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How To Adopt A Mediterranean Diet

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Introduction:

If you are searching for “how to adopt a Mediterranean Diet” you have probably already heard of all the amazing health benefits to this eating pattern. The Mediterranean diet has been researched for over 60 years and has long been known for its heart health benefits. Newer research has identified additional health benefits.

These health benefits include improved longevity, reduced incidences of many cancers, reduction in diabetes and diabetes complications, improves gut health, modifies the risk of neurodegenerative disease, improved bone health and improved body weight.  (1),(2)(3) (4).  See Mediterranean Diet Pros and Cons – Waistline Dietitian for more in-depth review of the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet.

This article will walk you through how to make changes in your daily routine to start living the Mediterranean way to improve your overall health and be able to celebrate more birthdays. For more information on the Mediterranean Diet see Mediterranean Diet 101: 40 Tips To Get You Started – Waistline Dietitian

How to adopt a Mediterranean Diet:

Mindset first:

Consider the Mediterranean Diet a way of joyful living instead of a diet. This is not a diet of deprivation. This is a blueprint for living a healthier lifestyle.

No foods or food groups are completely off limits. There no calorie counting or strict menus.

The Mediterranean Diet is not a structured diet. This saves you time and energy to slow down and enjoy your meals. Moderation is encouraged instead of avoidance.

There are no rules for timing of meals. If you need snacks, they are encouraged. You have complete control over the foods you consume and how often.

Preparing for the Mediterranean Diet is mostly adjusting your mindset for a new way of enjoying your meals.

Culture:

The Mediterranean Diet is a blueprint for healthy living that is full of delicious food and moderate instead of avoidance is encouraged.

Slow down. Adopting the Mediterranean Diet is more than just a new way of eating. You are also adopting the Mediterranean lifestyle. How you eat and live is just as important as what you are eating.

Meals are not rushed. Slow down. Take time to savor meals. Eat joyfully and mindfully. Stop and evaluate the smell, taste, and texture of the food. How is the food is making you feel. Sit down. Eat at the table.

Surround yourself with family and friends. Turn off electronics. Sharing meals is widely part of the Mediterranean culture. Eating is as much about the company as it is about the food.

Put away the distractions, electronics, phones, and turn to the activity of enjoying your meal. Take time to check into your hunger and fullness cues.

Activity:

Beside eating delicious fresh healthy whole foods, you are also encouraged to include physical activity into your daily routine. At least 30 minutes of regular physical activity is recommended daily.

Whether you are working around the house, gardening, or playing sports with friends or family, daily activity is vital for longevity. For ideas on how to easily add physical activity into your routine see HAES Life-Enhancing Movement – Waistline Dietitian

Rest:

Getting adequate rest is essential for good health. A short rest after eating and a good night sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle.

Culinary Activities:

Devoting enough time and space for planning and preparing meals is all part of the Mediterranean Diet culture. Learn to prepare simple, delicious meals from fresh foods.

Seasonality:

The preference is for seasonal, fresh, minimally processed foods. As the Mediterranean Diet is plant centered, contributing to the preservation of the environment, there is an overall reduction in animal consumption.

Moderation:

Very few foods are off limits, but moderation is the key. Meals are balanced. Plant based. There are no set portions for meals. There is no calorie counting. Moderation is encouraged instead of avoidance.

Life is a voyage. Adjust your sails towards health. A lady sitting on a sail boat on the ocean.

What foods to include when you adopt the Mediterranean Diet and why:

  1. Olive Oil. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat and is less prone to oxidation. It is also high in antioxidants. Antioxidants can reverse and protect the damage to the cells in our body.
  2. Fish. Fish is very high in long chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids may help to lower blood pressure, reduce triglycerides, slow the development of plaque in arteries, reduce the likelihood of a heart attack and stroke.
  3. Nuts. Nuts are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids and contain fiber, protein, and trace minerals.
  4. Fruits and vegetables. In addition to vitamins, minerals, and water, fruits and vegetables contain fiber and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are antioxidants, that aide the function of the immune system, reduce inflammation, protect cells from damage. Both the soluble and insoluble fiber is crucial for fostering a healthy gut microbiome. This can help you have enough good bacteria in your gut to prevent disease and keep your digestion working well and gut healthy.
  5. Legumes and beans. These are a good source of fiber. They will also help keep your gut healthier and have been shown to lower rates of cancer and decrease inflammation.
  6. Wine. Wine is very rich in phytochemicals, like fruits and olive oil. When consumed in moderation it can counteract oxidative stress and provide antiatherogenic properties. Maximum 5 ounces for women and 10 ounces for men a day with food. 4 The polyphenol called resveratrol found in wine is also present in grapes, grape juice, peanuts, pistachios, blueberries, cranberries, and dark chocolate.
  7. Whole grains. Whole grains are rich in nutrients including fiber, protein, B vitamins, antioxidants.
The Mediterranean Diet is rich in Super Nutrients. A picture of a super hero.

These super nutrients work in our body and cause increased resistance to stress, increased insulin sensitivity, increased immune function, increased microbiome diversity. Decreased inflammation, decreased oxidative stress, decreased metabolic syndrome, decreased obesity and type 2 diabetes, decreased LDL, decreased cardiovascular diseases, decreased colorectal cancer, decreased neurogenerative disorders. (5)(6)

Many properties in these powerful foods have not been identified. These food properties have shown to prevent or improve the management of chronic diseases.

For more information on the benefits of eating an anti-inflammatory diet see my fellow dietitians blog post: Anti- Inflammatory Diet Menu: All You Need to Know – Menopause Better.

For more information about the benefits of prebiotics and probiotic see my fellow dietitians blog post: The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics: The Basics – The Mental Wellness Dietitian (angelalagonutrition.com).

Foods that are limited:

Although no food groups are avoided, some foods are encouraged in moderation.

  1. Processed meats: one or less times a week.
  2. Red meat (beef, pork) is encouraged 2 or less times a week.
  3. Sugar, candy, pastries, and sweetened beverages should be consumed in small amounts and left for special occasions.
  4. Refined grains such as white bread, white rice, white pasta.
  5. Trans-fats such as margarine, baked goods.

Sample Shopping list:

A variety of minimally processed whole grains and legumes:1-2 servings a meal.

Whole grain bread, pitas, whole grain pasta, brown and wild rice, quinoa, couscous, millet, amaranth, oats, oatmeal, barley, rye, bulgur, buckwheat, cornmeal, teff.

Chickpeas, black beans, green peas, lima beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, navy beans, great northern beans, pinto beans, soybeans, lentils, dried beans. 

Vegetables: 2 or more a meal: a variety of colors and texture. Fresh, In- season, Frozen without added butter, sauces or canned without added salt.

Fruits: 1-2 a meal: a variety of colors and texture. Fresh, In-season, Frozen, Dried, or canned in natural juice.

Fat: Olive oil (the main source of fat), extra virgin is best, avocado oil.

Water: 6-8 glasses. May include non-sugar herbal tea, low salt/low fat broths.

Seasonings: Spices, herbs, garlic, parsley, sage, cilantro, mint, basil, pepper, and onions for flavoring.

Dairy: Up to 2 servings. Low fat is preferred. Low fat yogurt, cheese, or other fermented dairy products. Unsweetened almond or soy milk.

Nuts: Up to 2 ounces of unsalted nuts, seeds, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, ground flax seeds. Nut butters, Seed butters (natural peanut butter, almond butter, and sunflower).

Eggs: 2-4 week

Fish/seafood: 2 or more servings a week. 2-3 ounces per serving. Fresh, frozen or canned seafood. A varied consumption of salmon, tuna, sardines, pacific oysters, rainbow trout, bluefish, anchovies, mackerel, and herring (oily fish), shellfish, shrimp, lobster, clams, and scallops.

White meat poultry: 2 servings a week. Skinless chicken or turkey

Red meat: less than 2 servings. Preferably lean cuts.

Processed meat: No more than one serving a week.

Potatoes: 3 servings or less a week.

The Mediterranean Diet Plate Method

Some simple substitutions:

Instead of …Try…
Butter, stick margarine, or solid shorteningOlive oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil. Use olive oil for cooking, in salad dressing, as a dip for breads.
Beef, pork, poultry with skinEat more fish, seafood, Skinless poultry breast, add legumes, beans, peas, lentils, or vegetarian dish 2 or more times a week
Chips, crackers, snack foodsRaw or unsalted nuts and seeds. Natural nut butters, Hummus with vegetables or whole grain breads. Avocado on whole grain toast. Popcorn.
Whole milk, whole fat cheese and yogurtChoose 1% or skim, milk, low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, unsweetened soy, or almond milk
White bread, rolls, biscuits, waffles, sweet breads, doughnuts, pastries made with refined ingredients,Whole grain breads, cereal, pastas. Brown or wild rice. Oats.  Couscous. Quinoa.
Sweetened drinks, including sweet coffee, tea, soda, energy, or sports drinks with sugarWater, flavored water with fruit slices. Unsweet coffee, tea. Herbal tea. 100% fruit juice. Fruit smoothies made with frozen or fresh fruit and unsweetened nut milk or yogurt (low-fat)
Salt, condiments with salt or sodium in the word such as “garlic salt”.Use herbs, garlic, onion, peppers, lemon or lime juice and spices. Use unsalted canned foods.

Tips for successfully adopting the Mediterranean Diet:

Getting started: 

  1. Start slow. Make gradual changes. Start with foods you have in the house.
  2. Plan to eat less red meat and sweets. Shoot for 2 or less times a week.
  3. Plan more meatless, vegetarian meals. Use lentils, beans, peas.
  4. Use extra virgin olive oil as your primary cooking oil in place of butter, lard, or other oils.
  5. Add fish twice a week.
  6. Add vegetables to each meal.
  7. Switch grains to whole grains.
  8. Eat fresh, frozen, or dried fruits for desserts.
  9. Note: Making changes gradually will help your body tolerate the beneficial increase in dietary fiber intake.

Eating more meals at home:

Shopping Tips:

  1. While there are no set supplements or specially packaged foods to buy, there are several key ingredients that you will gradually want to have on hand to help you.
  2. Start by gradually replacing your current ingredients with the recommended foods.
  3. Adjust your current menus and recipes as you add the foods to include to your kitchen.
  4. It is easier and less expensive to replace the new foods to consume as you run out of the foods to limit.
  5. Start where you are. Plan a week ahead.
  6. Make a shopping list. Look at sale ads.

Cost savings:

  1. Having less red meat and smaller portions of poultry and fish will reduce your grocery bill.
  2. Cook more and eat out less. Many foods prepared at home are cheaper and more nutritious. Go back to basics and find a few simple healthy recipes your family enjoys.
  3. The best way to save money at the grocery store is to plan. Plan your meals ahead of time. Check to see what foods you already have in the house and plan meals around food your already have most ingredients for first.  Then plan other meals around the sales.
  4. When you go to the store, shop with a list to cut down on any extra purchases. Check the local sale advertisements and store coupons. Stock up on non-perishable sale items.
  5. Shop for foods that are in season. Fruits and vegetables that are in season are usually less expensive. Buy just what you need so they do not go bad before you use them. Also have frozen vegetables and fruits on hand and buy them whenever they are on sale.
  6. Focus on the nutritious lower cost foods such as beans, peas, and lentils, eggs, peanut butter, sweet or white potatoes, canned salmon, tuna, or crabmeat. Grains such as oats, brown rice, barley, or quinoa. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables.

Menu Planning:

Start with what you have. Spend a week or so by eating more meals at home. Eat less of the foods to limit. Start by identifying what changes you will be making in your eating pattern.

Start with simple one ingredient meals. For example:

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.

Breakfast: Fresh orange, Whole grain English muffin, natural peanut butter, a drizzle of honey and unsweet coffee.

Lunch: Whole wheat pita with hummus, chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, olive oil + vinegar + basil dressing and an apple.

Dinner: Broiled fish brushed with olive oils, lemon and dill, brown rice, steamed broccoli, spinach salad with olive oil vinaigrette dressing and a decaffeinated tea or 5-ounce glass of red wine (if appropriate based on age and medical condition).

  1. Cut back on processed foods like chips, crackers, processed meats. Start limiting sweetened beverages. Gradually replace with the healthier options recommended.
  2. Each time you go shopping make a list of the healthier food options you are going to replace your current ingredients with. Gradually you will find you have more of the Mediterranean Diet staples in your kitchen and it will become easier and a more natural way of eating.
  3. Take things slowly. Gradually experiment with new recipes. Most Mediterranean dishes are simple, with few ingredients and straightforward preparation. Try one or two new recipes a week. If you don’t love cooking or have enough time to cook daily cook enough for leftovers and either freeze or plan to eat again over the next 3 days.
  4. Have fun exploring new menus or enjoy creating healthier menus from your usual recipes by replacing them with the healthier food options.

The Mediterranean way of eating gives you the flexibility to focus on foods you enjoy.

Eating Out:

  1. There will be times when eating out is your only option. In this case, slow down and eat mindfully. Enjoy your company. Enjoy your food one bite at a time. Savor the flavors.
  2. Drink water or unsweet beverages..
  3. Ask for extra vegetables.
  4. If you don’t love cooking seafood at home, this is your chance to eat it.
  5. Order food that is broiled, baked, grilled, braised, roasted, poached, steamed, or sauteed in olive oil.
  6. Include a fresh salad. Olive oil and vinegar dressing.
  7. Try vegetarian dishes.
  8. If ordering a meat entrée, cut the portion in half and either share or take the other half home to eat another day.
  9. Most restaurants have plenty of Mediterranean friendly choices.
To change your life you must first change your habits.

Cooking at home:

When you are ready to try new recipes, start with simple ingredients:

  1. I would encourage you to begin slow and start small if this is new way of eating. Keep it simple. Start with gradually adjusting the meals you have been cooking with the healthier food and seasoning options. You may not have to change a lot.
  2. Start by seeing what ingredients you already have available. Try to plan each week’s menus in advance.
  3. Try a new recipe weekly. You may be able to modify some of your favorite recipes you already use and just focus on using the foods to include on the Mediterranean Diet.
  4. Remember this is not a race but a journey. Cook once and eat twice. Every meal does not have to be perfect. Try starting out with one meal a day and gradually add to more.

When you are ready to try new recipes:

There are so many delicious recipes available. These are just a few I found when searching for quick, simple Mediterranean Diet recipes. Attached are meal ideas with the recipe link attached.

Breakfast Ideas:

Lunch Ideas:

Dinner Ideas:

Conclusion:

I hope I was able to show you that the Mediterranean Diet is a sustainable way of living that will bring you more satisfaction, health, energy and hopefully help you celebrate more birthdays! Replace your restrictive diet with the Mediterranean Diet and explore the simple foods with rich tastes, big flavor and never feel hungry or deprived.

References:

  1. Tosti, Valeria, Beatrice Bertozzi, and Luigi Fontana. “Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet: metabolic and molecular mechanisms.” The Journals of Gerontology: Series A 73.3 (2018): 318-326.

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Metabolic and Molecular Mechanisms | The Journals of Gerontology: Series A | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

2. Ventriglio, Antonio, et al. “Mediterranean diet and its benefits on health and mental health: a literature review.” Clinical practice and epidemiology in mental health: CP & EMH 16.Suppl-1 (2020): 156.

Mediterranean Diet and its Benefits on Health and Mental Health: A Literature Review (nih.gov)

3. Gantenbein, Katherina V., and Christina Kanaka-Gantenbein. “Mediterranean Diet as an Antioxidant: The Impact on Metabolic Health and Overall Wellbeing.” Nutrients 13.6 (2021): 1951.

Nutrients | Free Full-Text | Mediterranean Diet as an Antioxidant: The Impact on Metabolic Health and Overall Wellbeing (mdpi.com)

4. Sikalidis, Angelos K., Anita H. Kelleher, and Aleksandra S. Kristo. “Mediterranean Diet.” Encyclopedia 1.2 (2021): 371-387.

encyclopedia-01-00031 (2).pdf

5. Tosti, Valeria, Beatrice Bertozzi, and Luigi Fontana. “Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet: metabolic and molecular mechanisms.” The Journals of Gerontology: Series A 73.3 (2018): 318-326.

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Metabolic and Molecular Mechanisms | The Journals of Gerontology: Series A | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

6. Merra, Giuseppe, et al. “Influence of mediterranean diet on human gut microbiota.” Nutrients 13.1 (2021): 7.

Nutrients | Free Full-Text | Influence of Mediterranean Diet on Human Gut Microbiota (mdpi.com)

This blog is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice. Always follow up with your medical provider

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