The Mediterranean diet is based primarily on the eating habits of southern European countries, with an emphasis on plant foods, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans, and grains.
Facts about the Mediterranean diet
- There is no one Mediterranean diet. It consists of foods from a number of countries and regions including Spain, Greece, and Italy.
- The Mediterranean diet is a great way to replace the saturated fats in the average American diet.
- There is an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and natural sources.
- It is linked to good heart health, protection against diseases such as stroke, and prevention of diabetes.
- Moderation is still advised, as the diet has a high fat content
- The Mediterranean diet should be paired with an active lifestyle for the best results.
The Mediterranean diet consists of:
- high quantities of vegetables, such as tomatoes, kale, broccoli, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, and onions
- fresh fruit such as apples, bananas, figs, dates, grapes, and melons.
- high consumption of legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and cashews
- whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, corn, and brown rice
- olive oil as the main source of dietary fat, alongside olives, avocados, and avocado oil
- cheese and yogurt as the main dairy foods, including Greek yogurt
- moderate amounts of fish and poultry, such as chicken, duck, turkey, salmon, sardines, and oysters
- eggs, including chicken, quail, and duck eggs
- limited amounts red meats and sweets
- around one glass per day of wine, with water as the main beverage of choice and no carbonated and sweetened drinks
This focus on plant foods and natural sources means that the Mediterranean diet contains nutrients such as:
Healthy fats: The Mediterranean diet is known to be low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat.
Fiber: The diet is high in fiber, which promotes healthy digestion and is believed to reduce the risk of bowel cancer and cardiovascular disease.
High vitamin and mineral content: Fruits and vegetables provide vital vitamins and minerals, which regulate bodily processes. In addition, the presence of lean meats provides vitamins such as B12 which are not found in plant foods.
Low sugar: The diet is high in natural rather than added sugar, for example, in fresh fruits. Added sugar increases calories without nutritional benefit, is linked to diabetes and high blood pressure, and occurs in many of the processed foods absent from the Mediterranean diet..
It is difficult to give exact nutritional information on the Mediterranean diet, since there is no single Mediterranean diet. This is because a variety of cultures and regions are involved.
As the Mediterranean diet cannot be reduced to one particular meal plan or food group, it is important to follow the guidelinesfor maximum benefit.
To get started on the Mediterranean diet:
- Focus on fruits and vegetables and make these the staple of the diet.
- Eat beans, legumes, nuts, and whole grains daily.
- Season foods with herbs and spices instead of salt, fat, and sugar.
- Cook food with olive or avocado oil as standard, instead of butter.
- Focus on lean proteins, primarily fish, and eat less than 3 ounces (oz) of chicken or red meat per week.
- Limit the intake of sweet and high-sugar foods and base most dessert intake around fruit.
Food should be as fresh and unprocessed possible. Although the diet contains heahlthful fats, there is still a high fat content, so servings should be moderate for the best results.
A key part of Mediterranean dining culture is eating with others, and sharing healthful, nutritious meals. It is a great way to approach a diet with the support of family or close friends. They can help reinforce the changes.
Here is an example of a day’s eating on the Mediterranean diet.
|Breakfast||Oatmeal with fruit and nuts|
|Lunch||Spinach and feta stuffed salmon|
|Afternoon snack||Vegetables with a hummus dip or tzatziki|
|Dinner||Mozzarella, chickpea, and tomato salad|
|Evening snack||Greek yogurt, perhaps with fruit|