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 heart disease.
Researchers credit health benefits to plenty of plant based foods, fish and healthy fats, combined with lower amounts of high-fat animal foods.
Mediterranean diet 101
You don't have to come from the Mediterranean 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.
- Decrease saturated fats and trans fats. Read food labels to make healthier choices.
- Eat moderate amounts of fish and poultry, and less red meat. Choose dairy products that are low-fat or fat-free.
- 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.
- Choose fresh fruit for desserts.
And remember that just because fats such as 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.
In the kitchen
Switching to a Mediterranean way of eating is not only delicious, it's easy, too. Here are some suggestions to help you 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 full-fat 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. Check with your doctor before you increase your activity.