8 Ways You Can Eat More Mediterranean

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.

Understanding the Mediterranean Diet

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.

About Whole Grains

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.)

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

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.

Tips for Eating Mediterranean

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:

  1. Eat a lot of vegetables. Double the amount of salad you eat or the vegetables you put in your soups and stews. Challenge yourself to fill half of your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner.
  2. Think differently about meat. Use a small amount of chicken in a stir-fry or vegetable pasta sauce or add bits of grass-fed meat to your salad. If meat is the main course, try to keep your portions to three ounces or less.
  3. Avoid skipping breakfast. Eat quinoa or steel cut oats with coconut oil and almond milk. For extra protein, add one to two eggs with the yolk.
  4. Eat seafood two times a week. Salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Shellfish like mussels, oysters, and clams are also good.
  5. Cook one vegetarian meal a week. Fill up your plate with beans, whole grains, and vegetables. To spice up the taste, prepare them with fresh herbs and spices.
  6. Get healthy fats in daily. Cook with healthy oils such as coconut oil. Use extra-virgin olive oil for finishing and on salads. Snack on a handful of raw almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, olives, or fresh vegetables dipped in guacamole.
  7. Enjoy some dairy products. Eat Greek or plain yogurt, or a small piece of your favorite cheese.
  8. Eat fresh fruit. A perfectly ripe pear, an apple, or berries make a fine dessert—or try grilling a slice of pineapple to enhance its sweetness. (Save the ice cream or pie for a special treat once a week.)

If you’re interested in learning more about the Mediterranean Diet, Oldways Health Through Heritage is a great resource.

Meet the Author

Kristen H. Reynolds, MD is the Medical Director at Aurora Wiselives Center for Wellbeing and the Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Aurora UW Academic Medical Group in Wauwatosa, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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