You learned about the Mediterranean Diet and why it's such a good choice in Which Diet Is Best for Your Health? In this post, the spotlight is on how to transform all that good-for-you research into delicious meals.
But first, a quick recap on the benefits of a Mediterranean Diet:
- It can help protect your heart. Research shows following a Mediterranean diet helps reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease.1
- It can help prevent cancer. Compared to a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of death from cancer as well as less risk of developing certain cancers.2
- It makes the aging process more bearable. Data shows that following a Mediterranean diet can lessen the likelihood of menopausal symptoms.3
- It can make you happier, fast. Research shows that switching to a Mediterranean diet can help you feel more content in as little as 10 days.4
- It’s easy to follow. No measuring, mixing, counting, or depriving. And because it encourages good fat, you’re less likely to feel hunger pangs.
The Mediterranean diet for beginners
So, what exactly is the Mediterranean diet, and what should you eat? Here are some of the basics:
1. Eat vegetables and fruit with abandon. Aim for a goal of nine servings every day with an emphasis on vegetables. When planning your plate, think about a vegetable and whole fruit (not juice) first. Then plan the rest of your food around them. Some examples of a serving is a medium carrot or tomato, two six-inch stalks of celery, a half-cup of broccoli florets, a cup of chopped berries, or a medium-sized apple.
Tip: Fresh, frozen, or canned are all fine, though avoid added sweeteners and salt when choosing frozen or canned.
2. Eat plenty of beans and other legumes. Aim for three servings a week. Include in this group lentils, split peas, chickpeas, and beans of all kinds.
Tip: Frozen or canned are okay as long as there’s no sugar or low-quality fat added.
3. Eat plenty of whole grains. The term “whole grains” can be confusing. Whole grains include natural grains like wheat, corn, rice, oats, millet, and barley. But they’re only considered whole grain when they’re eaten in their whole form. Refining the grain removes the bran and the germ, and changes their chemical structures, forfeiting about 25% of a grain’s protein, and reducing at least 17 key nutrients.
Tip: Eating grains in their natural form – like they would be growing in the fields – is the healthiest way to eat grains.
4. Choose healthy fats. Think olive or canola oil over butter or vegetable oils. For so many years, health experts screamed low fat! But we’ve since learned that fat is not the enemy. With this eating plan, extra-virgin olive oil is actually good for you. You can use it for most cooking purposes, including frying, because the smoke point is high at about 400 degrees.
Tip: Stick with domestic oils and look for ones with a “harvest date” on the label. The more recent, the better. Other healthy fats are found in raw nuts, raw seeds, avocados, olives, and fish (more on that next).
5. Choose fish and poultry rather than red meat. Meat should be a side dish, rather than the main course. Eat up to 24 ounces (raw weight) of unprocessed red meat per week. (Hint: The palm of your hand or a deck of cards is about the size of 3 ounces of meat.) Choose meat and poultry grown in a free-range environment if possible. Avoid processed deli meats, ham, bacon, hot dogs, etc. Include oil-rich fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies in your meal plan two to three times a week. Choose wild-caught wherever possible. Canned salmon and tuna are okay.
Tip: Choose salmon with the nutrient-rich skin and bones included. Choose albacore tuna packed in water or solid light tuna packed in olive oil.
6. Eat moderate amounts of dairy. Don’t be afraid of fat here either. This diet advocates whole or 2% dairy products, real butter, and whole or 2% fat yogurts. Make sure yogurts are plain and unsweetened.
Tip: It’s a bonus if yogurts also have active cultures noted on the label. These are probiotics that help you maintain a healthy microflora in your gut.
7. Drink red wine moderately with meals. Up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks for men is associated with better overall health outcomes, with red wine having the strongest data.
Tip: If you don’t drink, you certainly do not have to start.
That’s it, the basics of the Mediterranean diet. You would be hard-pressed to find a more delicious way to help you achieve and maintain overall health and wellbeing.
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1. Estruch R, Ros E, Martínez-González MA. Mediterranean diet for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(7):676-7.PMID: 23944307
2. Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G. Does a Mediterranean-type diet reduce cancer risk? Curr Nutr Rep. 2016;5:9-17. Review. PMID: 27014505.
3. Herber-Gast GC, Mishra GD. Fruit, Mediterranean-style, and high-fat and -sugar diets are associated with the risk of night sweats and hot flushes in midlife: results from a prospective cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(5):1092-9. PMID: 23553160.
4. Lee J, Pase M, Pipingas A, et al. Switching to a 10-day Mediterranean-style diet improves mood and cardiovascular function in a controlled crossover study. Nutrition. 2015;31(5):647-52. PMID: 25837207.