A Mediterranean diet is not a regimented diet plan but rather a diet that consists of mainly foods eaten in Mediterranean countries. Foods differ between these countries but the food types, frequency and exclusions are loosely similar. Some people follow this diet as part of their lifestyle but others use it for weight loss and to improve their health and well-being.
A great attraction of the diet for many is its lifestyle aspect. There is a focus on congenial gathering and dining with others, friends and family. Rather than adhering to rigid meal plans the goal is to increase the amounts of beneficial foods, while reducing but not necessarily excluding others considered less healthy. Treats are considered just that and do not creep into every meal, day or even week.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet provides people with plenty of micronutrients, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. This is due to the fact that the Mediterranean diet mainly consists of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and beans. These foods are beneficial in helping lower an individual’s risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
The use of olive oil and the regular consumption of fish and avocados have provided Mediterranean dieters an adequate supply of monounsaturated fats which help fight against many diseases at a cellular level.
The high proportion of plant-based foods, fish and olive oil has helped Mediterranean dieters lower their risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. In addition, the high-fiber intake helps improve the digestive processes, reduces insulin resistance and prevents blood sugar fluctuations.
If you are interested in following a Mediterranean diet, here are some tips to help you get started.
Vegetables, Fruits and Whole Grains
A Mediterranean diet should largely consist of plant-based foods. Buy vegetables and fruits that are in season and observe minimal processing in their preparation. If you can eat them without cooking them, so much the better.
If you feel the need to include bread in your diet, choose bread made from whole-grains.
Nuts, Oil, Herbs and Spices
Pistachios, walnuts, almonds, cashews, apples, berries, oranges, grapes and baby carrots can be your snacks every day. Legumes such as beans, peas and soy can be part of your daily diet.
When cooking, use canola or olive oil. Don’t use butter or margarine for cooking. Herbs and spices should be used as a replacement for salt and other artificial seasonings, additional table salt should be unnecessary.
Fish, Meat and Dairy
Fish should be included in your diet at least once or twice a week. Tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout, and herring are some of the best choices of fish to be included in your diet.
Other meat is eaten sparingly and does not form the basis of meals. Chicken and other poultry are part of the diet, whereas red meat is eaten only occasionally. Processed and cured meats are avoided.
Dairy forms such as cheeses and yoghurt are a definite inclusion.
From the food types shown it can be seen that this diet is not low in fat, however it is very low in saturated fat. This is considered to be a key reason for the known health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
Red wine is an accepted part of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. While some research has shown benefits of consuming red wine in small amounts, there appears to be an increased synergy in combination with this diet. This is not an excuse for over-indulgence. One glass for women and two glasses of red wine for men per day should be the limit.
The Mediterranean diet is widely accepted as being beneficial to health and lifestyle. The original proponents in their villages live largely free of the lifestyle diseases which beset those whose diet is based on foods not included in the Mediterranean diet. Many studies have shown that those who have changed to this diet have made huge improvements to their health and wellbeing.