14 ways to save time and money on the Mediterranean diet, according to nutritionists
- October 31, 2020
- The Mediterranean diet was ranked the top diet out of 35 eating patterns for the third year in a row by US News & World Report, thanks to its many proven health benefits and easy-to-follow style.
- To make your healthy eating efforts as easy and cost-effective as possible, Insider asked nutrition professionals for their best Mediterranean diet shopping and meal-planning tips.
- Experts said taking advantage of spiralized or chopped veggies can help save time, while stocking up on canned beans and nuts can save money.
- Here are all 14 of their tips.
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The Mediterranean diet was named the top diet of 2020 for the third year in a row by US News & World Report, thanks to its emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and olive oil.
US News also ranked the diet the easiest to follow, the best at preventing diabetes, and the best plant-based diet out of the 35 diets evaluated.
Indeed, strong research has shown the diet can help reduce the risk of diabetes and may protect against certain types of cancers as well as cognitive decline. It can even help with weight loss by cutting out high-calorie processed foods and refined sugars in exchange for more nutrient-dense alternatives like veggies and fish.
If you’re interested in giving the diet a try, you don’t have to spend a fortune on fresh meats, produce, and pantry staples, nutrition experts told Insider. From buying raw nuts to using spiralized fruits and vegetables, here are 14 of their best tips for grocery shopping and meal-planning on the Mediterranean diet.
Stock your pantry in advance
“Stocking up your pantry in advance will make it much easier to follow the Mediterranean diet,” said nutritionist and candida expert Lisa Richards. Fresh foods like veggies, fruit, and fish are very important, she explained, but you can minimize your shopping time by buying some bulk ingredients in advance.
Include healthy fats in your diet
“One of my favorite Mediterranean diet grocery hacks is including sources of healthy fats, such as salmon, into your diet,” said registered dietitian Katherine Brooking. She suggested picking farmed algae-fed salmon when shopping for fish, since they have levels of omega-3 DHA that are the same, or even higher, than wild-caught fish.
Pick up fresh herbs for flavor
“Cooking with fresh herbs is one of the best ways to boost flavor without adding a lot of calories,” said registered dietitian and certified athletic trainer Dana Angelo White. Bring home a few bunches of basil, parsley, and fresh oregano to add to salads, pasta dishes, roasted vegetables, and marinades, she said. Herbs are also filled with vitamins and cell-protecting antioxidants too, she added.
Use honey as a natural sweetener
“If you’re looking for a natural sweetener, try stocking up on honey,” Angelo White said. The ingredient is perfect in smoothies, hot beverages like tea, or in sauces for various fruit and veggie dishes.
Vary your grains
“Whole grains are an important part of the Mediterranean diet and provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” said registered dietitian Sheri Kasper. Make a large batch of quinoa (or other whole grain of your choice) on Sunday to heat-and-eat throughout the week, she recommended.
Invest in protein-rich dairy products
“Stock up on protein-rich dairy like plain Greek yogurt,” Kasper told Insider. Use it for overnight oats, to marinate chicken, and in place of sour cream in dips, dressings, and on baked potatoes, she said.
Use cheese wisely
“The great thing about cheese is that a little goes a long way,” said Kasper, who loves using Parmesan to jazz up roasted veggies or whole grains.
Choose cut or spiralized fruits and vegetables to save on time
“If time is more of an issue than money, consider taking advantage of chopped or spiralized produce items at the grocery store,” said registered dietitian Summer Yule. Keep in mind that cut produce spoils faster than whole items, though, so be sure to use these items up earlier in the week.
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Plan out your meals for the week
“Even if it’s a loose plan, it’s essential to think about what you’ll cook for meals ahead of time,” said registered dietitian Laura Yautz. Make a list, and organize it by grocery department so you don’t miss anything, she suggested. And if you have the time, she said it’s also helpful to use store circulars and plan your meals around what’s on sale too.
Always try to pick produce
“The core of the Mediterranean diet is fruits and vegetables, so it makes sense much of what you will buy is produce,” Yautz said. Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season and locally grown, she suggested, as they usually cost less. However, she said you won’t want to forget about frozen fruits and vegetables, since they are just as nutritious and often much cheaper.
Don’t shy away from nuts
“Nuts and seeds are a staple on the Mediterranean diet, but many varieties are high in sodium or covered in sugar or chocolate,” Yautz said. Look for plain nuts and seeds that are either raw or roasted, she said.
Carefully portion your meat consumption
“Animal meat isn’t eaten every day on the Mediterranean diet, and when it is eaten, it’s eaten in small amounts,” Yautz explained. Try to cut meats in 3 or 4-ounce portions, she recommended, and always bulk up your meal with other ingredients. This will not only “healthify” your plate, she added, but will also help you cut costs too, as meat is often one of the most expensive parts of the meal.
Choose the right oil for the job
Extra-virgin olive oil is the least processed, but is also the most unstable when heated, so it’s best used for salad dressings and drizzling over finished dishes, Yautz said.
However, regular olive oil is a nice all-purpose oil if you only want to buy one type, she explained. But, if you are looking for something for higher heat applications, try grapeseed or canola oil.
Stock up on canned beans
“Canned beans are cheap, healthy protein sources, incredibly convenient and versatile, and a hallmark of the Mediterranean diet,” Yautz said. Be sure to look for varieties that are lower in added sodium, she explained, and be sure to drain and rinse them before using.