When we think "diet" we tend to think of restrictions, of favorite foods denied. The Mediterranean diet is a little different. It's not necessarily a specific diet plan that you follow for a while; it's more like a way of life that you adopt long-term. It's based on the typical diet of people from Crete and Southern Italy, whose low rates of chronic diseases and longer life spans led researchers to examine their diet to find out what they're doing right!
What are the Secrets of the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet favors lots of fresh fruit and veggies, legumes, fresh fish, nuts, olive oil as the main source of fat, and a bit of red wine with meals. Turns out, it’s a diet that’s good for the body and for the mind. Following a Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower the risk of illnesses, including heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, even Alzheimer’s disease.
Key Foods of the Mediterranean Diet
Fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, and herbs and spices form the core of the Mediterranean diet. Beans and nuts are packed with protein without added saturated fat; herbs and spices add flavor without sodium; and whole grains, fruits, and vegetables fill you up and sustain your energy while keeping cravings down.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil is the primary source of fat in the Mediterranean diet. It’s used to cook and season food instead of butter, reducing saturated fats. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, which is linked to a reduction in the risk of heart disease.
Fish and Seafood
Fish and seafood provide lean protein, essential nutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids, which promote brain and heart health. Seafood with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish like mackerel, salmon, anchovies, herring, and sardines.
Poultry and Dairy
Additional lean protein comes from poultry, eggs, low-fat cheese, and low-fat yogurt without adding too much fat. Poultry and dairy are eaten less frequently, but are an important part of Mediterranean cooking.
Red Wine in Moderation
It’s true! According to the Mediterranean diet, a glass of red wine with dinner is good for you. Of course, if you don’t drink alcohol or are shooting for weight loss, you can skip it. Otherwise, a little antioxidant-rich red wine each day (one glass) has its health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease.
Foods to Avoid
Two things the Mediterranean diet does well without? Saturated fat and heavily processed foods, which are common in the American diet. Essentially it comes down to cutting out the fatty red meat and favoring whole foods. When eating meat, choose lean cuts with less saturated fat and reduce portion size.
Living the Mediterranean Lifestyle
Since the Mediterranean diet is a way of life, it also includes quality of life considerations. Simple pleasures like eating around the table with family and friends are part of the lifestyle. Eating together makes mealtime a leisurely and fulfilling activity contributing to overall happiness and well-being. Regular exercise also fits into this category, and has obvious benefits. Even something as easy as walking burns calories and improves mood.
Is the Mediterranean Diet right for you?
By Mia Trost, Healthy Content Editor