People are more health-conscious in recent years than they were before. Gym memberships, yoga class subscriptions, low carb diet plans, and the like have become increasingly popular. A lot of people – including you – are on the road to start or get better in their wellness journey, where food is a very important factor.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the popular methods followed for healthy food consumption. Inspired by the traditional culinary practices in North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Mediterranean Middle East since the 1960s, food is prepared to be savored and enjoyed, not rushed.
It was noted that people in these areas are healthier than Americans and experienced low incidents of lifestyle diseases.
There is no single correct way to follow the Mediterranean diet. This article shares with you a guide on the dietary pattern described in studies as a healthy way of eating. You can adjust your plan according to your individual needs and preferences.
What makes up a Mediterranean Diet
This diet is generally made up of a high intake of plant-based food, a moderate intake of poultry and fish, and a low intake of dairy products.
1. The basics: fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes
These will make up most of your Mediterranean diet dishes – every meal is centered around them. Not sure which ones to pick? You can start with oranges, grapes, tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers.
2. Fats! – The healthy ones
Unlike other types of diet plans, the Mediterranean diet does not count your calorie intake. Fats are recommended, but make sure you choose the healthy ones. Use olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oil.
3. Fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy
Eat fish at least twice a week, while poultry, eggs, and dairy are eaten less often, perhaps just a few days a week. Tip: Cultured milk like Greek yogurt or ricotta cheese is easier to digest than your usual milk.
4. Water, lots of them
Water should be your go-to beverage. Drink as much as you need or add some green tea, mint, or fresh fruits for flavor. Some people in the Mediterranean diet also drink coffee to aid digestion and moderate amounts of red wine (around one glass per day) are also acceptable.
5. Have fun!
The Mediterranean diet should be coupled with physical activity and socializing while eating. You can start by working out or running outside with your friends and family and then sharing a hearty and healthy meal after.
Let’s get you started!
Here are some Mediterranean diet recipes to get you started:
1. Cicoria e Fagioli
With just six ingredients and 20 minutes of prep time, you can have a warm and healthy meal ready for you and your family.
2. Fattoush Salad
Fatoush salad is a staple in the Middle Eastern table. You will have everything you can find in a traditional garden with homemade pita chips served as croutons!
A classic Mediterranean dish – this diet will not deprive you of the good stuff! Perfect as salad dressing, vegetable dip, or sandwich filling.
4. Bourtheto Fish Stew
Another easy but flavorful dish you can try. Low on ingredients, but high on flavor – it will never make you feel like you’re on a diet.
5. Lemon Shrimp Pasta
Unlike other diet meal plans, pasta is not off-limits in the Mediterranean diet. Just choose whole-grain pasta and keep your portion sizes under control, your healthy eating is still good to go.
6. Chickpea and Eggplant Warm Salad
A fresh, satisfying, and healthy dish you can cook in just three steps.
7. Grilled Fish in Saffron Sauce
A dish perfect for summer – seasoned lightly, oiled and grilled, then brushed with the saffron marinade at regular intervals. If you are not a fan of whole fish, swordfish fillets are great alternatives.
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Getting into any diet would require long-term commitment and consistency, but this is something your future self will thank you for.
Here are eight benefits that will make your diet shift worth trying:
1. It is good for your heart
This is the most popular health benefit. Research shows that the Mediterranean diet has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and early death because of better heart health. Researchers believe that the heart-healthy benefits of the Mediterranean diet result from the quantity of monounsaturated fats, which increase levels of "good" cholesterol and improve its functioning. Most ingredients that make up the diet are rich in omega 3 like fish, nuts, olive oil, etc.
2. It improves your brain’s health
Loaded with healthy fats for the brain, the Mediterranean diet can help boost brain power and prevent cognitive decline. A study with 1,864 participants showed that those who followed the Mediterranean diet were less likely to get Alzheimer’s or experience other types of cognitive decline in old age.
3. It helps stabilize your blood sugar
This benefit comes as you consume more of the whole grains and healthy carbohydrates that are part of the Mediterranean diet. Eventually, it keeps your blood sugar levels in control and helps with your overall energy. In fact, Mediterranean diet is one of the recommended nutrition plans for people with pre-diabetes and diabetes. Among people diagnosed type 2 diabetes, those who followed Mediterranean-style weight loss diet resulted in better blood sugar levels, more pounds lost, and better cardiovascular risk factors compared to those who had low fat diet.
4. It is linked to lowering your risk of cancer
Research suggest that about 70% of your lifetime risk of cancer is within your control to change – this includes your diet. What you eat and don’t eat have a remarkable impact on your health, including your risk for cancer. Studies have shown that those who follow the Mediterranean diet have lower cancer mortality rate than those who do not. These cancer types include colon cancer, gastric cancer, breast cancer, and liver cancer. This can be attributed to consuming natural food instead of processed and fried food, sugar, and unhealthy fats.
5. It helps fight depression
Psychiatrist and Well+Good Wellness Council member Drew Ramsey, MD makes a diet plan rich in vegetables and healthy fats for his patients with mental health issues. The carotenoids in this food group have shown to boost the good bacteria in your gut, and in turn, your mood. A 2013 study showed that those who followed a Mediterranean diet had a 98.6 percent lower risk of developing depression than those who did not.
6. It promotes healthy weight loss
One common mistake made by people on a diet is believing that starving themselves will make them lose weight faster. In reality, a few bad things happen to your body when you starve yourself. First, your body will go into starvation mode when you eat very little or nothing at all. Your metabolism slows down and your body starts to preserve body fat. Second, you will most probably give in. Depriving yourself will make you even more tempted to eat all the food around you. Lastly, your body will process food differently when you finally eat again. Since your metabolism has slowed down, it will store fats from your food instead of processing them. With Mediterranean diet, all the fiber in your food makes you feel full but satisfied. It helps boost your metabolism and eventually results in healthy weight loss. The urge to indulge yourself on a “cheat day” will no longer be there. The key is to replace your carbohydrates with vegetables, beans, legumes, and fibrous fruits.
7. It helps prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs)
According to the World Health Organization, the Mediterranean diet has been found to help combat NCDs, which are currently part of the leading causes of premature death around the world. NCDs include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes. Tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, and unhealthy diet are factors that contribute to the occurrence of NCDs.
8. It is linked to living longer
Eating a Mediterranean diet was linked to a longer life. The largest association was seen in Greece and Southern Italy, where people stuck more closely to the diet. Because of all the health benefits mentioned above, critical illnesses most people experience as they age can be avoided. An overall healthy lifestyle also sustains a person’s energy to continue doing the activities they enjoy even later in life.
The Bottom Line
It is always good to continue learning how you can take steps to live healthier. It may require some sacrifices and changes in your lifestyle, you just need to find the in-between of living healthy and enjoying.
Though there is not one defined Mediterranean diet, following this plan will surely not starve you and deprive you of the food you usually consume.
At the end of the day, the Mediterranean diet is incredibly healthy and satisfying. You won't be disappointed.