When I meet people in the office, I never prescribe a specific diet. I work with them to gradually make changes to improve their diet, in an effort to help them meet their goals. That doesn’t mean I don’t take ideas and concepts from specific diets, though. One diet, that keeps popping up is the Mediterranean Diet. I've mentioned "fad diets" before, but I wouldn't necessarily categorize this as one. I received a text from a family member recently that said “Good morning Amy, just wondering what is a Mediterranean diet?” He was asking as his doctor had recommended it to help lower cholesterol levels. I replied with a sarcastic “It’s the kind of diet people in the Mediterranean eat." But really, what is it? Let’s find out.
So yes, this diet is a traditional way of eating in certain areas that surround the Mediterranean Sea. There are many countries in the Mediterranean region, all of them having cultural and dietary differences. This diet is mostly based on dietary habits of the Northern countries (think Spain, France, Italy and Greece).
There’s been much research done about the Mediterranean Diet showing a variety of health benefits. This diet can decrease the risk of heart disease and lower LDL, or “bad”, cholesterol levels. It’s also been associated with a decreased risk of cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. It may also help with weight loss.
The Mediterranean Diet involves consuming mostly plant-based foods. It’s higher in fat compared to some other diets, but mostly healthy fats from nuts, oils and fish. Many people claim that their favorite part about this diet is that it includes wine!
To adopt the Mediterranean Diet, here are the main concepts to follow:
Eat plenty of vegetables. Common vegetables in the Mediterranean area include arugula, eggplant, kale, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers.
Eat meals less frequently and in smaller portions. Red meat should be limited and it doesn’t necessarily have the be the main part of the meal.
Have fruit regularly. Traditionally, fresh fruit is consumed, compared to frozen or canned. Think figs, oranges, pomegranate and grapes. Switch out dessert for fruit.
Consume whole grains. Whole grains have fiber compared to their refined counterparts. Stick with whole grain breads and pastas, or try bulgar or farro.
Have seafood twice a week. Options include things like salmon, sardines, tuna, clams, lobster, mussels and oysters.
Unlike many current fad diets, the Mediterranean Diet includes dairy. Have yogurt and small amounts of cheese regularly.
Add healthy fats. Switch out butter for olive oil and consume nuts and avocados.
Have your wine. Men should limit it to two drinks per day and women one drink per day. Don’t forget about water as well!
Use herbs and spices to flavor foods. These should replace high-fat gravies and sauces.