THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET

Introduction

Unlike the “brand name” diets with a corresponding book written by a nutritionist or medical professional, the term “Mediterranean diet” is a generic term based on the traditional eating habits in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Eating styles vary among these countries, but there are some common components which we’ll outline below.  It sounds great at first glance, “I get to eat all the pizza and pasta I want and still be healthy?!”  Well, unfortunately, that is not what the plan purports.  But, don’t worry, you’ll be eating delicious, whole food with color, flavor, zest, and variety.

However, just because there isn’t a single book that has sold a million copies doesn’t mean it is not well-regarded.  In fact, the Mediterranean Diet has consistently ranked among the top 1 or 2 diet plans (along with the Dash Diet, further outlined in this magazine) for overall nutrition, weight-loss, and health.  In 2021, the US News & World Report ranked Mediterranean & Dash tied for #1 in the category of Best Diet overall.  (See https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diets-overall)

What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

A Mediterranean-style diet can help you achieve the American Heart Association’s recommendations for a healthy dietary pattern that:

  • Emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, potatoes, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, with olive oil as a primary fat source;
  • Includes low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts in low to moderate amounts;
  • Limits added sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats.  This is consistent with all the dietary plans we are recommending for optimal health and wellness. 
  • Reduces red meat and focuses on fish and poultry. It also centers on minimally processed, plant-based foods. Wine may be consumed in low to moderate amounts, usually with meals. Fruit is a common dessert instead of sweets.

This is possibly the best overall diet for most people because it is the least restrictive while leaving you feeling great since it is balanced with robust flavorful and colorful foods.  The Mediterranean Diet is a lifestyle, not a rigid calorie-counting or “tracking every gram” plan.  This diet focuses on eliminating processed foods like all the others we recommend but has no strict prohibitions (like the Keto or Whole30 dietary plans). 

What Benefits Can I Expect From the Mediterranean Diet?

What is the catalyst in your life that will be the thing that you need happen to change your health and wellness for the good? Have you ever said to yourself, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter what I eat right now, I’m too old to change…. Oh, I’ve tried every diet out there and can’t lose a pound so what’s the point?”   Do you ever think “I. Just. Can’t.”?  I’m here to tell you that you can.  You can commit to a dietary plan, implement it to your daily life, and see real results.  Don’t wait until you visit a medical practitioner and they give you the ominous news that you now have high blood pressure, metabolic disease, fatty liver syndrome, diabetes, or clogged arteries and are going to need a stent put in your heart.  If that type of wake-up call has already happened to you – you’re reading this, good for you – you’re ready to do something to reverse that trend.  If you are on the precipice looking over a cliff and wondering if you should jump into healthy living, you should!  The Mediterranean Diet is recommended for heart health, reduction of stroke risk, reduction of blood sugar, and even Alzheimers’ risk reduction. 

What Can I Eat and What Can’t I Eat?

Can Eat:

  • Vegetables: Tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, chickpeas, etc.  (Avoid sweetened, canned, baked beans)
  • Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams, etc.
  • Whole grains: Whole rolled or steel-cut oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, farro, millet, whole-grain bread and pasta.
  • Fish and seafood: Salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, mussels, etc.
  • Poultry: Chicken, duck, turkey, etc.
  • Eggs: Chicken, quail and duck eggs.
  • Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, Greek yogurt, etc.
  • Herbs and spices: Garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, etc.
  • Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
  • Water, coffee, tea, 1 glass of wine per day maximum 

Can't Eat:

  • Added sugar: Soda, candies, ice cream, table sugar, honey, molasses, artificial sweeteners, juice, sweetened beverages, and most desserts.
  • Refined grains: White bread, pasta made with refined wheat, buns, crackers, and baked goods.
  • Trans fats: Found in margarine, Crisco, processed baked goods, and fried foods.
  • Refined oils: Soybean oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and others.
  • Processed meat: Processed deli lunch meat, sausages, hot dogs, etc
  • Highly processed foods: Anything labeled “low-fat” or “diet” or which looks like it was made in a factory.  Most packaged foods that are not whole-foods.  Look for packages which only have ingredients you can pronounce and understand what you are eating!
  • High-sugar dairy items such as sweetened yogurt, milk, frozen desserts, etc
  • Most snack foods:  Chips, fried food, breaded food, granola bars, etc 

Set Yourself Up For Success

As with all new dietary plans, you set yourself up for success by shopping for all your nutritious foods and ingredients and eliminating the temptation foods from your home.  If you have a weakness for a muffin or candy bar in the afternoon, set yourself up for success by having your veggies and dip and a handful of nuts close by when your craving hits rather than the candy or muffin.  It also helps to have recipes selected in advance of going shopping so you know what ingredients you’ll need on hand to prepare your meals all week.  It will be challenging to stick to any dietary plan if you don’t have the ingredients handy – especially the vegetables, good quality meats, and even fruits since those can spoil quickly.  So be prepared that you might need to go to the grocery store more frequently at first until your dietary plan becomes your lifestyle. 

Sample Recipes:

Butter Chicken Recipe

No-Butter Butter Chicken (Scroll to bottom to view video) No butter, no problem. Dr. Behnawa teaches us how to make a low-fat Indian chicken dish.

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Anti-Inflammatory Omelette

Anti-Inflammatory Omelette (Scroll to bottom to view video) It’s all in the name! Dr. Ching does a step-by-step video of this anti-inflammatory breakfast option. Pin

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Pesto Pasta Salad

Pesto Pasta Salad (Scroll to bottom to view video) This Pesto Pasta is loaded with grains and greens that add iron to your diet and

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Cauliflower Steaks

Cauliflower Steaks (Scroll to bottom to view video) Introducing this recipe is a quick way to get more vegetables into your diet. Grilling the cauliflower

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Sweet Potato Avocado Toast

Sweet Potato Avocado Toast (Scroll to bottom to view video) This “toast” supports digestion and can help manage blood sugar levels. Try this out if

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Overnight Oatmeal

Overnight Oatmeal A classic made even easier! Make this the night before for a convenient on-the-go-breakfast. Add in blueberries for a boost of antioxidants. Pin

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Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup This soup is high in potassium and has a rich flavor, plus, its not that hard to make! Enjoy as a main

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Asian Slaw

Asian Slaw Crisp, spicy and bursting with fresh flavors, this Asian slaw is chock-full of veggies with different textures that’ll make your mouth water! And

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Black Bean Brownies

Black Bean Brownies (Scroll to bottom to view video) These Black Bean Brownies are dense and packed with protein! This recipe can be a pick-me-up

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White Bean Chicken Chili

White Bean Chicken Chili This chili is hearty without weighing you down! Cannellini beans add fiber and protein, with the benefit of helping to control

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Roasted Brussel Sprouts If you say you don’t like Brussel sprouts, think again! Not only are these a great source of iron but roasting them

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Luminaries Parfait Recipe

Luminaries Parfait Recipe Low-carb and low-sugar, this is a wonderful snack or light breakfast option. Try out this parfait with different types of nuts for

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