How many times haven’t we gone on a diet and quit shortly after because it was just too intense and restrictive? I may have the solution for you; the Mediterranean Diet.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet was designed to mimic the traditional eating habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea which include France, Greece, Italy, and Spain. In the past decades’ researchers noticed a higher life expectancy in the countries bordering the sea. After many research studies, it became evident that those countries were doing something different to promote longevity. A study conducted on a Greek population compared the eating habits of two groups and it was found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a lower mortality rate in terms of preventable diseases. (2)
There is no cookie-cutter meal plan for this diet as the typical diet does vary between those countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It does, however, focus on specific food groups, these include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds legumes, olive oil, and fish.
Who is it for and why should we do it?
As with any other diet, you should consult with your health care team or a registered dietitian to be sure that it is right for you. This diet can be incredibly beneficial for those with chronic diseases or a predisposition, but that is not to say that a healthy young adult should adopt the diet, quite on the contrary, they may avoid many health issues down the line if they start to take care of themselves now.
There is abundant research that the diet can be beneficial to support and prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. (5,6)
What to eat
You will want to focus on whole foods; by this, I mean foods found in nature, often time, consisting of minimal additive ingredients.
Fruits and Vegetables, like most diets, are all fair game! These gifts from nature are packed with vitamins and minerals which are essential for every function in your body, and they also contain fiber. Fiber is a component of carbohydrates that our bodies can not digest but oddly enough they support our digestion tremendously.
Whole Grains are exactly as described in the name, grains that are whole. Refined grains like white rice for example, only contain the endosperm which is why it’s a lot softer and easier to chew. Whole grains are mainly recognized for their fiber content, but they also contain many essential vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants. Brown rice, whole wheat breads, and oatmeal are some examples.
Legumes are a fancy umbrella term for foods like beans and lentils. These foods are fine carbohydrates, but they also provide a good amount of protein.
Fish and Seafood provide lean protein, unlike many other sources of animal protein, they are low in fat. Take a look at 5 other benefits here.
Poultry is another lean protein source. It also contains a few B Vitamins and minerals.
Eggs contain many nutrients and have a good balance of protein and fat.
Nuts and Seeds have a high content of fat, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Unlike many refined and processed oils, they contain healthy fats, they are also a good source of protein.
Olive Oil is a great source of monounsaturated fat which is again better than refined oils. Olive Oil has many other health benefits. For example, it includes choline, and research shows that it supports many functions in our body including those in the heart and brain. (3)
Did someone say chocolate? Yes! Dark chocolate and even wine are seen in the Mediterranean diet. This is because of their high content of antioxidants, which can help fight stress to the body leading to chronic disease.
Here is a recipe from Dietitian, Angie Kuhn you may want to try: Heart Health Mediterranean Bowl
What to avoid
On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid highly processed foods. This includes added sugars, foods high in saturated and trans fat. Staying away from prepackaged food would be ideal, quite the opposite of whole foods these often contain many ingredients that can work against your goals.
Why this diet instead of others?
This diet is easily one of my favorites to recommend to clients and customers looking to improve their health through nutrition. I can’t say that this diet is superior to others or is the magic solution, but it sure has plenty of research to back it up. And best of all, this diet is enjoyable! I am not a huge fan of restrictive or fad diets, those diets are often a temporary solution, you may see quick results but what we should look for is a long-term sustainable diet that we can make a lifestyle. Often, we fall into a cycle of trying new restrictive diets which get us nowhere. (4)
I am not saying that other diets won’t work for you, everybody is different, but it will take work and sacrifice. When considering any diet it’s important to not only think of the effect it will play long term in your health, but also the quality of life it will provide. With this diet, you are free to combine delicious nutrient-dense foods and even pair it with a glass of wine and dark chocolate for dessert.