What Is the Mediterranean Diet and What Can You Eat On It?
- August 15, 2020
For the third year in a row, the Mediterranean diet has earned the rank of No. 1 diet from U.S. News and World Report, winning praise from experts for its proven health benefits—particularly heart health—and potential for long-term lifestyle change. While many diets are restrictive, making certain food groups off-limits, following a Mediterranean eating plan allows for individuals to eat a variety of foods and doesn’t encourage calorie restriction.
Often associated with olive oil and salmon, this is a diet that actually embraces many different kinds of foods while providing a shortlist of foods to avoid eating on a daily basis. You’ve probably heard your friends and family, or maybe even your doctor talking about the Mediterranean diet. Whether your goal for changing the way you eat it lowering blood pressure, increasing energy, or losing weight, here is what you need to know about adopting a Mediterranean diet.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
Our deep dive into the Mediterranean diet begins with a geography lesson. The name of the diet refers to its origin in the Mediterranean Basin, or the land that surrounds the Mediterranean Sea. Historically, this is an area of the world that has been associated with certain patterns of eating, which includes fish, bread, wine, and oil, and very little meat, according to the Iranian Journal of Public Health.While different eating patterns emerged, this basic diet of bread, wine, and oil spread throughout Europe thanks to its adoption by Christian monks.
Over time, this diet has evolved to include fruits and vegetables as major components. Even though it has ancient roots, it became the subject of research in the second half of the 20th century when Ancel Keys conducted a famous study of health habits and cardiovascular health on all seven continents.
What are the benefits of a Mediterranean diet?
Perhaps the most well-known health benefit of following a Mediterranean diet is reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. In 2015, researchers conducted a large study involving 7447 individuals who were considered to be at high risk for cardiovascular disease, according to Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.Those who adopted a Mediterranean diet, some with the addition of extra nuts and others with the addition of extra virgin olive oil, all showed to experience fewer cardiovascular events over the course of the study when compared to their cohorts.
Additionally, the participants who adopted this diet were observed to have lower blood pressure, reduced insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and reduced oxidative stress. All around, consistent use of this diet, without the restriction of calorie intake, has health benefits for the whole body.
Is the Mediterranean diet good for weight loss?
The primary benefit of the Mediterranean diet is heart health. However, it does contain far less saturated fat and sugars than most Americans’ typical diet, and emphasizes fruits, vegetables and legumes over meat and dairy. If your diet is already fairly low in fat and sugar, you may not see as many weight loss benefits as someone who is making a more drastic change. The Mediterranean diet is a fantastic foundational eating plan, though, so if you use it for a starting point, then keep an eye on your overall calorie intake, it can be an excellent way to lose weight.
Is the Mediterranean diet safe?
While some diets encourage restriction of calories or prohibit certain foods, this isn’t the case with the Mediterranean Diet. Instead, it is a fairly well-rounded nutritional plan that is safe because of how it approaches healthy eating. Lowered calorie intake or extreme restriction can put individuals at risk for disorder eating patterns. The great thing about the Mediterranean diet is that is generally focused on what you can eat, not what you can’t eat. It also doesn’t require you to eat very little or count calories.
Additionally, this diet includes foods known to be associated with heart health. While a diet like keto encourages increased intake of fat, this is a diet the embraces all food groups in moderation but limits saturated fats, meats, and processed grains.
The only risk worth noting is associated with an increased intake of wine. Even though red wine is embraced by proponents of the Mediterranean diet, it generally isn’t recommended that people increase their alcohol intake in hopes of improving their health. While many people might be able to safely navigate the addition of a daily glass of wine, others may not be able to practice moderation, as pointed out by Time.
What are the best foods for a Mediterranean diet plan?
If you’re interested in giving the Mediterranean diet a try, here are the foods you want to stock up on before getting started:
Fruits and vegetables
Produce is central to any healthy diet, so it is no surprise that this eating plan encourages plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Carb lovers, we have good news for you. Grains like rice, pasta, oatmeal, and whole-grain bread are part of daily eating.
Olive oil is an iconic part of this diet because it is an unsaturated fat. It is encouraged in place of butter or other saturated fats. Nuts are another source of healthy fat encouraged on the Mediterranean diet.
This diet is limited in meat but encourages seafood twice a week as a source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
Followers of the Mediterranean diet are encouraged to drink a glass of red wine a day, but should proceed with caution.
As a diet that emphasizes treating plants as a major source of nutrients and calories, it may not be surprising the legumes are a big part of following the Mediterranean way of eating. Lentils, cannellini beans, and garbanzo beans are all great additions to your shopping cart.
Here’s a partial list of staple foods on the Mediterranean diet to get you started.
Check out our Mediterranean Diet food list featuring 110 foods.
What are some Mediterranean diet recipes?
When it comes to the recommended foods to eat while on this diet, a good white bean or minestrone soup checks nearly all the boxes. Kale White Bean Soup includes lean protein from legumes and plenty of vegetables. Sub out the coconut oil for olive oil and you’ve adapted it into a Mediterranean diet approved meal.
A quick and easy recipe like Crunchy Hummus-Crusted Fish with Roasted Broccoli and Olives is just about as good as it gets when on the hunt for heart-healthy meals that you can make in half an hour. Salads can be jazzed up with fresh vegetables, an olive oil dressing, and beans. Eating fish at least twice a week doesn’t have to be boring, bookmark plenty of inventive recipes, like these Cashew-Crusted Salmon Skewers.
What are the best Mediterranean diet snacks?
The great thing about snacks on this diet is that they can be fairly simple. Keep roasted nuts on hand and you’ll always have an option you feel great about. Another simple option is whole grain bread with a little nut butter or mashed avocados.
Snack time is also a good time to increase your veggie intake, keep hummus on hand an cut up some fresh vegetables on the weekends to snack on all week long.
What are the best Mediterranean diet breakfasts?
Breakfast on the Mediterranean diet is likely going to feel like a step away from traditional, American breakfasts. Eggs are encouraged on this eating plan, but only a few times a week. Other options include oatmeal topped with nuts, nut butters, or fruit. Greek yogurt also makes for a great breakfast that provides lean protein and can be sweetened with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.
What are the best Mediterranean diet desserts?
Generally, the Mediterranean diet is a low-sugar diet. Processed carbs and sweets aren’t encouraged as part of everyday eating. That being said, there is definitely room for nutritious desserts. Many of them include fruit, like these goat cheese stuffed figs, drizzled with honey and topped with walnuts. Delish!
While certainly not as indulgent, sprinkling apples with cinnamon is a good way to satisfy a craving for after-dinner sweets without changing your commitment to tenants of the Mediterranean diet.
What foods should you avoid on a Mediterranean diet?
Regular consumption of red meat is discouraged on the Mediterranean diet, but not prohibited. Generally, it is recommended that red meat be reserved as the occasional treat. Additionally, processed carbohydrates and saturated fats are not a part of daily eating when following the Mediterranean diet.
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