You may not be able to relax on the beaches of Crete or watch the sunset in Oía, but you can enjoy the delicious benefits of the Mediterranean right here at home.
The Mediterranean diet has been ranked as 2019’s overall best diet by health experts after years of research into its health benefits. The landmark PREDIMED (Prevention with Mediterranean diet) clinical trials reported that a Mediterranean-style eating pattern may lower incidence of major cardiovascular events, like heart attacks, stroke, and death from heart disease by thirty-percent. A 30% risk reduction is as effective as some prescription statin medications! These findings were further strengthened following corrections to participant randomization protocols in 2018. Mediterranean-style eating has also been linked to lower peripheral artery disease risk, healthier body weight and blood sugars, decreased Alzheimer’s disease risk, and decreased risk for some cancers.
What to Eat
The best part of eating like a Mediterranean is that there is no strict diet structure. If you’ve felt limited by past diets, this might be a good option for you! Rather than counting or cutting certain nutrients or food groups, choose proper portions of foods commonly eaten in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. This includes high amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, and nuts; moderate amounts of fish and dairy products; and low quantities of meat and meat products. If you want to take on a Mediterranean diet for weight management, make sure to eat an appropriate number of calories each day. Practicing an “everything in moderation” approach can help. New to practicing proper portions? Try the plate method! Fill half your plate with vegetables and a small amount of fruit (or have fruit for dessert), a quarter whole grains (unrefined is best), and a quarter lean protein (beans, lentils, peas, tofu, white meat poultry, and lean beef) or fatty fish (salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, and tuna).
We understand that switching to a new style of eating can be intimidating. This International Mediterranean Diet Month, we challenge you to make 1-2 small changes to adopt a Mediterranean dietary pattern. Want a daily challenge this May? Download a printable Mediterranean Diet Challenge Calendar here. Read below for more tips and recipes to get you started living your best life with the Mediterranean diet:
Eat fatty fish twice or more each week
The fat found in meat is primarily saturated fat, which increases total and LDL (harmful) cholesterol. Eating more oily fish introduces more heart-healthy polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids which appear to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol profiles and blood pressure. Go for salmon fillets, canned tuna, or vegetarian sources of omega-3’s like walnuts, ground flaxseed, and chia seed. Try this recipe for Salmon Burgers at home.
Make olive oil your cooking oil of choice
Olive oil is a pillar of the Mediterranean diet. It’s strong in polyphenols and oleic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. Replacing saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats from olive oil can help lower blood cholesterol along with your risk for heart disease. Extra-virgin olive oil’s high smoking point (405 F) keeps it stable during high-heat roasting, sautéing, and pan frying. Use a drizzle of olive oil to sauté vegetables, dress salads, and enhance the flavor of your food. Try this Easy Mediterranean Salad that uses an olive oil dressing.
Choose low-fat dairy
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension Diet), and Mediterranean-style eating call for moderate amounts of low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose fat-free and low-fat dairy to meet daily protein, calcium, and potassium recommendations while slashing saturated fat. Try eating Greek yogurt for breakfast with fruit and whole grain oatmeal, or use it as a dip for baby carrots, celery, cucumber, and bell pepper. Your options are endless with this Greek Yogurt Breakfast Bowl!
Eat more minimally processed whole grains
Compared to refined grains, whole grains lend to slower digestion, sustained energy, and healthier blood sugar levels. That’s because minimally processed whole grains (steel cut oats, barley, brown rice, bulgur, farro, and wheatberries) have more fiber, antioxidants, lignans, and phytosterols than their refined grain counterparts. Think of whole grains as a nutrition package; when they go through processing, important package components are stripped away. Try a new whole grain this month by swapping different grains into this Quinoa with Spinach & Roasted Almonds recipe.
Snack on fruits and vegetables
High intake of fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to defend your health. Vegetables and fruits supply fiber, alkaloids, carotenoids, polyphenols, nitrogen-and-sulfur compounds, terpenes, and sterols that keep you feeling full, fight inflammation, and protect cells from damage. All fresh, frozen, and canned produce counts! Look for no-salt and no-sugar-added canned and frozen vegetables and fruit. Visit local farmer’s markets for fresh, local produce options. Make vegetables or fruit part of each meal and snack you eat, aiming for a minimum of five-cups of produce each day. Try a Greek “Tzatziki” Yogurt Dip to make fresh-cut vegetables a little more interesting!
Eat more legumes (beans and peas)
Mediterranean diet health benefits are strongly tied to the fiber in the suggested foods. Fiber can help produce a full feeling, promote the growth of good digestive tract bacteria, and bind to fats in the colon leading to a decrease in blood cholesterol. Much of this fiber comes from chickpeas and lentils. Try a Chickpea & Orzo Salad (use whole wheat orzo) and try swapping out a different grain each time you prepare it! If you’re not a chickpea fan, any other legume counts! Acquaint yourself with different types of beans using a blend, like in this 15 Bean Salad recipe.
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