What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is a widely studied dietary pattern that is inspired by the Mediterranean countries of Greece, Spain and Southern Italy.
There is no one Mediterranean diet but instead a pattern of eating that follow similar principles.
The documented benefits of eating a Mediterranean style diet are endless and include:
- Reduced depression
- Reduced cognitive decline including incidence of Alzheimer’s disease
- Reduced heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease
- Improved blood cholesterol
- Improved blood sugar
- Reduction of Metabolic Syndrome
- Reduced visceral “belly” fat
- Reduced inflammation as determined by blood markers or tests
The basis of the Mediterranean diet is fruits, vegetables and grains, typically 6-8 servings (cups full) of fruits and vegetables daily. By choosing different types and colors you can be sure to get the most varied vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (i.e. the most complete nutrition).
It may be surprising to hear that this diet includes lots of carbohydrates such as breads, cereals and pasta. BUT – these carbs are whole and unprocessed or minimally processed. Beans, grains and legumes make up the rest of the healthy carbs.
The Mediterranean diet promotes fish, poultry and eggs in place of red meat, which should be consumed once a month. Dairy is advised daily or weekly including cheese (in moderation). Dairy foods chosen should be lower in fat and cholesterol. Typically soft cheeses such as feta have less saturated fat as compared to hard cheeses such as jack, cheddar or colby.
Also, the Mediterranean diet encourages liberal amounts of good fats, i.e. nuts, seeds and olive oil. These good fats help increase HDL or “good cholesterol“. However, being a fat, nuts are high in calories and therefore should be limited to no more than a handful a day.
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that increases HDL and can reduce LDL (bad cholesterol). Choosing extra virgin means that it is minimally processed and so it retains it’s antioxidants and plant based nutrients.
Optionally, the Mediterranean diet incorporates small amounts of alcohol, usually red wine, limited to about 4 oz. daily or less. Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to other health problems AND to weight gain so the key is modest intake.
Implicit in this lifestyle is movement! The Mediterranean lifestyle includes lots of activity, work related activities and leisure activity. So don’t forget to get moving!
Quick tips on how to incorporate the Mediterranean diet and living:
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables – half your plate!
- Switch to whole grain minimally processed bread, cereal and pasta
- Incorporate beans, legumes and grains (quinoa, lentils, bulgur, barley and whole wheat bread)
- Add dairy – those with less saturated fat are best
- Eat fish, poultry and eggs. Limit eating red meat to once a month
- Add a handful of nuts daily
- Replace butter, margarine and other saturated fats with olive oil
- Use spices and herbs in place of salt
- Should you chose to drink alcohol, limit the amount to 4 oz. and preferably red wine
- Get active and stay active!