Simple steps getting started on the Mediterranean Diet
There’s no doubt you’ve heard of the Mediterranean Diet. What you may not know is exactly how to follow this way of eating. This well-known and highly researched and recommended way of eating utilizes the basics of healthy eating. Most doctors and dietitians place much emphasis on following a Mediterranean diet to prevent disease and for keeping people healthier longer.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
To incorporate the Mediterranean way of eating refers to following a diet based on how people who live in the Mediterranean region traditionally eat. This age-old eating habit is deeply rooted in the coastal cuisines of Mediterranean countries of Greece, Spain, Italy, France, and northern Africa. This way of eating includes generous portions of fresh produce, whole grains, and legumes, as well as some healthful fats and fish.
Why is the Mediterranean Diet considered to be healthy?
When you consider that individuals living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea live longer and have less diagnoses than Americans of cancer and cardiovascular disease, it makes sense that this no-nonsense eating style has significant research backing up its health benefits. These benefits include weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention and diabetes prevention and control. While there are no guarantees a person who follows this diet will be immune to developing a chronic disease, it appears this healthy way of eating not only keeps weight off but helps one avoid these ailments.
A groundbreaking 2013 study from the University of Barcelona showed the connection between the Mediterranean Diet and cardiovascular health. Over 7,000 Spanish participants – many of whom were overweight, smokers, or diabetic – adopted a Mediterranean style diet rich in healthy fats (olive oil or nuts) for nearly five years. After a comprehensive follow-up, researchers ended the study early after observing a sharp improvement in participants’ health. The findings showed an “absolute risk reduction,” or a 30% decrease of cardiovascular disease among these high-risk individuals. These findings made news across the U.S. as evidence that everyone, from high-risk to healthy individuals, can benefit by eating Mediterranean foods.
The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
For these reasons, most if not all major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adapt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases.
How to get started following the Mediterranean diet
This way eating is not considered a “diet” as in meant for specifically weight loss. Think of it more as a general way of eating for improving your overall health.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:
· Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
· Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
· Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
· Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
· Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
· Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
· Getting plenty of exercise
Here are the basics of what types of food, and how much to consume daily is recommended on following the Mediterranean diet:
· Fruit and Vegetables
Goal: 3 servings of fruit a day (1 serving = ½ to 1 cup) and 3+ servings of vegetables a day.
Tip: Have at least 1 serving at each meal or choose for a snack
· Legumes (Beans and Lentils)
Goal: 3 servings per week (1 serving = ½ cup)
Tips: Add to salads, soups and pasta dishes. Try hummus or bean dip for veggies or a bean burger.
· Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Goal: At least 1 tablespoon per day (no more than 4 tablespoon per day)
Tip: Use instead of vegetable oil and animal fats (butter, sour cream, mayo). Drizzle on salads, cooked veggies, pasta or as a dip for bread.
· Fish (Especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids)
Goal: 3 servings per week. (1 serving = 3-4 ounces)
Tip: Salmon, sardines, herring, tuna and mackerel are all rich in omega 3s.
· Nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts are the best)
Goal: At least 3 servings per week (1 serving = 1 ounce (1/4 cup) or 2 tablespoon nut butter)
Tip: Add to hot or cold cereal, salad and yogurt. Choose raw, unsalted and dry roasted varieties alone or with dried fruit as a snack.
· Whole Grains and Starchy Vegetables
Goal: 3-6 servings per day (1 serving = ½ cup cooked, 1 slice of bread or 1 ounce of dry cereal)
Tip: Choose oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, or a baked or roasted red skin or sweet potato. Eat whole-grain bread, cereal, couscous and pasta.
· Poultry (white meat)
Goal: Choose white meat instead of dark meat
Tip: Choose skinless white meat poultry that’s baked, broiled or grilled
· Dairy and Eggs
Goal: Limit cheese to 3 servings per week. No limit on egg whites, but eat egg yolks in moderation.
Tip: Choose fat-free or 1% milk, yogurt and cottage cheese. Eat natural, light or part-skim cheese. Avoid whole-milk dairy, cream and cream-based sauces and dressings.
· Red Meat (Beef, pork, veal and lamb)
Goal: None – no more than 1 serving per week. (1 serving = 3 ounces).
Tip: Limit to lean cuts like tenderloin, sirloin and flank steak.
· Wine (optional)
Goal: Men: Two 3 ½ ounce glasses per day. Women: One 3 ½ ounce per day.
Tip: If you don’t drink, the American Heart Association cautions people NOT to start drinking. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation.
· Baked Goods and Desserts
Goal: Avoid commercial baked goods, sweets and desserts. Limit homemade goods to less than 3 times per week. Instead choose fruit and nonfat yogurt.
Tip: Bake using liquid oil instead of solid fats. Use whole-grain flour instead of bleached or enriched flour and egg whites instead of whole eggs.
When these steps are followed consistently, this can be an effective method, along with regular exercise and avoiding smoking, to having as healthy of a heart as possible.