There have been so many different types of dieting over the years and they all claim to be the secret to slimming down, getting fit, and living a healthier lifestyle. However, many of them don’t stick around for very long. Some are too strict, while others are not effective enough. Some are eventually proven unhealthy. Either way, diets have had a history of coming onto the scene quickly and disappearing even quicker.
There is one diet, however, that seems to withstand the test of time and has a history of providing an abundance of health and weight-loss benefits. We’re talking about the Mediterranean diet. This heart-healthy style of eating is based on the traditional flavors, foods, and cooking methods that are common throughout the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including Crete, Italy, and Greece. It was identified in the sixties and is still highly recommended by nutritionists to this day.
The Mediterranean diet gained attention from researchers 80 years ago due to the observation that heart disease caused fewer deaths in these countries than in the United States and northern European countries. Studies showed this way of eating can promote weight loss and lower your risk for heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and premature death.
In 1993, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was introduced by the Harvard School of Public Health alongside the World Health Organization to bring attention to these customary flavors and cooking practices of the region. It has since continued to be recognized as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern and intangible cultural asset by the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
But what’s so great about this style of eating that has kept it around for so long? The following blog post is everything you need to know about the Mediterranean Diet and why it will never go out of style.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
Because the cuisine and everyday diets of the countries in this region can vary, the Mediterranean diet is more about eating patterns than a rigorous eating plan. It includes a balance of colorful meals full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and foods that are rich in healthy fats, such as seafood, olive oil, beans, nuts, and seeds.
One of the favorable aspects of the Mediterranean diet is that you can take the principal dietary patterns and create a plan that works for you based on your specific needs and preferences. This makes it easier to find meals that you will thoroughly enjoy and that will keep you full for longer!
Another key factor of the Mediterranean diet is to enjoy your meals with friends and family! Enjoy a glass of red wine (which is encouraged in moderation), while sharing a yummy meal with the ones you love. This might be another reason for the longevity of this style of eating.
Let’s take a closer look at what you can and can’t eat below.
What Can You Eat on the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet consists of a balanced eating plan that’s primarily plant-based, as opposed to meat-based. It also involves cutting down on the less healthy types of fats such as trans or saturated fats, and incorporating more healthy fats that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can help lower cholesterol.
The basic principles of the Mediterranean Diet are as follows:
- What You Can Eat: Vegetables and fruits (seven to ten servings per day), Seafood and fish (twice a week), nuts, seeds, legumes, breads, whole grains, potatoes, olive oil, lots of spices
- What You Cannot Eat: Sugary drinks, highly processed snacks or ones with added sugars, processed meats, refined grains, and refined oils
- What You Can Eat in Moderation: Chicken, turkey, and other poultry, eggs, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products
- What You Can Eat Rarely: Red meat (opt for fish or poultry, more vegetarian options, like beans)
Seems relatively simple, right? It might not be too different from your current way of eating!
There are so many delicious foods that can be enjoyed on the Mediterranean Diet. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites below:
You can enjoy all kinds of fruits when eating the Mediterranean way. You can’t really go wrong when choosing fruit. Some of the most common fruits that can be enjoyed on the Mediterranean Diet are apples, apricots, cherries, clementines, grapes, melons, grapefruits, figs, and our favorite: Medjool dates.
Medjool dates are native to the Middle East dating back to 5000 to 6000 BC. As one of the first fruits to be cultivated and heavily involved in the culture of the area, these fabulous pitted dates became a popular choice in the Mediterranean region as well. If you’re trying out the Mediterranean Diet and need a nutrient-dense sweet treat, dates are a perfect choice to curb your sweet tooth. They are high in natural sugars, which aren’t the processed kinds you’ll want to stay away from.
As mentioned, the Mediterranean Diet is plant-based and there are so many creative ways to make vegetables the star of your meal! There is a long list of vegetables that are commonly consumed on the Mediterranean Diet, including some of our favorites below:
- Brussel sprouts
- Collard greens
- Sweet potatoes
You can cook up a medley of your favorite vegetables, or craft a delicious salad of veggies and drizzle with olive oil. Your plate should be full of color!
Another important item to eliminate from your diet is refined grains. You want to enjoy more whole grains. This counts for the bread, cereal, and pastas you choose to enjoy.
Some other whole grains that we recommend for you to experiment with are bulgur and farro. Bulgur is an alternative to rice that is made from cracked parboiled groats of several different wheat species, but primarily durum wheat. It’s extremely high in fiber and folate, making it an excellent choice for healthy eating.
Farro is another nutritious whole grain that is high in protein, fiber, and nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, and certain B vitamins. It’s similar to a lighter brown rice and has undertones of barley and oats.
Consuming fish a couple times per week is a part of the Mediterranean way of eating as well. Fatty fish are rich in healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids that help to reduce inflammation and triglycerides in the body, plus lowers the risk of blood clotting, stroke, and heart failure.
The following is a list of healthy, fatty fish options:
- Fresh or water-packed tuna
Grilled fish is incredibly tasty and requires minimal cleanup. Enjoy with some olive oil, lemon, and tons of spices. Just be sure to avoid deep-fried fish!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
One of the main sources of added healthy fats that the Mediterranean diet encourages is the use of extra virgin olive oil. It provides monounsaturated fat to lower your cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or the “bad” type of cholesterol levels.
Instead of cooking with butter, substitute it with extra virgin olive oil! It also makes an excellent salad dressing combined with a little lemon, salt and pepper.
Low-Fat Greek or Plain Yogurt
Another popular choice to enjoy on the Mediterranean Diet is yogurt, primarily low-fat Greek or plain. This should be consumed in moderation however.
Greek yogurt is high in protein and probiotics to help you digest and maintain the helpful bacteria levels in your system. It also provides your body with B12, potassium, iodine, calcium, and other beneficial nutrients.
Herbs and Spices
The use of herbs and spices gives regional expression to the Mediterranean style of eating. Depending on the herb or spice you use, you can make a dish Italian, Turkish, Greek or other country in the region. It also helps you to limit the amount of salt you use on your dishes.
When it comes to herbs and spices, you can purchase them fresh or already dried and ground for your convenience. Another option is to make a blend of spices yourself by purchasing whole seeds and grinding them up as needed to preserve them for longer periods of time. Enhance the flavors of your herbs by toasting the whole seeds on a skillet and grinding them with either an electric spice grinder or by hand with a mortar and pestle.
Some of the most common spices and herbs that you’ll find in the Mediterranean include the following:
- Bay leaf
- Black pepper
The Mediterranean Diet is a healthy way of eating that doesn’t feel like a strict diet plan. It focuses on enjoying balanced meals that are plant-based as opposed to meat-based, is full of colorful vegetables and fruits, and cuts out the overly-processed foods and beverages that can lead to disease and illness.
You can also feel the love, togetherness, and vibrant culture when you enjoy meals like they do in the Mediterranean region. Their meals are full of life and color, and are encouraged to be enjoyed together as family and friends. If you’re looking for a healthy way of eating that isn’t too limiting or difficult to maintain and that encourages lots of flavors, fun, and a little red wine here and there, the Mediterranean Diet is an excellent choice.