If you’re ready to change to a healthy diet regimen that’s also tasty and easy to maintain, then the Mediterranean diet may be ideal for you. Although it’s called the Mediterranean diet, it’s more a lifestyle change than a restrictive diet. It combines healthy food that’s tasty and simply prepared using traditional cooking methods and flavors from the Mediterranean.
Interest in the Mediterranean diet began in the 1960s when researchers noted that the inhabitants of Greece and Italy were much healthier than Americans who consumed a typical Western diet. The researchers determined that the Mediterranean diet was the key to a healthier and easier-to-maintain lifestyle than was the case with many other diets. Then, Harvard researchers found that those who followed the Mediterranean style of eating reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 25 percent.
Traditional diets are usually restrictive, many use costly foods or ingredients, and they take a long time to be effective. Consequently, many people fall off their diet wagon before they’re reached their goals. This can cause them to become discouraged and despondent.
However, the Mediterranean diet offers a varied menu that’s enhanced with seasonings and spices that are available in most supermarkets. It doesn’t involve special meals that are costly and unhealthy, and dieters usually notice an immediate difference in the way they look and feel.
If this sounds interesting, but you’re not familiar with this very popular way of eating, then please continue reading to learn more.
What Are The Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is associated with a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease that causes strokes and heart attacks, as well as a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, and premature death.
By using fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, and a variety of spices that are readily available in most areas, those who adopt this way of eating usually begin losing weight right away. Most notice an immediate increase in their energy levels as well as a reduction in bloating and stomach discomfort.
Since there are numerous Mediterranean countries, there is no set of rules that must be followed to eat a Mediterranean-style diet. However, the key is to consume less red meat and dairy than is typical in Western diets and focus instead on fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meat and poultry, and natural foods that are as unprocessed as possible. This is ideal for those who are lactose-intolerant or vegetarian. Mediterranean-style diets also reduce the:
- Development of breast cancer
- Incidence of premature death
- Level of inflammation
- Risk of chronic major illness
- Risk of developing type 2 diabetes
Another key to a successful Mediterranean-style diet is to eat everything in moderation and avoid highly processed and refined foods, such as white sugar, refined grains, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Even on a Mediterranean diet, if you consume more calories than you expend, you’ll gain weight.
Reduces The Risk Of Heart Disease And Stroke
Since the Mediterranean diet is low in red meat and dairy, it contributes to lower cholesterol levels because of its levels of omega-3 fatty acids. While it reduces your level of “bad” cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol, it raises your “good” cholesterol levels and lowers your triglycerides. The diversity of nutrients in this style of eating ensures that your body will work in homeostasis and fight the diseases that you may encounter.
Helps Reduce Cognitive Decline And Alzheimer’s Disease
Research has indicated that consuming foods typical of the Mediterranean diet can slow some of the changes in the brain that occur in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. Those who have Alzheimer’s or are in the early stages of it have an accumulation of the beta-amyloid protein that’s been linked to the development of cognitive decline. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet resulted in a lesser accumulation of this damaging protein, and the age and genetic makeup of the individual weren’t relative to the benefit.
Helps In Weight Loss And Maintenance
Research indicates that those who adopt the Mediterranean diet and stick with it for the long term – at least six months – achieve more weight loss and better health than those who adopt other types of diet plans. The Mediterranean diet is similar to the keto or low-carb plans for success, but dieters need to monitor their intake. Eating only the food that you need rather than binge eating will provide the best results. In addition, you need to get regular exercise and eliminate “cheat days.”
Helps Stave Off And Manage Type 2 Diabetes
Since a Mediterranean diet promotes the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s excellent for those who have type 2 diabetes. The high-fiber content of fruits and vegetables promotes a more stable blood glucose level which more easily enables people with diabetes to control their blood sugar and reduce or eliminate the need for prescription medications.
Research has proved that the Mediterranean diet improves fasting glucose and A1C levels better than low-fat diets.
Helps With Depression And Anxiety
You are what you eat. We’ve heard this adage many times, but it seems that it’s true. Researchers have found a correlation between diet and the development of mental disorders. Individuals who consumed a diet high in polyphenols, such as those found in the Mediterranean diet, had a lower incidence of depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders than those who consumed the typical Western diet.
Polyphenols are antioxidants that are found in plants and plant-based foods, and they’re very good for your health. In addition to promoting good mental health, they reduce inflammation, blood sugar levels, and cardiovascular disease.
Helps Maintain Gut Health
The high levels of polyphenols found in the Mediterranean diet encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, promoting both physical and mental health. Polyphenols are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that promote health throughout your body. They should be obtained from food rather than supplements, though, because excessively high doses of polyphenols may not be beneficial.
What Foods Are On The Mediterranean Diet Food List?
If you’re wondering what you can eat on this very popular diet, the answer is: Almost anything as long as it’s healthy and not highly processed. The success of the Mediterranean diet relies on the absence of additives, chemicals, and preservatives that are the mainstays of the typical Western diet.
Since fruits and vegetables comprise the bulk of the Mediterranean diet, you shouldn’t go hungry. In addition, fruits can satisfy your occasional craving for something sweet. Even if you have diabetes, the fructose contained in natural fruit is metabolized differently than the various sugars and high fructose corn syrup found in supermarket foods, so it shouldn’t disrupt your blood sugar.
- Fruits: Fresh fruits are part of the Mediterranean diet, including apples, bananas, dates, figs, grapes, melons, oranges, pears, peaches, melons, and strawberries. Dried fruits, except for figs and dates, are discouraged because of their high sugar content as well as the preservatives that are used in the drying process.
- Vegetables: Most vegetables are great for the Mediterranean diet, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, kale, onions, mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes.
- Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds that go well with the Mediterranean include almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.
- Tubers: Tubers allowed on the Mediterranean diet include white potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and yams. Although these may seem like “bad” carbs, they’re high in fiber, potassium, and vitamins, but they should be consumed in moderation.
- Whole Grains: Like tubers, whole grains should be consumed in moderation as part of a well-balanced Mediterranean diet. Whole grains include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, corn, whole oats, whole wheat, whole grain pasta and bread, and rye.
- Fish and Seafood: On the Mediterranean diet, the bulk of protein is derived from poultry, fish, and seafood such as clams, crab, mackerel, mussels, oysters, salmon, sardines, shrimp, trout, and tuna.
- Poultry: Chicken, duck, and turkey are the most common types of poultry that are found on the Mediterranean diet, primarily because of their availability. However, other types of fowl are also acceptable, such as goose and quail.
- Eggs: Poultry eggs from chicken, duck, quail, and turkey provide great breakfast foods on the Mediterranean diet, and they’re high in protein and nutrients as well.
- Dairy: Although the Mediterranean diet doesn’t use lots of dairy, you can use full-fat feta or other types of cheese, yogurt, and Greek yogurt if you include it in your dietary regimen. Alternative kinds of milk are also an option, such as almond, rice, or soy milk. The Mediterranean diet isn’t low-fat, but the best source of dietary fat is from other sources such as olives and avocados.
- Herbs and Spices: Herbs and spices are essential to the success of the Mediterranean diet because they provide variety to the diet, and many of them contribute to the nutritional aspects of your food. Some of the most popular and beneficial include basil, cinnamon, garlic, mint, nutmeg, rosemary, sage, and pepper. However, there’s really no limit to the herbs and spices you can use on this diet. Use the ones you like and don’t use the others.
- Healthy Fats: The Mediterranean diet focuses on healthy fats such as avocados, avocado oil, olives, and extra virgin olive oil. Very little butter or soybean or canola oil is used since butter is a dairy product, and soybean and canola oils are usually genetically modified and sprayed with pesticides, which counteracts the beneficial effects of the diet.
What’s A Good Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan?
The good news is that you can eat more food on the Mediterranean diet than is typically found on other types of diets except for keto. The difference, however, is the type of food you eat and that moderate consumption of wine is recommended.
The following sample food plan may help you plan your menu for the week:
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with oats and strawberries or another fruit
- Lunch: Vegetarian sandwich with whole grain bread and raw or roasted vegetables
- Dinner: Salad with tuna, assorted vegetables, nuts or seeds, olives, avocado, feta cheese, or other ingredients of your choosing
- Dessert or snack: One or two pieces of fruit, nuts, or seeds
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with honey, raisins, and nuts, if desired
- Lunch: Leftover tuna salad on whole grain bread and raw or roasted vegetables, such as carrots, celery, olives, or your preference
- Dinner: Whole grain pasta salad with chicken or seafood, assorted vegetables, nuts or seeds, olives, avocado, feta cheese, or your other favorite ingredients
- Dessert or snack: Dates or figs
- Breakfast: Omelet with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, seasonings, and feta cheese
- Lunch: Grilled cheese sandwich with homemade tomato soup
- Dinner: Seafood of your choice with brown rice and roasted eggplant or vegetables of your choice
- Dessert or snack: Fresh fruit, dates, or figs
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with whole grains and fresh fruit
- Lunch: Leftovers from Wednesday dinner or grilled tomato-feta-onion sandwich from whole grain bread
- Dinner: Mediterranean lasagne
- Dessert or snack: One or two pieces of fruit
- Breakfast: Eggs and potatoes fried in olive oil, piece of fruit
- Lunch: Greek yogurt with fruit and oats
- Dinner: Grilled lamb, Caprese salad, baked potato
- Dessert or snack: Fruit
- Breakfast: Steamed apple with nuts and raisins, oatmeal with honey
- Lunch: Sandwich from whole grain bread and raw or roasted vegetables
- Dinner: Mediterranean whole wheat pizza with cheese, vegetables, and olives
- Dessert or snack: One or two pieces of fruit
- Breakfast: Vegetable omelet, fried potatoes
- Lunch: Leftover pizza
- Dinner: Pasta with grilled chicken, olives, mushrooms, celery, and red peppers
- Dessert or snack: Fruit
Since calorie-counting isn’t a factor in the Mediterranean diet as long as you consume moderate portions of food, you should feel sated but not stuffed when you follow a dietary regimen similar to the one above.
Eat slowly and mindfully, and concentrate on the various flavors and textures of the food you’re consuming, and you may never want to revert to your former eating habits. If you experience hunger pangs between meals, then snack on fresh fruits or vegetables, nuts or seeds, or Greek yogurt.
When you’re shopping for food for your Mediterranean diet plan, stick to the perimeter of the store and avoid the inside aisles. The perimeter contains the produce section, the dairy section, and the meat department. These are all part of your diet. The aisles in the center, however, contain all the packaged and processed foods, so you should avoid those.
Mediterranean Diet FAQ
The following FAQ may provide more insight on following the Mediterranean diet and the pitfalls to avoid.
Which foods aren’t allowed on the Mediterranean diet?
Generally, you should avoid anything that’s highly refined or processed or not in its natural state. This doesn’t mean that you should eat raw olives, but you should avoid white sugar, white flour, additives and preservatives, low-fat and low-calorie “health” foods – because they’re full of unhealthy substances – and red meat. Although red meat is acceptable occasionally, the bulk of your protein should be from poultry and seafood.
How much weight can I lose on the Mediterranean diet?
Weight loss will be unique to the individual and will depend on their unique physiology, their activity level, the amount of food they consume, and their heredity. Overall good health, rather than weight loss, is the objective of the Mediterranean diet.
Which types of bread can you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
Whole grain bread or whole grain sourdough is acceptable on the Mediterranean diet, but limiting the amount of carbohydrates you eat will facilitate weight loss if that’s your objective.
Where should the majority of fat come from on the Mediterranean diet?
The majority of fats in the Mediterranean diet should come from olives and avocados. However, sunflower oil and walnut oil are also acceptable.
Why is the Mediterranean diet so healthy?
The Mediterranean diet relies on the nutrients in healthy food to promote a healthy body. Fresh, wholesome food is the best method for maintaining physical health because it doesn’t add substances that aren’t already found in the body, such as additives, food colorings, preservatives, and so forth.
How many calories should I eat on the Mediterranean diet?
Counting calories isn’t usually part of the Mediterranean diet. When you eat moderate portions – considering your age and activity level – and don’t overeat, your weight should start self-regulating. One of the very popular benefits of the Mediterranean diet is that people eat foods they like in moderate quantities without counting points or calories or similar.
Summary Of The Mediterranean Diet
Many people research the Mediterranean diet as an alternative to keto because it’s easier to follow and there’s a wider variety of food choices. Some people cannot stick to keto because ketosis causes bad breath, and the food choices are relatively limited.
With the Mediterranean diet, however, the food choices are more diverse, and fruit can be used as a snack, a dessert, or to satisfy a craving for something sweet. Sweets are mostly off-limits on keto although natural honey can be used in moderation.