You Don't Have to be Greek to Enjoy the Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet
Far from exotic, eating "Mediterranean" is less of a diet and more about a healthy approach to eating.
By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD
A salad drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, fat-free yogurt laced with walnuts and fresh fruit, whole-grain toast topped with avocado and sliced tomato. Sound delicious? These are all foods you would find in the Mediterranean diet.
Far from exotic, eating the "Mediterranean way" is less of a diet and more about a healthy approach to eating. It is based on foods that are traditionally found in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and olive oil are abundant. Meat, saturated fats and high-fat dairy are consumed in much smaller amounts.
Multiple studies suggest that eating a Mediterranean-style diet may help contribute to a longer life, aid in weight control and cut the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers credit any health benefits to plenty of plant based foods, fish and healthy fats, combined with the low amount of high-fat animal foods. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals at high risk for major cardiovascular events reduced their risk by eating a Mediterranean diet and supplementing with extra-virgin olive oil and nuts.
Mediterranean diet 101
You don't have to live on a Greek island to appreciate this wholesome meal plan. Here are the basics:
- Base your diet around plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds. These provide hearty doses of antioxidants, loads of fiber and other vitamins and minerals that can help ward off disease.
- Increase healthy fats, especially olive or canola oil, nuts, avocados and fatty fish (such as salmon and sardines). These are all high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Use these to replace saturated and trans fats found in fatty meats, cheese and processed foods.
- Decrease saturated fats and trans fats, which are often present in red meat and processed foods.
- Eat moderate amounts of fish and poultry, and less red meat. And consume moderate amounts of dairy products.
- Use spices and herbs to flavor foods rather than salt.
- Drink low or moderate amounts of red wine with meals no more than two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women. But if you don't drink, don't start.
- Try to make sweets or desserts in the form of fresh fruit.
And remember that just because fats like olive oil and nuts are healthy, it does not give you license to eat them with abandon. These foods are still high in total calories. For adults, keep total fat intake to about 30 percent of total calories, which comes to about 65 grams on a 2,000-calorie meal plan.
In the Kitchen
Switching to a Mediterranean way of eating is not only delicious, it's easy, too. Here are some suggestions for how to make the switch:
|If you now eat
||Try this instead
|White toast with butter and jam
||Oatmeal with walnuts and fruit
|Turkey on roll with mayo
||Turkey and hummus on whole-wheat pita
|Large bowl of pasta with meat
||Small amount of pasta and meat mixed with lots of vegetables
|Salad with ranch dressing
||Salad with olive oil and lemon juice
|Pretzels or chips
||Nuts and/or fruit
|Burger and fries
||Salmon and brown rice pilaf
Finally, don't forget the importance of daily physical activity. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. Check with your doctor before you increase your activity.Traditionally, exercise was a large part of these cultures' daily routine and can't be discounted as a player in disease prevention.