While making your way through the world of magazines' secret diet tips, blogs with 7-day diet plans, and bestselling diet books, it is quite possible that you have come across the Mediterranean Diet. Touted as a heart-healthy eating plan, the "Med Diet" is based on the traditional foods consumed for centuries in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea --- Greece, Spain, and Southern Italy.

What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

healthy roasted fish
The Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle change than an actual diet plan. Pixabay / aytalina

The Med Diet focuses on plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts, and replacing butter with olive oil. It also limits red meat and encourages the consumption of fish and poultry at least twice a week.

The origin of the Med Diet comes from the way the locals living near the Mediterranean Sea made the most of the natural foods in the region that were specific to their climate and culture. Originally, the "diet" was simply the way people in the region ate on a daily basis, not a "diet" for weight loss or improved health and nutrition. Walter Willet, the chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says in the Harvard Gazette that there were no rules, special recipes, or specific serving sizes. The focus was on healthy ingredients, and anyone could adapt it to make it their own.

Health Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet

legumes
Legumes are a plant-based protein substitute. Pixabay

The diet has many potential health benefits; it's associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality, as well as reduced incidence of cancer, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's disease. Plus, women who eat the Med Diet with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts supposedly reduce their risk of breast cancer. Because of this, many doctors and nutritionists have encouraged eating the Med Diet to prevent major chronic diseases.

The Med Diet can help with weight loss, control blood glucose levels, reduce inflammation (a risk factor for heart attack), and reduce the risk of depression. So, if you want to make a change and reap the health benefits of the Med Diet, there are a few steps you can take to get you started.

Instead of wiping the slate clean and completely overhauling your meals and grocery list, starting small with specific strategies can help you make it a habit. First, switch up the oil you cook with. Swap out vegetable oil for extra-virgin olive oil, which is loaded monounsaturated fatty acids that could improve HDL cholesterol. You can also use it homemade vinaigrettes and salad dressings or drizzle it on cooked fish or chicken dishes to boost flavor. Also, swap out butter and use olive oil for your mashed potatoes and pasta. Olive oil is a healthy fat and making wise choices about the fat you eat (and avoiding trans fats) can lower your risk of heart disease.

What To Eat On The Mediterranean Diet

olive oil
For the Mediterranean Diet, replace butter with olive oil when you cook. Pixabay / Couleur

Fish

In the Med Diet, the best way to get protein is with fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Full of healthy omega 3's, eating more fish is a great way to transition to the Med Diet, and you can incorporate it into foods such as soups, stir-frys, and tacos. Designate at least one night each week to be fish night, and you will be well on your way to changing your way of eating.

Veggies

Veggies are also Med Diet staples, and you can use these for snacking throughout the day. Crunching on a bell pepper or adding spinach to a smoothie can be a great way to add veggies to your daily routine, and always make them as a side dish with dinner.

Nuts

Grabbing a handful of almonds, pistachios, or cashews is a great on-the-go snack and a much healthier replacement for chips or crackers. Nuts contain more fiber and minerals, plus they don't have added sugar or sodium.

Fruit

Replacing sweets with fruit for dessert, such as drizzling honey on pears or crumbling some brown sugar on a grapefruit, is a great step towards switching to the Med Diet.

Wine

Sipping some wine with dinner, or having a small glass afterward will also get you started on this diet plan. If you are unable to limit your alcohol intake, it is best to skip this step.

Bread And The Mediterranean Diet

whole grain bread
Dip your bread in olive oil instead of spreading it with butter Pixabay / DanaTentis

Because the Med Diet loves whole grain, bread is an important part of what you eat on a daily basis. However, this one is tricky because when purchasing whole grains, you must read the label carefully. Be sure that whole grains (not sugar) are one of the first ingredients listed and verify there is at least two to three grams of fiber in each serving.

The ideal ratio between carbs and fiber is 5 to 1 or less, and stay away from anything that has the words enriched flour, white flour, ground-on-stone, whole-wheat flour, cracked wheat berries, and bulgur cracked. Also, a "whole food stamp" on the box means absolutely nothing. Skip it, and go straight to the nutritional facts.

On a Med Diet, bread is traditionally eaten plain dipped in olive oil instead of butter or margarine, which contain saturated or trans fats.

As far as what foods you should avoid on the Med Diet, trans fats and refined oils are a no-no, as well as processed meat or any highly processed foods. Added sugar in things such as soda, candy, and ice cream is not part of the plan, and pass on refined grains such as white bread and pasta with refined wheat. Also, anything with "low-fat" or "diet" on the label should never make it into your kitchen.

Mediterranean Diet Meal Ideas

cooked salmon
Salmon is a staple in the Med diet Pixabay / cattalin

Even though the focus of the Med diet is the ingredients and not specific recipes, there are still some amazing meal ideas out there that you can try when you are living the Med Diet lifestyle. Plus, there is no need to count calories or track micronutrients.

Fattoush Salad

The idea of putting pita chips in a salad is nothing short of spectacular. The crunchy bites in this fresh summer salad are delightful. And, topping it with a lime vinaigrette that has allspice and cinnamon? That makes it pretty much perfect.

Lemon Shrimp Pasta

Pasta is not off limits in the Mediterranean Diet, just be sure to choose the whole-grain variety and limit your portions. This quick, easy-to-make pasta dish features shrimp sautéed in garlic and onion, penne noodles, and a sauce made from chicken broth, white wine, and a few seasonings. You can make this meal quicker than the time it takes you to go through a drive-thru or pick up some take out.

Eggplant Frittata

A great idea for a weekend brunch, it is best to keep the high-quality cheese in this recipe to a minimum. This recipe is loaded with garlic and can be ready in under an hour. It has a savory flavor, and while cooking, it will fill your house with a wonderful aroma. The eggplant frittata is a healthy meatless meal that doesn't take much time to make, and you can eat them either hot or cold. They also make excellent leftovers. This recipe features Med Diet staples such as eggs, veggies, garlic, onion, and cheese.

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