The Mediterranean Diet- A Healthy Lifestyle Approach

It is no longer a rocket science to surmise that the key to good health is proper exercise as well as proper nutritious and well-balanced diet. To keep pace with the modern changing times, we have seen new exercises coming up and old forms of our traditional exercises like yoga getting a revamp. Similarly, while many new diet plans are being invented every day, the old ones have also been getting new faces and catching our attention. One such diet plan that has successfully grabbed the limelight is the Mediterranean Diet! It is touted as one of the healthiest diet plan existing today. In this write-up, we seek to make you a reasonable expert on this diet plan. Stay hooked!

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

Considered as a healthy way of eating rather than a specially modeled diet plan, the Mediterranean diet draws inspiration from the healthy eating lifestyle of people from countries in and around the Mediterranean region mainly Italy, France, Greece, and Spain. Many of the world’s leading scientists and nutritionists hail it as one of the healthiest diets in the world. The diet focuses on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish, beans, high-fiber bread and whole grains, nuts, and olive oil.  It even incorporates a moderate portion of fish, white meat, and some dairy produce. The diet focuses in swapping bad fats with heart-healthy ones. You are also encouraged to drink a small amount of red wine as it is healthy for the heart. With exercises and active lifestyle incorporated, it helps you to lead a healthier and longer life.

Guiding Principles and Components of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is all about mindful eating and sound nutrition habits. Since it is not a diet plan in its strictest meaning, it does not count any calories or adjusts any macros. It is one of the most flexible plans which can easily be adapted to suit your lifestyle. However, it has some basic guiding principles which are:-

  • The major portion of the food consumed should be plant based like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
  • Choose whole grains over refined bread and pasta.
  • Unhealthy fats like butter need to be replaced by healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil. Including plenty of olive oil is especially recommended.
  • Resort to herbs and spices in place of salts to flavor foods.
  • Red meat should only be consumed few times a month.
  • Poultry and fish should be consumed twice a week.
  • Healthy sweets can be consumed once or twice a week.
  • Red wine can be consumed in moderation.
  • Meals should be a time-consuming and enjoyable affair with family and friends.
  • Exercise should be a part of your daily routine.

Switching to the Mediterranean Diet Plan

Now that you know the guiding principles, you need not wonder how to do the Mediterranean diet. It is extremely easy to convert your daily food and meal habits according to the guidelines of this diet plan. This eating pattern will yield you numerous benefits including weight loss. Few tips to follow are:

  1. Replace butter and margarine with healthy oils as much as you can

Olive oil is considered the cornerstone of this diet plan. One is allowed up to 4 to 5 servings of it per day with each serving equivalent to 1 tsp. of olive oil, 5 olives or 1/8 of an avocado. Replacing butter with them gives you a healthier yet tasty alternative. For instance, to dip bread, you can replace butter with high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, preferably seasoned with balsamic vinegar. Other oils rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids like canola or walnut oil can also be opted for.

  1. Swap your Proteins

Red meat has plenty of saturated fat. They should be replaced with lean proteins. Again, you can simply by begin by making small changes like eating any kind of fish except fried. Fishes like salmon and tuna come highly recommended from health and heart point of view. Try to change the meal focus from meat to fruits and vegetables. Meats should be an accompaniment as a flavoring and add-ons.

  1. Opt for Whole Grain Bread, Pasta, Rice etc.

The good thing about this diet plan is you need not forget your bread and pasta as recommended by most diet plans. You simply need to make them from whole grains instead of the refined and processed flour. Today, whole grain flour, pasta, and bread is easily available.

  1. Snack on Nuts, Seeds and Low-Fat Cheese or Dairy

Processed snack foods like chips, cookies etc are mostly loaded with sugars, saturated as well as trans fat. In place of them, one can choose healthy snacks like a handful of almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds etc. You can also resort to calcium-rich low-fat cheese, skimmed milk yogurt with fresh fruit and any other healthy snacks.

  1. Moderate Your Drinks Consumption

Various research conducted indicates that light drinkers are less likely to have heart diseases than those who completely abstain from alcohol. According to studies, alcohol can raise the good HDL cholesterol levels in the body. It also has antioxidants that can stop the arteries from taking LDL cholesterol.

  1. Enjoy Your Meals

The Mediterranean Diet strongly recommends savoring all food items that you would be consuming. It also suggests enjoying the meal with your friends and families. According to its theories, eating slowly gets a person more in tune to the body’s hunger and satiety signals. This prevents overeating and helps you keep excess weight at bay.

Mediterranean Diet Shopping List

The Mediterranean Diet does not ask you to buy anything special or extraordinary. Everything you need is easily available in your local grocery store. You only need to pay attention to choose the least processed option and go for organic products as far as possible. To make things easy, we give below a list for easy reference:-

  • Vegetables- Carrots, onion, kale, spinach, broccoli etc. Frozen healthy mixes can also be taken.
  • Fruits- Apples, oranges, grapes, papaya etc.
  • Berries- Strawberries, blueberries etc.
  • Grains- Whole grain pasta, bread etc.
  • Legumes- Lentils, beans, pulses etc.
  • Seeds- Seeds of sunflower, pumpkin, flax etc.
  • Nuts- Almonds, walnuts, cashews etc.
  • Condiments- Sea salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander etc.
  • Shrimp and shellfish
  • Fish, chicken and pastured eggs
  • Olives
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Greek yogurt

Food to Avoid on Mediterranean Diet

The diet plan seeks to eliminate certain food from your diet altogether. Those are:

  • Added sugars of any kind like in candies, sugary sodas, ice-creams, chocolate etc.
  • Refined grains like bagels, white bread, cereals, normal white pasta etc.
  • Highly processed grains- This includes all food items that come in a box as well as those marked as ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’.
  • Trans and saturated fats like butter, margarine etc.
  • Processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, sausages etc.
  • Refined oils like soybean, vegetable, sunflower etc.

Mediterranean Diet Recipes

Like we said, the Mediterranean Diet has numerous recipes that one can try out and pamper the taste buds. To titillate them, we present some recipes below for you to try out:

  • Greek Style Mushrooms

In a pan, add a cup of water, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, some coriander, pepper, and a bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Add to it clean and rinsed mushrooms which have been thinly sliced. Boil for about a minute or two and then remove from heat. Mix in some parsley and paprika and allow the mixture to cool. At the time of serving, strain the mixture and place it on a dish. Sprinkle with a liberal amount of lemon juice to taste.

Note: the same recipe can be prepared by replacing mushrooms with carrots, turnip sticks, thinly sliced cucumber, leaks or artichoke hearts.

Greek Style Mushrooms Recipe
Greek Style Mushrooms Recipe
  • Zucchini Noodles with Marinara Sauce

It is a terrific recipe which is abundant in Vitamin C, fibers as well as flavors. For it, in a food processor add 2-4 large seeded and chopped tomatoes, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, 1 tsp honey, 2 cloves garlic which are crushed, ¾ tsp sea salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper and 2 tbsp minced fresh basil and oregano each. Blend them chunky or smooth and pour into a bowl. Add about 1/4 cup of extra virgin oil to it and mix well. Now take about 6 medium zucchini which you can peel if you like. Turn them into noodles with the help of a spiral slicer. Toss the noodles with abundant prepared marinara sauce to coat them well and serve immediately.

The internet is full of numerous such delicious recipes that you can try out.

Zucchini Noodles with Marinara Sauce
Zucchini Noodles with Marinara Sauce

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet finds approval from many scientists and nutritionists because of its balanced nature and the numerous benefits it offers. Few of them are:-

  • Weight loss

Mediterranean diet for weight loss is considered one of the best diet plans available today. It allows you to eat wholesome food with fats included. You neither have to go hungry nor have to feel deprived of anything. All recipes of this diet plan are extremely delicious and filling. Moreover, there are thousands of recipes available for you to try out. Thus, you neither get bored of same meals nor are your taste buds left neglected. You can even dine out. All you need to do is ask them to cook your meal in olive oil. Combined with the exercises and nutrient dense meals, you are not only able to successfully shed excess flab but are also able to keep regaining of weight at bay.

  • Improves Heart Health

The Mediterranean Diet is extremely heart friendly. The high intake of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 food goes a long way on keeping the heart extremely healthy and significantly reducing the all-cause mortality. The diet is extremely rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Studies conducted have shown that this diet plan if adopted strictly can reduce the risk of death by cardiac arrest by 30 percent and the risk of sudden cardiac arrest by 45 percent. A major contributor of this is olive oil. A research conducted by Warwick Medical School has shown that olive oil can decrease blood pressure significantly by making nitric oxide more bio-available which goes and keeps the arteries dilated and clear.

  • Helps Fight Cancer

By following the Mediterranean diet, one is able to get a highly favorable and balanced ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids along with plenty of fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols.  All these protect the DNA from damage; blocks cell mutation, lower inflammation in the body and delays tumor growth. Many studies and research also tout of olive oil as one of the natural cure for cancer. It highly decreases the risk of bowel and colon cancers.

  • Helps in Diabetes

The fiber rich and low-sugar Mediterranean diet goes a long way in preventing sugar swings and thus is considered a natural diabetes cure.

  • Keeps various Diseases at Bay

The high level of antioxidants and the ability of the diet plan to stabilize and normalize many body organs and their functions help decrease the risk significantly of various diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease etc.

  • Increases Longevity

It is a known fact that the Mediterranean region has the maximum number of centenarians in the world. This was a major fact that drew the world’s attention on their eating and lifestyle habits. It is believed that the diet reduces the risk of death at any stage by at least 20 percent.

  • Helps you De-Stress and Relax

The Mediterranean Diet plan is not focused on eating alone. It encourages people to spend time in nature as well as surround yourself with friends and families especially at meal times. Today it is an established fact that chronic stress has deteriorated our quality of life. However, these little tweaks of the Mediterranean life naturally de-stress you, relaxes your mind and nurtures a general emotion satisfaction and bonding in your life. This plays a crucial role in keeping many mental and emotional problems at bay.

Reviews of Mediterranean Diet

Health experts rate the Mediterranean diet quite high. It is ranked

  • Second best in terms of overall diet plan.
  • 12th position in term of weight loss
  • Second position as diabetic diet
  • Second best diet for healthy eating
  • 19th position as fast weight loss diet
  • Fourth best heart friendly diet
  • The best plant based diet
  • The best easiest diet to follow

Other favorable points to note are:

  • The diet raises your budget just slightly and so it is highly affordable. You have a number of alternatives as well.
  • Since no food groups are banned, you find it convenient and easy to stick to it long term
  • There are numerous recipes available to break the monotony. You can even dine out. Thus, the convenience is unmatched.
  • Even though you consume plenty of fats, if you keep a check on your calories intake, you can shed significant weight.
  • The diet also allows for dietary restrictions and preferences. For instance, both vegans and non-vegans can adopt it. Since it does not emphasize on salt, it is a terrific low-sodium diet. Though it cannot be qualified as a low-fat diet, it is low in unhealthy saturated fats. The diet plan also works as a gluten free diet.
  • Various studies and research have established that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of stroke by 39%; drop out groups from this diet plan is less than half if compared to other diet plans; reduces the risk of various diseases like diabetes, pressure etc. Thus, the diet plan finds great favor amongst the masses.

The Bottom Line

All in all, the Mediterranean Diet is an incredibly healthy and satisfying diet plan that is easy to stick to long term. Combined with its healthy exercise and active lifestyle, you can expect to live real long, hale and hearty. Even those who cannot remain completely faithful to the diet plan can benefit enormously if they eat more food recipes from this plan, dine more leisurely and adopt a more active lifestyle. Those looking to lose weight should check their calories intake and stick to the diet plan for at least six months for best results. Thus the Mediterranean diet is one of the most manageable and effective approaches that you can take towards a healthy and joyful life.

Have you tried the Mediterranean diet? What are your experiences regarding it? Chime in below!