How many times have you told yourself “I’m going to start eating healthier” or “my new diet starts on Monday” only to follow the new plan for 3 or 4 weeks (days) and then fall back into old habits? It’s a common cycle that nearly everyone goes through at least once in their wellness journey. Often people are unable to stick with their new “clean eating plan” because the diet is too restrictive, expensive, or time consuming to follow. The Mediterranean Diet overcomes these problems and delivers a dietary approach that is health-promoting, flexible, and not overly restrictive.
Most of us have probably heard or seen information about the Mediterranean diet – your doctor may have even recommended that you try it out – but why is it so popular? It’s endorsed by the American Heart Association (AHA) and US News as one of the best diets (lifestyles) for cardiovascular health because of its emphasis on plant-based foods, healthy oils, and fatty fish. Research suggests that following a Mediterranean diet may help to:
- Reduce inflammation
- Lower total cholesterol and LDL levels
- Decrease triglycerides
- Decrease the risk of stroke and heart attack
- Support brain health
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommendations, the Mediterranean-style diet contains more fruits and seafood and less dairy than the Healthy U.S.- Style of Eating Pattern. The diet was added to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans due to the research and studies proving its positive health outcomes.
What Does a Mediterranean Diet Look Like?
The Mediterranean-style diet is based on the traditional ways of eating and living from some sixteen countries that border the Mediterranean Sea (i.e. Greece, Italy, Spain). Of course, there are variations of the diet, but they all follow the same common threads:
- Adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and beans daily
- Including low-fat or fat-free dairy products, poultry, fish, vegetable oils, and nuts
- Limiting added sugars, sugary beverages, highly processed foods, processed meats, saturated fats, sodium and refined carbohydrates
The best way to incorporate the Mediterranean-style diet is to begin at the grocery store. Your menu should target the following: b:
- Fruits and vegetables: Aim for at least 5 one cup-equivalent servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Utilize fresh, frozen, or canned (without added sugar or salt).
- Whole grains: Use whole grain bread, pasta, and cereal without added sugars. Try whole grains outside of the bread aisle such as bulgur, barley, farro, quinoa, and brown rice.
- Dairy: Include small to moderate amounts of low-fat yogurt and dairy products.
- Fish: Choose fish as a main protein source. Consume fatty fish (tuna, salmon, trout, and herring) 2-3 times weekly. Canned tuna or salmon packaged in water is a budget-friendly way to eat more fish.
- Poultry and eggs: Consume in moderation. Limit eggs to 7 or less a week.
- Red meat: Small portions of unprocessed lean red meat consumed on occasion.
- Legumes: Add legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, beans, and peas 3 times a week.
- Fats: Use olive oil in place of butter for cooking, salad dressings, and dipping whole grain bread.
- Alcohol: The Mediterranean diet does allow for a limited amount of alcohol. Red wine is the preferred option over cocktails and other alcoholic beverages. Women and men should limit alcohol to no more than 1 and 2 glasses each day, respectively.
Tips for Incorporating a Mediterranean-Style Approach
- Add vegetables and fruit to the foods you already enjoy. Toss in some extra veggies to your pasta, sandwich, or homemade soup. Have fruit as a dessert or naturally sweet snack throughout the day.
- Change up your proteins. Incorporating fish, beans, and legumes into your daily diet doesn’t have to be complicated. Give the bean burrito a try instead of beef, toss salmon patties on the grill instead of burgers, or top a salad with canned tuna and chickpeas for a protein boost.
- Keep a well-stocked pantry. Stock your pantry with staple Mediterranean items like lentils, beans, quinoa, farro, and oats. These foods have a long shelf life and can be the building blocks of nutritious meals throughout the week.
Mediterranean Salad from the American Heart Association
Roasted Carrot and Farro Salad from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Mediterranean Tuna Kebabs from the American Heart Association
Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant with Tomato Sauce from ChooseMyPlate