Hey guys, remember Denine? Today I’ve got another awesome guest post from her that’s all about the Mediterranean diet, one of those rule-breaking best diets. Take it away, Denine!
The Mediterranean diet ranks number one this year for overall health according to the Best Diets report from US News & World Report. If you missed my previous post on why it tops the list—in a nutshell—it breaks all the rules of dieting.
Living in Barcelona for almost a decade now, I would say the Mediterranean “diet” is anything but a list of dieting rules, restrictions, complicated meal plans and gourmet recipes. It’s more like a pattern of eating habits and activities, enriching and enhancing lives and communities. This lifestyle values cultural heritage, simplicity, variety, seasonality, celebration, sustainability, traditional culinary techniques, and shared meals.
The entire approach of the Mediterranean eating style is quite opposite to that of our American mindset of fearing foods and avoiding fats. When Mediterraneans sit down to a meal they are having too much fun to think about the foods to avoid or calories to count.
Fortunately—or maybe unfortunately—you don’t have to move across the Atlantic to eat more like the Mediterraneans. There are fundamental elements which can be adapted to any lifestyle or location as a way of boosting your energy, reducing risk of chronic disease, living longer, and aging gracefully.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The pattern is largely a plant-based diet with the inclusion of modest amounts of meat, cheese, yogurt, and eggs. Variety is the key. Instead of eating the same food multiple times per week, Mediterraneans rotate foods through the days, weeks, and seasons. The tendency is not to double-up on foods in the same day or consecutive days. So, if they eat chicken for dinner one night, they might enjoy fish the next and an egg dish the next.
The principles of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle are best summarized by researchers working within the region who are studying the foods, patterns, and behaviors of eating. This pyramid by The Mediterranean Diet Foundation in Spain, details the key points of the pattern along with the quantities and proportions of foods.
Key Points for Following the Mediterranean Diet Pattern
- Focus on what you enjoy eating, rather than foods you are avoiding.
- Prioritize balance and variety when eating.
- Keep an open mind.
- Be flexible, creative and improvisational.
Mediterraneans eat lots of:
- Vegetables and fruits, mostly seasonal and local
- Boost your veggie intake at each meal by covering half your plate with vegetables. Aim for 5 to 9 servings a day.
- Enjoy a piece of fruit for dessert at lunch and dinner.
- Nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds)
- Snack on a handful of unsalted, raw nuts during the afternoon.
- Keep a travel-size cup in your gym bag or purse for on-the-go snacking.
- Pulses (beans)
- Add garbanzos, kidney beans or lentils to your salad, soup or grain bowls.
- Minimally processed, unrefined grains
- Add couscous, brown rice, buckwheat, and whole wheat pasta to your meals to complement veggies and beans.
- Olive oil as the primary source of fat in the diet
- Drizzle vegetables, salads, grains or pasta dishes with extra virgin olive oil after cooking the meals, to enhance flavor and preserve the phenolic compounds beneficial to health.
Mediterraneans eat modest amounts of:
- Fish and shellfish (2 or three times per week)
- Start by adding fish 2 or 3 times a month if you typically don’t eat any fish at all.
- Replace a chicken or beef-based meal with a grilled piece of tilapia, cod, or salmon.
- Poultry—and even less red and processed meats
- Meat in the Mediterranean is served more as a garnish than the centerpiece of the meal. It is typically used to enhance the flavor of a dish which includes vegetables, pasta, beans, grains or eggs.
- Swap a meat-based meals for plant-based meals once a week by adding beans, nuts, and grains to boost protein.
- Wine and water with the meals
- Mediterraneans do not drink wine or spirits without food or a light snack of olives or nuts.
- If you already drink alcohol, remember to pair wine or beer with meals.
- Water is the main beverage of choice instead of soft drinks and juices.
- Yogurt and cheese
- Be selective as to how you eat cheese. Add a small amount of cheese to complement a meal, add flavor or enjoy after a meal. Choose plain, unsweetened yogurt, and add a drop of honey or mixed nuts on top.
- Mediterraneans eat eggs about 3 times per week, incorporating them into the main meals. Eggs are often eaten for dinner as part of a mixed meal with veggies…like in Spanish tortilla, shakshuka or frittata.
- Herbs and spices
- Adding herbs and spices to your meals can enhance the flavor, complexity, and reduce the need for salt. Try rosemary, thyme, parsley, or oregano to start.
The easiest place to begin your Mediterranean journey is to add more veggies to your meals. Fill half your lunch and dinner plates with veggies, and don’t neglect those leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, swiss chard, watercress and collard greens.
The Bottom Line
Overall, you want to approach your Mediterranean mindset from the perspective of abundance rather than scarcity. This means adding more vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains to complement your meals. This will naturally shift the proportion of your plate to slightly less meat, cheese, and overly processed foods.
Think about what you are adding to your meal to nourish your body. It might be as simple as including an extra vegetable or swapping beans for meat in your burrito.
Ready to get started?
Join our free Mediterranean Diet Challenge and learn the basics of how to set up your kitchen, create a system for meal planning, prepare snacks and meals, avoid supermarket traps when shopping, and select the best for your health.
Special thank you to Jess, for allowing me to share this article with your readers!
Denine Marie, MPH, RDN is the founder of Healthy Out of Habit. She is a non-diet dietitian, science-wife, mother, writer, and university lecturer living in Barcelona, Spain, empowering individuals to nourish health and power life.
This has been another installment of the Running with Spoons Thinking Out Loud link party, where randomness is the name of the game. Thanks to Amanda for hosting.