Chances are, you have probably heard about the Mediterranean Diet, either in the media or from friends and family. But what is it exactly? It is more of a style of eating than a traditional diet, and top health experts from around the world sing its praise. One of the reasons for this praise is that it is one of the only diets shown to reduce heart attack and stroke in clinical trials (PREDIMED study). The following article will explain the Mediterranean diet, the health benefits of this eating style, and suggestions on following it.
The Mediterranean Diet is simply following the eating patterns of people who live in the Mediterranean area. There is no single correct way to follow this diet, as there are many Mediterranean countries and regions with their own local diet patterns. But for years, scientists have noticed that people in these countries routinely have lower heart disease levels, diabetes, and many other cardiovascular and overall health issues.
When we think of the word ‘diet,’ it usually comes with several negative connotations, such as being restrictive, going hungry, and doing lots of leg work to prepare meals. The fantastic thing about this diet (along with all the health benefits, of course) is that you don’t need to worry about any of these things! The foods are generally fast and easy to prepare. While some foods should be eaten only occasionally, there is nothing in the diet that is strictly forbidden. If you are looking to lose or maintain your weight, you can keep track of calories, but it’s unnecessary if weight loss isn’t your biggest concern. You should stick to no more than three meals per day, but healthy snacks are perfectly acceptable if you become hungry between meals.
The main components of the Mediterranean Diet are foods that are rich in nutrients and healthy fats. Simple foods that need little preparation will be your go-to’s, such as nuts, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. If you eat meat, keep to seafood, with limited amounts of white meat. Red meats should be avoided or eaten in very limited quantities. A variety of spices are encouraged and will do wonders in making your meals extra delicious. If you eat or drink a ton of dairy, you will probably need to cut that down, but cheeses and yogurts are other staples of the diet.
Another key feature of the diet is community-mindedness. I know what you’re thinking, “Um, what? In a diet?” But yes! Mediterranean people often eat together with large groups of friends and family. This helps to cut down on prep time, often lets you have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, gives you quality time with your people, and can actually help to cut down on the amount you eat! If you are taking time to converse with your family and friends while you eat, you will have more time to digest. This gives your digestive system enough time to communicate with the rest of your body that you have eaten enough.
To drink, try to stick to things without added sugar or artificial sweetener. Water, either still or sparkling, should be your go-to beverage, but unsweetened tea and black coffee are also acceptable. If you think water is boring, try adding cucumber slices, citrus slices such as orange and lemon, or even some frozen berries. That last one is my favorite, as it not only gives your water a delicious flavor, it also helps keep your drink cold!
When it comes to alcohol, red wine is permissible in moderate amounts. It is suggested that women consume no more than one glass per day, and for men two glasses. However, if you suffer from alcoholism, have difficulty controlling the amount you drink, or have other health conditions that might be aggravated by alcohol, it is best to omit wine from your diet. As always, consult your heart doctor before changing your diet, and ask if a glass or two of red wine per day would give you any benefits.
Whole-grain bread and pasta, oats, plain granola, brown rice, and barley (in limited quantities – don’t go overboard with bread and pasta, make it a small side, rather than the main focus)
Sea salt (limited), pepper, extra virgin olive oil, cinnamon, rosemary, turmeric, basil, thyme, etc.
Various hard and soft cheeses (limited), yogurt, greek yogurt, and unsweetened soy and almond milk.
Red meat, large amounts of white meats and eggs, processed foods, white bread and rice, butter, dairy milk, processed meats (lunch meats, hotdogs, sausages, etc.) and other processed foods, added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and anything high in saturated fat.
For many years running, the U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking has listed the Mediterranean Diet as the best overall diet. It is also a recommended diet by the American Heart Association, stating that the diet, “can play a big role in preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure” (2020). If you’re looking for a diet that has easy food prep, won’t leave you hungry, and includes an array of tasty options, look no further than the Mediterranean Diet! Because of the negative connotations that come along with diets and diet culture, I like to think of it more as a Mediterranean style of eating rather than a diet.
American Heart Association. (2020). Heart.org. Retrieved 27 October 2020 from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/mediterranean-diet