What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the food culture in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. These countries include Spain, Italy, France, and Greece. The eating pattern reflects the types of crops grown in that area, which make up the foundation of their culture. Olives, figs, dates, nuts, citrus fruits, wheat, and grapes are all staple ingredients you'll find in Mediterranean meals.
The Mediterranean diet is about more than just the food. Enjoying meals together and being physically active are essential elements of the Mediterranean culture. It is important to remember that food is meant to be shared in the company of friends and family. This strengthens social bonds that make the experience more memorable. Additionally, the energy from your food should be used to do something fun and active like hiking, walking the dog, or playing sports.
Fundamental Foods in the Mediterranean Diet
- Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds are important components of the diet.
- Fish and poultry are preferred over red meats like beef, pork, and lamb.
- Olive oil is used as the main source of fat, while limiting fats like butter, margarine, or lard.
- Cheese, yogurt, milk, and eggs are eaten in moderation.
- Herbs and spices are favored over salt.
- Red wine may be enjoyed with dinner.
The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are abundant. While more research is needed to understand how the exact nutrients found in this diet impact the body, it is well established that the Mediterranean diet can improve overall health and well-being.
Research shows this way of eating can protect against a variety of diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and certain cancers. The Mediterranean diet widely favors olive oil, fruits, and vegetables, which all contain key nutrients. One of those key nutrients is monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that is good for the heart. It can be found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. It works by lowering the level of "bad" cholesterol that can lead to blockages in blood vessels. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables have antioxidants, which can protect against damage in the body by neutralizing reactive chemicals.
How to Eat Mediterranean-Style in the US
- Add fruits and vegetables to every meal - sneak them into stews, casseroles, and pasta dishes.
- Substitute olive oil in place of butter and margarine.
- Spread hummus on a sandwich for extra creaminess and flavor, as well as benefits from its fiber and protein.
- Use vegetables and spices like garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, or even Mrs. Dash to add flavor to your favorite meals.
- Eat fish twice a week. Fish tacos, salmon burgers, and canned fish are great options.
The Mediterranean diet is not so much a diet as it is a way of life. It is a sustainable way of eating emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and, most importantly, enjoying food and physical activity with the ones you love.
Try to incorporate all of the following this week:
- Try to eat fish twice, incorporating those healthy fats.
- Enjoy a meal with loved ones this week. Put down your phones and experience that time together.
- Get active! Use the energy you gain from your food to participate in your favorite physical activity.
- Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan. Mayo Clinic-https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801. Published January 26, 2019.
- Tosti V, Bertozzi B, Fontana L. Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Metabolic and Molecular Mechanisms. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A. 2017;73(3):318-326.
- Trichopoulou A, Martínez-González MA, Tong TY, et al. Definitions and potential health benfits of the Mediterranean diet: views from experts around the world. BMC Medicine. 2014;12(1)