The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries like Italy and Greece and the Middle East.
Researchers noted that these people were exceptionally healthy compared to Americans and had a low risk of many killer diseases.
Numerous studies have now shown that the Mediterranean diet can cause weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and premature death.
A Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
There is no one "right" way to do this diet. Consider all of this as a general guideline, not something written in stone. The plan can be adjusted to individual needs and preferences.
- Eat: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.
- Eat in moderation: Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.
- Eat only rarely: Red meat.Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars,
- Don't eat: Processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.
The three main meals should contain three basic elements:
- Cereals. One or two servings per meal in the form of bread, pasta, rice, couscous and others. Preferably whole grain, since some valuable nutrients (magnesium, phosphorus, etc.) and fibre can be lost during processing.
- Vegetables. Presents at lunch and dinner; more or equal two servings per meal, at least one of the serving should be raw. A variety of colours and textures provide a diversity of antioxidants and protective compounds.
- Fruits. One or two servings per meal. Should be chosen as the most frequent dessert.
- A daily intake of 1.5 to 2 litres of water should be guarantied. A good hydration is essential to maintain the corporal water equilibrium, although needs may vary among people because of age, physical activity, personal circumstances and weather conditions. As well as water, non-sugar rich herbal infusions and broths (with low fat and salt content) may complete the requirements.
- Dairy products. Prefer it in the form of low fat yogurt and cheese. They contribute to bone health, but can also be an important source of saturated fat.
- Olive oil is located at the centre of the pyramid; should be the principal source of dietary lipids because of its high nutritional quality. Its unique composition gives it a high resistance to cooking temperatures and should be used for cooking as well as dressings (one tablespoon per person).
- Spices, herbs, garlic and onions are a good way to introduce a variety of flavours and palatability to dishes and contribute to the reduction of salt addition. Olives, nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy lipids, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fibre. A reasonable consumption of olives, nuts and seeds (such as a handful) make for a healthy snack choice.
- Respecting religious and social beliefs, a moderate consumption of wine and other fermented beverages (1 glass per day for women and 2 glasses per day for men, as a generic reference) during meals is recommended.
- A variety of plant and animal origin proteins should be consumed. Mediterranean traditional dishes do not usually have animal origin protein foods as the main ingredient but as a tasty source.
- Fish (two or more servings), red meat (two servings) and eggs (two to four servings) are good sources of animal protein. Fish and shellfish are also good sources of healthy fats.
- Consumption of red meat (less than two servings, preferably lean cuts) and processed meats (less than one serving) should be in smaller quantity and frequency.
- The combination of legumes (more than two servings) and cereals are a healthy protein and lipid source. Potatoes are also included in this group, as they are a part of many traditional recipes with meat and fish (more or less than three servings per week, preferably fresh potatoes).
In the vertex of the pyramid are represented the sugary and unhealthy fat rich foods (sweets). Sugar, candies, pastries and beverages such as sweetened fruit juices and soft drinks, should be consumed in small amounts.
Together with the proportion and frequency recommendations of consumption, the incorporation of lifestyle and cultural elements is one of the innovations of the pyramid. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and preserving the cultural elements should also be considered in order to acquire all the benefits from the Mediterranean diet. These elements are:
- Moderation. Portion sizes should be based on frugality, adapting energy needs to urban and modern sedentary lifestyles.
- Cooking. Make cooking an important activity taking the proper time and space. Cooking can be relaxing, fun and can be done with family, friends and the loved ones.
- Socialization. The aspect of conviviality is important for the social and cultural value of the meal, beyond nutritional aspects. Cooking, sitting around the table and sharing food in company of family and friends is a social support and gives a sense of community.
- Seasonality. The preference for seasonal, fresh and minimally processed foods maximizes the content of protective nutrients and substances in the diet. Whenever possible take into account traditional, local, eco-friendly and bio-diverse products to contribute to the preservation of the environment and Mediterranean landscapes.
- Activity. Regular practice of moderate physical activity (at least 30 minutes throughout the day) as a basic complement to the diet for balancing energy intake, for healthy body weight maintenance and for many other health benefits. Walking, taking the stairs versus the lift, housework, etc, are simple and easy ways of doing exercise. Practising leisure activities outdoors and preferably with others makes it more enjoyable and strengthens the sense of community.
- Rest. Resting is also part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Whole, single ingredient foods are the key to good health.
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A Few Things Worth Noting
The diet prescribed in the studies is high in plant foods, and relatively low in animal foods.
However, eating fish and seafood is recommended at least twice a week.
The Mediterranean lifestyle also involves regular physical activity, sharing meals with other people and enjoying life.
Water should be your go-to beverage on a Mediterranean diet.
This diet also includes moderate amounts of red wine, around 1 glass per day.
However, this is completely optional and wine should be avoided by anyone who has alcoholism or problems controlling their consumption.
Coffee and tea are also completely acceptable, but avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juices, which are very high in sugar.
A Mediterranean Sample Menu For 1 Week
This is a sample menu for one week on the Mediterranean diet.
Feel free to adjust the portions and food choices based on your own needs and preferences.
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with strawberries and oats.
- Lunch: Whole grain sandwich with vegetables.
- Dinner: A tuna salad, dressed in olive oil. A piece of fruit for dessert.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins.
- Lunch: Leftover tuna salad from the night before.
- Dinner: Salad with tomatoes, olives and feta cheese.
- Breakfast: Omelet with veggies, tomatoes and onions. A piece of fruit.
- Lunch: Whole grain sandwich, with cheese and fresh vegetables.
- Dinner: Mediterranean lasagne.
- Breakfast: Yogurt with sliced fruits and nuts.
- Lunch: Leftover lasagne from the night before.
- Dinner: Broiled salmon, served with brown rice and vegetables.
- Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables, fried in olive oil.
- Lunch: Greek yogurt with strawberries, oats and nuts.
- Dinner: Grilled lamb, with salad and baked potato.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins, nuts and an apple.
- Lunch: Whole grain sandwich with vegetables.
- Dinner: Mediterranean pizza made with whole wheat, topped with cheese, vegetables and olives.
- Breakfast: Omelet with veggies and olives.
- Lunch: Leftover pizza from the night before.
- Dinner: Grilled chicken, with vegetables and a potato. Fruit for dessert.
There is usually no need to count calories or track macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) on the Mediterranean diet.
Healthy Mediterranean Snacks
You don't need to eat more than 3 meals per day.
But if you become hungry between meals, then these are acceptable snacks:
- A handful of nuts.
- A piece of fruit.
- Carrots or baby carrots.
- Some berries or grapes.
- Leftovers from the night before.
- Greek yogurt.
- Apple slices with almond butter.
How to Follow The Diet at Restaurants
It is very simple to make most restaurant meals suitable for the Mediterranean diet.
- Have some sort of fish or seafood as your main dish.
- Ask them to fry your food in extra virgin olive oil.
- Only eat whole grain bread, with olive oil instead of butter.
A Simple Shopping List For The Diet
It is always a good idea to shop at the perimeter of the store, that's usually where the whole foods are found.
Always try to choose the least processed option. Organic is best, but only if you can easily afford it.
- Vegetables: Carrots, onions, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic, etc.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, etc.
- Berries: Strawberries, blueberries, etc.
- Frozen veggies: Choose mixes with healthy vegetables.
- Grains: Whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, etc.
- Legumes: Lentils, pulses, beans, etc.
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.
- Seeds: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Condiments: sea salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, etc.
- Fish: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout.
- Shrimp and shellfish.
- Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes.
- Greek Yogurt.
- Pastured or Omega-3 enriched eggs.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
It is best to clear all unhealthy temptations from your home, including sodas, ice cream, candy, pastries, white bread, crackers and all sorts of processed foods.