what is the Mediterranean diet?

Mediterranean food recipes

In this blog post, I share the history on the Mediterranean diet, why it’s the best diet to reduce chronic disease and weight loss, and how you can start following the #1 rated diet recommended by Registered Dietitians!

where did the Mediterranean diet come from?

You may have heard about the Mediterranean diet – it’s a diet rich in fiber, antioxidants, and unsaturated fat (the good fat). It’s been around for years and rated #1 as the best diet to follow to reduce risk of heart-related diseases, diabetes, and even weight loss.

The Mediterranean diet comes from the Mediterranean region, which is bordered on the North by Europe, the East by Asia, and the South by Africa. Although the West is connected to the Atlantic ocean, many consider it a separate body of water as it’s almost completely enclosed by land. Surprisingly, the land that encloses the sea is roughly 20 different countries.

It is commonly believed the Mediterranean diet is associated with dietary patterns from Spain, Italy, and Greece (check out my travel Greece guide!), but that is partially untrue as the Mediterranean diet includes cuisines from countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

THE STUDY

The founder of the Mediterranean diet, Ancel Keys performed an extensive study on 7 countries to learn more about heart and vascular diseases among countries with traditional eating patterns and lifestyles. Furthermore, three of those countries that were studied are situated along the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, and Greece) sea and all were found to have reduced risks of heart-related diseases within their population when compared to other countries. 

middle eastern food with pita, hummus, and middle eastern sweets

Interestingly, the dietary patterns from all the countries along the Mediterranean sea are actually quite similar and contribute to the development of the Mediterranean diet. 

Eating patterns along the Mediterranean:

Hummus from the middle east

1) High consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, beans, nuts and seeds.

2) High consumption of olive oil.

3) Moderate consumption of dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese).

4) Moderate consumption of seafood.

5) Low consumption of meat (especially red meat).

6) Low to moderate consumption of wine. 

so, what's in the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is composed of fruits and vegetables, grains, olive oils, beans, nuts and seeds, and legumes. It’s surprising to hear, but the Mediterranean diet is actually a high-fat diet. Don’t worry, the fat comes from mostly monounsaturated fat (good fat), which is found in nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

Furthermore, research has shown monounsaturated fat to be extremely beneficial in lowering cholesterol levels, including total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Many additional studies has shown the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of diabetes, cancer, obesity, depression, and overall risk of death when compared to other diets. But, it’s not just a diet, some would say it’s a lifestyle as well.

Lifestyle factors in the Mediterranean diet

Diet can make an impact on our overall health, but there are other factors that are just as important to your health. The founder and researcher of the Mediterranean diet, Ancel Keys, demonstrated in his research that the combination of the Mediterranean diet with lifestyle factors made a huge difference. For example, lifestyle factors such as increased physical activity, cessation of smoking, and low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol (mostly wine consumed at meals) showed a significant decrease in heart-related diseases compared to those who had one or none of the lifestyle factors. Basically, we must engage in a healthy diet and multiple lifestyle factors to really reap the benefits.

Eating Mediterranean-approved foods and exercising every day may not be feasible for everyone. For many of us, the best we can do is to find balance. Start small, and start incorporating as many foods from the Mediterranean diet as you can. Take the stairs at work, park your car from the farthest lot, or try a 7-minute workout when you get home. Start slow, and gradually increase. Small changes can lead to long lasting and rewarding results.

Jogging on the trail from Imerovigli to Oia

tips to follow the mediterranean diet

Below are examples of how you can incorporate the Mediterranean diet. Choose 1 or more from each tip.

tip #1: include fruits and veggies in your diet daily

1) Add a side of fruit at breakfast or take slices of bell peppers for a mid morning snack.

2) Add a small handful of spinach, kale, cauliflower, or celery in your next smoothie.

3) Stuff your sandwich with a bunch of veggies like cucumbers, lettuce, onions, tomatoes.

tip #2: Switch out your oil to olive oil

1) Use high quality olive oil or extra-virgin.

2) Dip oil in whole wheat bread or drizzle over pasta.

3) Drizzle oil over seafood or poultry dishes.

tip #3: Eat whole grains or foods made with whole wheat flour

1) Choose Mediterranean whole grains such as farro, barley, bulgar, or cook with brown rice or pasta.

2) Add whole grains to your own Mediterranean bowls (like taco bowls).

tip #4: less red meat, more fish

1) If you do eat red meat, choose smaller portions.

2) Eat more fish (the go-to fish include salmon, sardines, mackerel) 1-2 times a week.

3) Add your choice of protein to tacos, salads, stir-fry, soups.

tip #5: choose healthy snacks

1) Opt for nuts, seeds, or dried fruit.

2) Add nuts or seeds to greek yogurt with homemade granola.

3) Eat sliced carrots or bell peppers with hummus.

tip #6: enjoy fruit for dessert

1) Cut up seasonal fruit, sprinkle some honey or sugar, if needed.

2) If fruit doesn’t satisfy you, try eating a small amount of chocolate chips with a few slices of fruit.

Want to learn more?

Here are a few of my favorite resources to learn more about the Mediterranean diet:

The Mediterranean Diet: A History of Health (study from NIH)

Oldways

Healthline

What’s your favorite Mediterranean food or recipe? Please share in the comments below with a link to your recipe.

Comments