015.