The Mediterranean diet is based on traditional ways of eating for people who live around the Mediterranean Sea. Adopting Mediterranean eating habits is a great way for just about anyone to enjoy fresh, delicious food while staying healthy or getting healthier.
The key to eating Mediterranean is consuming plant-based foods at every meal. Vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains take up most of the plate – read more about whole grains below. Foods that are less healthful, like sweets, are eaten as treats or in small amounts once a week (or less). Red meat is eaten rarely, usually once weekly, and grass-fed meats are preferred.
Check out this Mediterranean diet food pyramid for a visual representation of the various food groups and how much you should eat from them. Portion control plays a large role in the Mediterranean diet. You can eat almost limitless amounts of green leafy vegetables, but more control is needed over other foods. For help understanding serving sizes, take a look at this guide.
Part of what makes this diet good is what it avoids. It stays away from processed food with dietary dangers like trans fats, sugar, sodium, and food additives with names most of us can’t pronounce. It’s important to note there’s no skimping on fat in the Mediterranean diet – most of it comes from good, quality olive oil, nuts and seeds. Fish is eaten often, contributing omega-3 fatty acids to your diet.
There are two groups of grains: whole and refined. According to the Whole Grains Council, a grain can only qualify as a whole grain if 100 percent of the original grain kernel – all of the bran, germ, and endosperm – is present in its original proportions, regardless if it's processed.
The other group of grains is known as refined grain products. Examples include white flour, white bread, and white rice. Refined grains go through a milling process to remove the bran and germ from the grain kernel. As result, refined grains are missing valuable nutrients, like fiber, iron, and B vitamins.
Focus on eating whole grains in the form of barley, bulgur, steel cut oats, quinoa, millet, amaranth, brown rice, and rye. (Note that this list isn't comprehensive.)
While no diet is perfect, this one delivers the nutrient and fiber rich food everyone agrees Americans need more of. And there’s evidence it works.
In a comparison of several diets, the Annual Review of Public Health said the Mediterranean diet helps promote health and prevent disease. It’s associated with longer lifespan, mental alertness, and improved immune system function – along with reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, inflammation, asthma, and diabetes.
Even if you aren’t ready to go completely Mediterranean, try some of the steps below from Oldways/Mediterranean Foods Alliance to improve your overall nutrition:
If you’re interested in learning more about the Mediterranean Diet, Oldways Health Through Heritage is a great resource.