Mediterranean Diet 101 Introduction:
The Mediterranean Diet has been extensively researched for decades and is considered one of the healthiest dietary models worldwide. It is not a diet, but more of a blueprint for living that has been shown to reduce chronic disease and improve longevity. No foods or foods groups are completely off limits making this a sustainable way of life. (1) (2)
This article will review the basics of what the Mediterranean diet is, why it is beneficial and how you can begin making changes in your lifestyle today!
Mediterranean Diet 101: What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is a blueprint for living that includes delicious foods from all food groups, as well as emphasizing the role of social connections, regular physical activity as well as rest.
There is no need to count calories or grams of fat. There are no set menus or meal timing. Moderation is encouraged instead of avoidance. The Mediterranean Diet is a sustainable way of life. It will save you time to enjoy your meals.
Some foods are emphasized, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain, legumes, nuts and seeds, and olive oil. Moderate consumption of dairy products, eggs, seafood, and poultry. A lower consumption of red meat, processed foods, and sweets is recommended.
Other key components equally important are regular physical activity, embracing social connections and adequate rest. This style of living has evolved over thousands of years and is inspired by the traditional food patterns observed by people living around the Mediterranean Sea.(3)
Mediterranean Diet 101: Benefits
Mediterranean Diet Benefits: Health and Longevity:
The Mediterranean Diet promotes overall health including improved function of many organs, decreased depressive symptoms, lower incidence of many cancers, and improved body weight. The benefits include Improved Metabolic, Cardiovascular, Reproductive, Neurodegenerative, and Mental health, Autoimmune disease, Bone health, Gut health and reduced risk of many cancers. (1)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(9)(10)(11)(12)(13)(14)(15)(16)(17)(18)(19)
In a nutshell: The Mediterranean Diet is a sustainable eating pattern that has been extensively researched for over 60 years. Overall, the Mediterranean Diet has been linked to increased lifespan and longevity. For a more extensive review of the research of health benefits of the Mediterranean diet see Mediterranean Diet Pros and Cons – Waistline Dietitian
Mediterranean Diet 101: Environmental Protection Benefits:
The Mediterranean Diet is considered one of the most environmentally sustainable diets. Heathy for the environment as well as the consumer. It has a lower environmental impact than other dietary patterns mainly due to the larger consumption of plant foods. The lower consumption of animal foods leaves a lower water footprint and lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to other diet patterns.
The Mediterranean Diet is considered to have a low environmental impact, and therefore more sustainable due to its emphasis on plant- based foods, focusing on seasonable local products.
Results in better ecological footprint.
Increase local and in-season plant-derived food intake.
Attenuates the environmental pressure of food production.
Mediterranean Diet 101: How to get started:
It is as easy as 1,2,3:
The goal is to make this a lifestyle you enjoy and a sustainable habit. This is not a fad diet or short-term period of self-deprivation. Focus on the abundance of delicious food choices that you can choose from. Some foods are emphasized due to their nutrient profile and health benefits.
The only foods you should completely avoid are:
- Foods you’re allergic to.
- Foods that are expired.
- Foods that you don’t like.
The goal of the mindset is that you should be eating food you enjoy. There are many delicious food choices included on the Mediterranean Diet. You should never feel deprived.
2. Making gradual changes:
Begin by making gradual changes to your current lifestyle. You may start by just adding more vegetables to your meals. Eventually swapping out your oil for olive oil. Making gradual changes can help your body adjust and adapt to this way of eating and living.
3. Cultivating a Mediterranean Lifestyle:
Incorporating 30 minutes or more of physical activity into your daily routine. This could be: taking a stroll after meals, playing with your children or dog, active house cleaning. The goal is to include 30 minutes or more of physical activity into your daily routine. For ideas on incorporating more physical activity into your day see HAES Life-Enhancing Movement – Waistline Dietitian
Share meals with others. Slow down and be mindful when eating. Turn off electronics. Appreciate the smell, texture, flavors of the food. Being mindful during eating can help your overall digestion as well as improve your hunger-fullness awareness.
The Mediterranean Diet also emphasizes the importance of social connections. Sharing meals with your family, friends, and community. It also encourages more cooking and meals eaten at home as opposed to dinning out.
Making time for rest, getting adequate sleep as well as physical activity are all equally important features of the Mediterranean Diet lifestyle.
Mediterranean Diet 101: Eat more of this:
At every meal include:
A variety of minimally processed whole grains and legumes:1-2 servings a meal (whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown and wild rice, quinoa, couscous, millet, amaranth, oatmeal, barley, bulgur, cornmeal, chickpeas, black beans, green peas, lima beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, navy beans, great northern beans, pinto beans, soybeans, lentils). 1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked whole grain is one serving, 1-ounce cooked pasta.
Vegetables: 2 or more a meal: a variety of colors and texture.
Fruits: 1-2 a meal: a variety of colors and texture.
Fat: Olive oil (the main source of fat), extra virgin is best, nuts and seeds, avocado.
Water: 6-8 glasses. May include non-sugar herbal tea, low salt/low fat broths.
Seasonings: Spices, herbs, garlic, and onions for flavoring.
Twice Daily include:
Dairy: 2 servings. Low fat is preferred. Low fat yogurt, cheese or other fermented dairy products.
A reasonable amount of (about a handful) Olives, nuts, and seeds for snacking.
Traditional Mediterranean dishes do not have animal-origin protein foods as the main ingredient but rather as a condiment or a source of flavor in the dish.
Eggs: 2-4 week
Fish/seafood: A varied consumption of salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and herring (oily fish), shellfish, shrimp, lobster, clams, and scallops. 2 or more servings a week. 2-3 ounces per serving.
White meat poultry: 2 servings a week.
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.
Up to one time daily with a meal:
Respecting religious and social beliefs, a moderate amount of wine or other fermented beverages during one meal sitting (up to one 5-ounce glass for women, and up to two 5-ounce glasses for men). I have measured this out several times. This is not a lot of wine, and it would not be healthy to have more than this amount (studies show a negative effect on health with higher intakes.)
Note: If you don’t already drink alcohol, don’t start. There are many other ways to get in the antioxidants from red wine. The polyphenol called resveratrol can also be found in grapes, grape juice, peanuts, pistachios, blueberries, cranberries, and dark chocolate.
Some people should not drink at all, like women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, people under the age of 21 and people with certain health conditions. Some religions and social beliefs abstain from any alcohol. Herbal teas or water is used in place.
If you do drink wine, limit to the portion size recommended to get the biggest health benefit! Moderation remains the key to overall health.
Mediterranean Diet plate:
Start with easy swaps. Try one new change a week:
Start by gradually replacing your current ingredients with the recommended foods. Adjust your current menus and recipes as you add the foods to include to your kitchen. It is easier and less expensive to replace the new foods to consume as you run out of the foods to limit.
Start where you are. Plan a week ahead. Make a shopping list. Look at sale ads.
|Instead of …||Try…|
|Butter, stick margarine, or solid shortening||Olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil. Use olive oil for cooking, in salad dressing, as a dip for breads.|
|Beef, pork, poultry with skin||Eat more fish, seafood, Skinless poultry breast, add legumes, beans, peas, lentils, or vegetarian dish 2 or more times a week|
|Chips, crackers, snack foods||Raw 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 yogurt||Choose 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 sugar||Water, 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 success:
- 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.
- Cut back on processed foods like chips, crackers, processed meats. Start limiting sweetened beverages. Gradually replace with the healthier options recommended.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
Breakfast: Oatmeal, skim milk, blueberries, unsalted almonds unsweet coffee.
Snack: whole grain English muffin with natural peanut butter, water.
Lunch: vegetarian chili, apple, unsweet tea.
Snack: one ounce trail mix with unsalted nuts, seeds and raisins, water.
Dinner: Broiled Salmon, brown rice, broccoli, spinach salad tossed with olive oil and vinegar dressing, herbal tea.
Evening snack: baked apple, water with lemon.
- Combine unsalted nuts, whole grain cereal, dried fruits, whole grain pretzels. Store in airtight container.
- Natural Nut butter (like almond or peanut butter) with celery, whole wheat pita.
- Hummus with vegetables or whole grain cracker or pita.
- Fresh fruit.
- Low fat yogurt.
- Fresh fruit sliced, dipped in nut butters.
- Boiled edamame (soybeans in the pod).
- Hard-boiled egg.
- Air fried vegetable or fruit chips.
- Mixed whole nuts, unsalted.
- Frozen and fresh vegetables.
- Frozen and fresh fruits.
- Low fat yogurt, low fat milk, unsweet almond or soy milk.
- Unsalted almonds, cashews, walnuts.
- Natural nut butters.
- Olive oil, avocado oil.
- Beans, lentils, chickpeas.
- Whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread or pitas.
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes.
- Skinless poultry.
Shopping tips for cost savings:
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.
When you go to the store, shop with a list to cut down on any extra purchase. Check the local sale advertisements and store coupons. Stock up on non-perishable sale items. Shop in bulk and then freeze items.
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.
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.
Eat more fruits and vegetables in season. Shop at your local farmer’s market when possible. Eating seasonally also encourages you to try new fruits and vegetables that you may have never considered.
Tips for eating out:
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.
- Drink water or unsweet beverages.
- Ask for extra vegetables.
- If you don’t love cooking seafood at home, this is your chance to eat it.
- Order food that is broiled, baked, grilled, braised, roasted, poached, steamed, or sauteed in olive oil.
- Include a fresh salad. Olive oil and vinegar dressing.
- Try vegetarian dishes.
- If ordering a meat entrée, cut the portion in half and either share or take the other half home to eat another day.
Most restaurants have plenty of Mediterranean friendly choices.
Mediterranean Diet 101: Conclusion
This is a brief overview of the Mediterranean Diet. This lifestyle is sustainable, and research indicates it can help you celebrate more birthdays!
Have fun exploring this new lifestyle. Gradually adapt some of your favorite family recipes with Mediterranean friendly ingredients.
Build more social time into your week by sharing your new dishes with family and friends. Slow down and eat mindfully. Include physical activity into every day.
Remember, this is a journey. Small changes will add up over time. Adopting the Mediterranean Diet lifestyle will be worth your time and will pay you back with improved health and longevity. Start where you are with what you have, and you will be glad you did!
Mediterranean Diet 101: References:
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- Salas-Salvadó, Jordi, et al. “Effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts on metabolic syndrome status: one-year results of the PREDIMED randomized trial.” Archives of internal medicine 168.22 (2008): 2449-2458.
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