With so many diets out there, it can seem difficult to separate fact from fiction. One of the more popular diets is the Mediterranean diet, a healthy-eating plan that claims to be good for the heart and the waistline.
To help you decide if this is the best diet for you, Healthy Directions has created this primer. We present both the pros and cons of the Mediterranean diet and tips for easily adopting this lifestyle to help you make positive changes.
What Is The Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet originates from traditional Greek and Italian cuisine (and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea).
Although these cuisines have become known for their heavier options, most of the traditional foods eaten by these areas are plant-based.
Those foods include whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes and lentils, nuts like walnuts and almonds, seeds, herbs, and spices.
Specific animal-based proteins can also be used in moderation in the Mediterranean diet, including fish, poultry, and seafood. For added healthy fat, the primary source is olive oil. Dairy (including cheese and yogurt) can also be consumed daily in small amounts if desired.
When sourcing foods, it’s recommended that you focus on seasonally fresh, locally grown, and minimally processed options.
As for what not to eat, it’s essential to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and juices.
You’ll also want to read the labels on processed foods, like white bread, dairy products, and packaged snacks, checking for added sugars. It’s best to try to avoid processed foods in general, however. That includes refined grains and oils.
Be aware that there is some controversy regarding what foods belong in the Mediterranean-style diet, as the region can be incredibly diverse.
The Difference Between Healthy Fats and Unhealthy Fats
As we mentioned, the primary source of fat in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil. Although fats get a bad reputation, it’s essential to have at least a small amount of healthy fat in the diet for various reasons.
For instance, healthy fats can increase your “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) and decrease your risk of developing heart disease. The key is knowing which are the healthy fats and which fats to avoid.
Olive oil falls into the category of monounsaturated fat, which helps to improve blood cholesterol levels. Other sources of monounsaturated fat include seeds and nuts.
In addition, certain fish included in the Mediterranean diet also provide polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. In moderation, Albacore tuna, salmon, and sardines can help decrease triglycerides and the risk of blood clots.
Wine’s Role in the Mediterranean Diet
Unlike many other diet plans, red wine is not only allowed but often welcomed into the Mediterranean diet. However, it should only be consumed in moderation (at around one glass a day). When used this way, alcohol can potentially help to lower the risk of developing heart disease.
However, wine is not necessary to take part in the Mediterranean diet. If you have alcoholism or concerns about liver function, it’s important to avoid alcohol consumption.
What Are The Benefits Of A Mediterranean Diet?
Most diets are based on the benefits they can provide. The Mediterranean diet is no different, and its benefits are a large part of why it has been named the best overall diet multiple years in a row.
Some of the health benefits that a Mediterranean diet may include:
- A decreased risk of heart disease
- Management of metabolic disorders, including diabetes
- Lower risk of certain cancers
- Help with depression
- Better mental and physical function in elderly people
- Assistance with weight loss
How To Incorporate The Mediterranean Diet?
If you are interested in trying out a Mediterranean diet, there are a few ways that you can start incorporating these foods.
Plan your meals around fresh vegetables, whole grains, and beans instead of central, animal protein. A few times a week, include fish to help boost your healthy fat consumption. When preparing your food, substitute olive oil instead of butter.
Here’s how you can put that into play in real life.
- Breakfast could include options like greek yogurt with granola and fresh strawberries, an omelet with fresh veggies and onion, or oatmeal with nuts, raisins, and fresh fruit.
- For lunch, try tuna salad or a whole-wheat sandwich with turkey, cheese, and fresh vegetables.
- A Mediterranean diet-based dinner could be chicken breast, broccoli, asparagus, and yellow peppers stir-fried using olive oil, or broiled salmon or mackerel with brown rice and fresh vegetables.
If you want to include dessert with your meals, try to focus on fresh fruits. For added sweetness, try a drizzle of honey. Fruits can also be poached in a little bit of wine for special occasions.
To help further boost your consumption of heart-healthy fatty acids, especially as you adjust, you may want to take an omega-3 supplement. This can help supplement your diet and ensure that you’re getting all of the benefits they can provide.
What Are Potential Cons of the Mediterranean Diet?
Like any diet, there are a few cons that may be associated with following the Mediterranean diet.
One of those cons is concerns about not getting enough protein in the diet. When starting, it may be worthwhile to use a macronutrient tracking app to ensure that you are getting the recommended amount of 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.
For some, another con of following this diet is that they cannot eat much red meat. Although this is healthier, it may be a difficult adjustment for some people.
Overall, the Mediterranean diet is a healthy, well-balanced plan that most will find easy to follow.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the few diets that really can provide the benefits it claims to have. Focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as heart-healthy fats like omega-3s and olive oil, can help you control your weight and reduce your risk of developing certain diseases.
Although it may be a significant lifestyle shift, modifying your diet this way is incredibly beneficial for your health.