You may have heard of the Mediterranean diet before, but what is this eating style and why is it considered one of the healthiest in the world?

Background

The Mediterranean diet is an eating style followed by people living in the regions along the Mediterranean Sea. There are around 18 countries in this region and include Greece, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, France, and Morocco. Although each country has different dishes and recipes, they all share a similar eating pattern.

The term Mediterranean Diet was originally coined in 1975 by Ancel Keys, a physiologist who did research on the island of Crete. His studies revealed that people on this island lived longer and healthier lives. One of the main reasons for this was the food they ate. Since then there have been numerous research on the Mediterranean diet and its impact on long term health and wellness. This eating pattern has been shown to help prevent and treat chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

How do you eat Mediterranean?

The Mediterranean eating style is predominantly plant-based eating. It emphasizes plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, dairy and olive oil. Fish and poultry are consumed a few times a week whereas red meat is limited. Fresh wholesome foods are chosen over processed refined foods and sweets.

Baba Ghanouj eggplant dip

Baba Ghanouj eggplant dip is a staple in many Mediterranean countries

More than Food

The Mediterranean eating style is more than just about which foods to eat. It is a lifestyle that puts great emphasis on sharing meals with friends and family, mindful eating, and gaining deep satisfaction and joy from eating tasty, fresh meals. Slowing down and ‘being in the present’ is key in the Mediterranean eating style.

The Mediterranean eating style is considered an all-inclusive way of eating. Comfort foods and desserts all have a place in your meals. The emphasis is on mindfulness, including how often you eat these foods and how you are eating them. This means taking your time to actually savor every bite you eat. Shifting to this mindset will allow you to truly enjoy all foods without feelings of guilt or fear, but rather embrace feelings of nourishment and satisfaction.

Enjoy all foods without feelings of guilt or fear, but rather embrace feelings of nourishment and satisfaction.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

You may have seen images of the Mediterranean diet pyramid. This pyramid was created by Oldways (a nonprofit nutrition organization) in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health and World Health Organization. It illustrates the key components of this eating pattern as shown below:

Mediterranean diet pyramid

Meal Planning for the Mediterranean Eating Style

You can use the table below to plan out how often to include key food groups.

10 Steps to Start Following the Mediterranean Eating Style

1) Eat more plants

The Mediterranean eating style is a plant-based eating pattern. This means it emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables and plant-based proteins such as beans and lentils. Aim for 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This can add up quickly and may include 2 cups of leafy green vegetables, 1 cup of carrots, or 1 cup of berries. When planning your meals think about what vegetable you would like to cook as your main part of your meal, then add plant-based proteins or some other protein options on the side.

2) Choose whole grains

Whole grains include whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, oats, rye, barley, corn, brown rice, bulgar and quinoa. They include all parts of the grain (bran, germ, endosperm) and therefore are higher in fiber and antioxidants compared to white flours and refined grains.

3) Add nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds provide fiber, healthy fats, and protein. Choose them as your snack or add them to salads, soups, or as nut spreads in sandwiches.

4) Choose olive oil as your main fat

Olive oil contains a high level of monounsaturated healthy fats compared to other fats. Use olive oil to cook, add to salads in dressings, and drizzle on drips and bread

5) Experiment with fish and limit red meat

Choose fish twice a week, poultry and eggs a few times a week, and limit red meat. Fish provides healthy omega 3 fats which we need to get from the foods we eat. Poultry and red meat contain higher levels of saturated fat which is associated with chronic diseases.

6) Flavor foods with herbs and spices

Use herbs and spices instead of adding extra salt, sugar or butter to your meals. Experiment with cilantro, parsley, oregano, thyme, paprika, and cumin to name a few.

7) Enjoy yogurt, milk and cheese

Eat dairy foods a few times a week in moderation. Choosing full fat options can be more satisfying and filling which may mean consuming a smaller portion. However, consult with a dietitian to determine which percentage fat is recommended for you

8) Choose water as your main beverage

There is nothing more hydrating and satisfying than a glass of water. Some people in the Mediterranean regions drink a glass of wine with meals, however this is not an essential part of following the diet.

9) Limit highly processed or refined foods and sweets

These foods do not have to be completely avoided, however they are to be consumed in moderation and mindfully. In the Mediterranean diet all foods fit in a well-balanced eating pattern.

10) Eat mindfully

Eating mindfully means eating in the present moment and being attentive to your body. It means listening to your body’s hunger cues, savoring every bite you take, and respecting your body. Taking time to eat and indulge in your meals is a key component of this lifestyle.

olives

Olives contain healthy fats and can be added to salads, dips, brunch or enjoyed as a snack.

What steps can you take today to start following the Mediterranean diet? Let me know in the comments!

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