When you eat like the Mediterraneans do, you’re not roaming the frozen food aisle or hitting a fast-food drive-thru. The focus is on fresh, seasonal food prepared in simple mouth-watering ways. Meals are easy to prepare. Greek meals are often small, easily assembled plates called mezzes. The Mediterranean diet doesn’t just limit you to either Greek or Italian,this heart-healthy diet includes the food staples of people who live in the 16 countries around the Mediterranean Sea . The Mediterranean region also includes France, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, as well as Grease, Italy and other countries. The menu choices are huge.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes foods with healthy fats — those containing omega-3 fatty acids — plus other foods that support a heart-healthy diet. This diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, nuts and legumes, and olive oil
Instead, the focus is fresh and tasty portion control plates of food, swapping bad fats for good ones — olive oil instead of butter, fish or poultry instead of red meat, fresh fruit instead of sugary, fancy desserts — and eating your fill of flavorful basics: veggies and beans. The diet also recommends red wine in moderation.
How Does It Work?
The Mediterranean diet was not purposely developed as a weight-loss or heart disease prevention diet, but rather evolved naturally over centuries based on the foods available in the region. Studies of large numbers of people following it reveal its health benefits — research suggests that the Mediterranean diet is protective against heart disease and can improve the way your body processes blood sugar and insulin. The diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids and other healthy fats that can help protect your heart. Also, the high consumption of fruits and vegetables strengthens your body against cancer and heart disease by providing plenty of valuable antioxidants
Fat — the good kind — is a staple of the Mediterranean diet ( but you should still limit yourself to a moderate amount, the calories can add up fast) . You’ll find healthy good for you fats in nuts, olives, and olive oil (not the saturated and trans fat hidden in processed foods). These not only add flavor, they help fight diseases, from diabetes to cancer.
Choose Whole Grains.
Try whole-grain pita bread dipped in olive oil, hummus, or tahini (a protein-rich paste made from ground sesame seeds). Bread (and pasta) made with whole grains has more protein and minerals, and is generally healthier than the white flour kind, which means it won’t give you a sugar rush and then a crash.
The Spices Are Delicious.
Mediterranean herbs and spices — including bay leaves, cilantro and coriander, rosemary, garlic, pepper, and cinnamon — add so much flavor you won’t reach for the salt shaker. Some have health benefits, too. Coriander and rosemary, for example, contain disease-fighting antioxidants and nutrients.
The Mediterranean diet lets you eat rich-tasting foods like roasted sweet potatoes and hummus (you can try a Lima Bean Spread). You digest both slowly so that you feel full longer. Hunger’s not a problem when you can snack on a few nuts, olives, or cubes of low-fat cheese when a craving strikes. Feta and halloumi are lower in fat than cheddar but rich and tasty.
The Mediterranean Diet: Sample Diet
Other than limiting red meats, processed meats, and some dairy, the Mediterranean diet offers a wide variety of meal options based on whole, fresh foods. From cheese and veggie-laden pizzas to cooked veggies and rice dishes, you can plan quite a feast.
A single Mediterranean diet meal might feature:
- Mediterranean-style vegetable or bean-based soup, such as minestrone or lentil soup
Whole-grain roll or flat-bread
Grilled or steamed seafood
Cooked fresh vegetables, such as spinach
Fresh salad with oil and vinegar dressing
Fruit for dessert
The Mediterranean Diet: Pros
There are several benefits to the Mediterranean Diet both for weight loss and overall well-being:
- Health benefits. This diet has many health benefits, including cardiovascular health and improvement in insulin sensitivity.
Healthy fats. While this is not a low-fat diet, it uses olive oil, fish oils, and nut-based oils as healthful sources of fats.
Stick-with-it ability. One of the most important elements of any successful diet is whether you can maintain it over the long haul. The Mediterranean Diet is a diet most people could stick to for a lifetime.
You Can Lose Weight.
You’d think it would take a miracle to lose weight eating nuts, cheese, and oils. But those exact Mediterranean basics (and the slower eating style) leave you feeling full and satisfied. And that helps you stick to a diet. Regular physical activity to keep a healthy weight is also an important part of the lifestyle. People who live in the Mediterranean region spend more time being active in their daily routines. They walk more and drive less.
Your Heart Will Thank You.
Almost everything in the Mediterranean diet is good for your heart. Olive oil and nuts help lower bad cholesterol. Fruits, veggies, and beans help keep arteries clear. Fish helps lower triglycerides and blood pressure.
The same goodness that protects your heart is also good for your brain. You’re not eating bad fats and processed foods, which can cause inflammation. In their place, the Mediterranean diet’s antioxidant-rich foods make eating Mediterranean a brain-friendly choice.
The Mediterranean Diet: Cons
Although the Mediterranean Diet is a healthy sustainable diet, there are few reasons to be concerned about this diet over the long-term, that people should be aware of:
Keeping up your calcium. The Mediterranean diet does not include a lot of milk or dairy products, other than some cheese and yogurt. As a result, people who follow it have to pay attention to their calcium intake. To get enough calcium in the diet without milk, one would need to eat enough yogurt and cheese, or seek non-dairy calcium sources. There are some vegetable sources of calcium, but if you really like milk, you can simply add skim to your diet.
Watching the wine. Red wine is part of the diet, but this does not mean you can go overboard. Don’t drink more than one to two glasses per day, and recognize that some studies link alcohol consumption to breast cancer
Putting a cap on fat. As with wine, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Eat fats, even healthy fats containing omega-3 fatty acids, in moderation. The American Heart Association points out that while the Mediterranean diet meets hearth-healthy diet limits for saturated fat, your total fat consumption could be greater than the daily recommended amount if you aren’t careful.
Brushing up on cooking skills. This diet relies heavily on your ability to cook and, although it is easy to follow, some people may be on a learning curve as they improve their cooking skills.
The Mediterranean Diet: Short- and Long-Term Effects
A recent analysis of research studies involving more than 1,500,000 adults showed that, over the long term, those who followed a Mediterranean diet were less likely than their peers to:
- Develop or die from cancer
Develop Alzheimer’s disease
Develop Parkinson’s disease
Develop or die from heart disease
The more closely participants adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the better their long-term health outcomes were. Other studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet also has beneficial effects on fasting blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. In general, eating in this way has been shown to have long-term health benefits.
Of course, many people are interested in weight loss in addition to creating a healthy diet. In a study comparing a calorie-restricted Mediterranean diet with two other diet types (a low-calorie/ low-fat diet and a low-carbohydrate/non-restricted calorie diet), people lost about eight pounds over the course of two years on the Mediterranean diet, significantly more than those in the low-calorie/low-fat diet plan and just slightly less than those on the low-carb plan.
For better health, steady weight loss, and a tasty regimen that has staying power, the Mediterranean diet is a plan worth trying.