A Mediterranean diet incorporates the healthy food habits of the people living in countries near the Mediterranean Sea like France, Spain, Italy, and Greece. This diet is high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats like olive oil. It does not include too much meat or dairy products.
Following a Mediterranean diet has many health benefits like weight loss, reduced risk of heart attack, type-2 diabetes, and stroke. Recent studies have shown that it lowers the risk of dementia and reverses the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Let us learn more about this diet and its benefits.
History of the Mediterranean diet
American scientist Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota School of Power discovered the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in the late 1950s (1).
When he noticed that the poor residents of small towns in Italy were healthier than the rich people in New York, he decided to lead the famous Seven Countries Study.
This study, conducted in Finland, Holland, Italy, United States, Greece, Japan, and Yugoslavia, documented the relationship between lifestyle, nutrition, and cardiovascular health.
According to this study, people who adopted a diet based on the Mediterranean food had low cholesterol in their blood and thus had a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Tips to follow the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. It also includes fish and poultry. Moderate amounts of red wine are also included in this diet.
Follow these seven essential steps to switch to a Mediterranean way of eating.
1. Switch to olive oil
Ditch vegetable or coconut oil and switch to extra virgin olive oil for cooking and using in your salads. Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which improve HDL cholesterol.
2. Add veggies to your diet
Fit more vegetables into your daily meal plan. Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, non-starchy veggies like fennel, tomatoes, artichokes, cauliflower, and eggplant can add nutrition to your diet. Include at least three serving of vegetables to your daily intake.
3. Have fruits for dessert and snack
Not only are fruits an excellent way to add fiber and antioxidants to your diet, but they are also a healthy way to indulge in your sweet tooth. Fruits like apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, etc. make for a healthy snack and sumptuous desserts.
4. Eat whole grains and legumes
Add unrefined whole grains like quinoa, barley, and oats to your diet. These grains are higher in fiber and nutrition as compared to refined wheat bread and snacks. You can also opt for whole-wheat bread or pasta.
Also include legumes like beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts and chickpeas in your diet.
5. Snack on nuts and seeds
Nuts like almonds, walnuts, Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews and seeds like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds make a nutritious snack.
Switching from unhealthy snacks like chips and cookies to almonds helps lower your intake of empty calories, sugar, and sodium.
6. Have more fish
Fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are an excellent way to add lean protein to your diet. These fish are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for heart health.
7. Sip some wine
Wine is an integral part of the Mediterranean food. But this does not mean you have it with every meal. Experts recommend that women should stick to a three-ounce serving and men should have a five-ounce serving per meal. If you do not drink, you don’t have to start for this diet.
8. Enjoy your meals
Enjoying your meals with friends and family is as important as the actual meal plan in a Mediterranean diet. So, sit at the table and savor your food instead of gobbling it down in front of the television.
Foods you can eat
Here’s a list of the foods that you must include in your Mediterranean diet:
- Vegetables: Tomatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli, spinach, kale, cucumber, etc.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, grapes, strawberries, peaches, figs, etc.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Whole grains: Oats, barley, corn, whole wheat, brown rice, rye, etc.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, peanuts, chickpeas, etc.
- Herbs and spices: Cinnamon, pepper, sage, nutmeg, rosemary, basil, mint, garlic, etc.
- Tubers: Yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, etc.
- Eggs and poultry: Chicken, duck, and quail.
- Seafood: salmon, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crabs, and mussels.
- Oil: Extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil
Foods you should avoid
Here’s a list of unhealthy foods that you must avoid:
- Refined grains: Avoid products made with refined grains like white bread and pasta.
- Processed food: Anything that looks highly processed and has labels like diet food should be avoided.
- Refined oils: Refined vegetable oils like soybean oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil.
- Sugar: table sugar, soda, ice-cream and candies.
- Trans fats: Butter, margarine, and processed snacks
Here are some healthy options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that you can mix and match to form your very own one-week Mediterranean meal plan:
- Greek yogurt with strawberries and oats
- Greek yogurt with blueberries and toasted almonds
- Peanut butter on toast with sliced banana
- Brown bread toast with avocado and olive oil
- Omelet with parsley, tomatoes and onions and a fruit
- Oats with raisins and nuts and an apple
- Eggs and vegetables fried in olive oil
- Salmon and spinach salad with lemon and garlic dressing
- Whole grain sandwich with cheese and vegetables
- Paprika chicken pita with yogurt dressing
- Mediterranean pizza with cheese, vegetables, and olives
- Hummus with pita chips and crudités
- Feta cheese and olive salad
- Mediterranean lasagne
- Tomato and olive tuna pasta
- Tuna salad with olive oil and a fruit
- Broiled salmon with brown rice and vegetables
- Grilled chicken with a potato and a fruit
- Tuna with salsa verde, and rice
- Baked salmon with broccoli
- Stuffed peppers with feta cheese
- Baby carrots or carrot sticks
- Nuts like almonds and walnuts
- Apple slices with almond butter
- Berries or grapes
- Greek yogurt
Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet
1. Helps you lose weight
It helps you lose weight without causing hunger pangs, which makes it sustainable in the long run. Mediterranean diet focusses on the consumption of healthy fats and proteins while restricting the intake of carbs in the diet.
This diet consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains and olive oil. This diet helps you manage your weight by reducing the intake of unhealthy fats and carbs.
2. Improves heart health
Mediterranean diet consists of vegetables, fruits, and monounsaturated fats. These foods enhance the concentration of good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood.
This diet is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can reduce the risk of cardiac death by 30 percent and sudden cardiac death by 45 percent (2).
The olive oil on this diet helps in lowering hypertension because it makes nitric oxide more bioavailable.
3. Reduces risk of cancer
Mediterranean diet consists of more vegetables and fruits, cereals, olive oil and reduced consumption of red meats and moderate use of wine.
These foods are rich sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols, which make them highly beneficial for reducing the risk of cancer (3).
4. Prevents diabetes
The anti-inflammatory properties of food in Mediterranean diet can fight diseases related to chronic inflammation like metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes (4). This diet also helps control insulin, which controls blood sugar levels.
Mediterranean diet is also low in sugar; the only sugar that one consumes in this diet comes from fruits and wine. Since there is no consumption of sodas and processed foods, it prevents extreme highs and lows in blood sugar levels.
5. Prevents cognitive disorders
Fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and nuts have anti-inflammatory properties that prevent cognitive decline. They protect our bodies from toxicity, free radicals, and inflammation that can lead to diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
According to a community-based study, scientists concluded that adherence to a Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (5).
6. Can help relieve pain
Mediterranean diet consists of magnesium-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Magnesium is helpful in fighting muscle pain. Dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and dark chocolate are some of the food rich in magnesium.
7. Helps you relax
According to the Mediterranean diet, eating should be a social experience. It also encourages you to spend more time outside and socialize. This lifestyle helps you manage your stress better and helps you to feel more upbeat and relaxed.
Final thoughts on Mediterranean diet
Mediterranean diet is easy to follow and has numerous health benefits. It is not as restrictive as many other diets, and you can continue to eat healthy fats and whole wheat bread. It helps you lose weight.
Another point in favor of this diet is that you do not have to count calories. Not only do you have numerous recipes to choose from, but you can also have an occasional glass of wine.
With so many points in favor of this diet, it’s time you give the Mediterranean diet a try.