A Mediterranean diet honors the traditions of many cultures that rely on grains, veggies and fruits as the staple of what they eat. If you look at certain regions of the world and the people who live long healthy lives, one area includes the Mediterranean region encompassing Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey. A Mediterranean diet shows many benefits of a diet based on what these cultures eat on a regular routine basis. Over 5 decades of research shows astounding information about the benefits of this plan across the lifecycle including:
- Lower risk of asthma and decreased odds of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in children
- Increased odds of a successful pregnancy with IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) for women of child bearing years
- Lowered risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes across all ages.
- Less plaque buildup in arteries and less need for multiple medications
- Lower risk of frailty and dementia along with improved memory in older adults greater than 60 years old.
So what exactly is the Mediterranean diet? The eating plan is based primarily on whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and fruits. Most plant foods are fresh (fruits and veggies, herbs and spices), whole grains such as couscous, bulgur and quinoa and beans such as black, pinto, white, etc. Fish and seafood are consumed 2 or more times weekly with some cheese, eggs, yogurt and poultry, olive oil for cooking and very little red meat and sweets. Very few meals are fried and most are baked, roasted or grilled.
What would this look like in a day? Oatmeal or Greek yogurt with nuts and berries for breakfast, pita with hummus (ground chickpeas with spices) and lots of veggies such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers) with some grilled chicken for lunch and grilled fish seasoned with lemon and oregano, with sides of quinoa and veggies for supper. Snacks will include fresh fruit, nuts, or nut butter on whole grain bread or crackers.
If you’re thinking about transitioning to a Mediterranean diet here are 10 tips to get you started:
- Eat lots of veggies – think color and variety! You can eat veggies raw in salads, roast or grill with olive oil and spices and add more to stews, stir-fries, and kabobs.
- Prepare a vegetarian meal at least once a week. When you feel comfortable, increase to 2 times a week or more.
- Eat less animal protein – think about meat as a side instead of a main part of the meal. Easy ways to do this is including more stir-fries, adding more veggies and less meat to dishes such as spaghetti and chili and having veggies or whole grains make up 2/3 of the meal.
- Eat seafood twice a week. Include more seafood such as fish, shrimp, scallops, etc.
- Switch to whole grains. They have a nuttier flavor, provide more fiber and nutrients and keep you full longer.
- Switch to fruit for dessert. If you want a creamy addition add some vanilla Greek yogurt to fruit.
- Use healthier oils and fats. Think extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
- Eat together at the dinner table more often. Socializing at meals means feeling connected to others which can help decrease overall stress. Aim to eat with others at a meal at least 3 times a week.
- Drink water instead of sweet drinks. We don’t need extra sugar from drinks and staying well hydrated helps prevent headaches and mild back pain from thirsty kidneys. Aim for at least 64 ounces daily.
- Beyond changes in food also aim for increasing activity. Moving more – dance, walk, hike, swim, garden and bike! No matter your fitness level, most everyone can find fun ways to move more.
A great resource for the Mediterranean diet as well as African, Asian and Latin Heritage plans and Vegetarian and Vegan plans is Oldways. Check it out at https://oldwayspt.org . This site offers a ton of resources to help you on the journey toward eating better!