Everything You Need to Know Before Starting the Mediterranean Diet
- March 02, 2021
We’ve done the research and created the recipes to help you get the most out of this heart-healthy diet.
The Mediterranean diet is quickly becoming the biggest diet trend of 2019, after gaining the title of Best Diet Overall, Best Heart-Healthy Diet, Easiest Diet to Follow, among others by nutrition experts. These rankings prove the Mediterranean diet is more than a fad, but rather a healthful lifestyle approach backed by decades of research.
What is the Mediterranean diet, anyways?
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The Mediterranean diet is a mostly plant-based diet emphasizing whole grains, fresh produce, heart-healthy proteins, and good-for-you fats. The diet is based on the eating habits of those in the coastal regions of Greece, Italy, Spain, France and Northern Africa, people groups known for their heart health and longevity.
Adherers of the diet consume fresh produce, heart-healthy protein, and whole grains at every meal, along with frequent servings of healthy fats and fresh fish, less frequent servings of dairy and poultry, and limited amounts of other meats and sweets.
Learn more about Mediterranean diet basics here.
What are the Benefits of the Mediterranean diet?
Hundreds of studies have been conducted concerning the Med diet, which have allowed researchers to discover a host of positive correlations. From ensuring healthy birth weights and preventing childhood obesity to fueling some of the oldest people in modern history, this diet is impactful for all ages and proves to be beneficial at every stage of life.
The Mediterranean diet has also shown to prevent and fight chronic diseases, improve brain function, and protect your heart from inflammation and stroke. The diet has proved effective treatment for those with seasonal allergies as well, due to its focus on anti-inflammatory foods. Research has shown even adopting the diet part-time reduces risk of mortality, and those who abide by it will also increase their quality of life in old age.
Credit: Caitlin Bensel
Besides physical health, the Mediterranean is shown to have an impact on mental health by lowering adherents’ risk for depression. Through anti-inflammatory foods, encouraging physical activity, and prioritizing social interactions through communal dining, the diet boosts one’s mood, keeps stress hormones in check, and nourishes the body for a better mental and emotional state.
Related: 50 Easy Mediterranean Diet Recipes and Meal Ideas from Shape
However, the best part about the diet is it is truly delicious. Eating the Mediterranean way doesn’t feel restrictive or boring whatsoever. Following a Mediterranean diet even transformed the way one of our staff views food and diet while she lived in the region, and learned to have a healthier relationship with eating. And who doesn’t want to eat their way to weight loss anyways?
What am I allowed (and not allowed) to eat on the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is less focused on what you shouldn’t eat and instead focuses on prioritizing consumption of heart-healthy foods for longevity. You don’t have to eliminate red meat, processed foods and rich sweets entirely, but they should rarely make an appearance on your plate or in your kitchen. Poultry, eggs, and dairy are also allowed on the Mediterranean Diet, but should be less of a priority compared to plant-based foods, eaten several times a week. However, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can eliminate animal foods completely and still obtain the same benefits.
Credit: Caitlin Bensel
Looking for Med diet-friendly recipes?
Whole grains, nuts and seeds, heart-healthy oils, and fresh produce are encouraged at every meal if possible and legumes are also suggested as a diet staple. Fish and seafood should be your primary source of animal protein and can be eaten daily, if desired. The diet is also famous for allowing red wine consumption, but intake should comply with federal recommendations of no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.
Will it be difficult to dine out or to eat in social situations?
Not at all! There are plenty of options on most menus for those on the Mediterranean diet, and with careful planning, you can navigate just about any type of restaurant with a Med diet lens, from fast food joints to steakhouses.
Besides dining at actual Mediterranean restaurants, many other ethnic cuisines follow similar principles, such as many Asian regions, and offer at least a few items that fit the guidelines. The same goes for dinner parties, company lunches, and holiday parties. There will usually be something to nibble or a dish to enjoy, but even if options are limited, fill your plate up with as much produce, whole grains, and healthy proteins as you can then fill in the rest with what’s left. There is room for moderation on the Mediterranean diet, and it is not meant to be a cause for anxiety!