What is it?
First things first—what exactly is the Mediterranean diet? It’s actually very straightforward: the Mediterranean diet is a simple, clean approach to living and eating. Modeled after Mediterranean cuisine and lifestyle, the diet focuses on healthy greens and other vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. In addition, the diet emphasizes the importance of the social aspect of eating, slowing down and savoring the moment, and moderate (but regular) physical activity. The Mediterranean diet isn’t super strict or restrictive, like most diets on the market. Rather than basing itself around foods you can’t eat, the Mediterranean diet focuses on the delicious possibilities of the foods you should eat. It’s a freeing approach to diet and lifestyle.
How can it help me?
While everyone can benefit from clean eating, the Mediterranean diet can be especially helpful for those struggling with poor health, particularly cardiovascular issues. There are hundreds of studies surrounding the benefits of plant-based, low-saturated fats diets, so we won’t go into detail about all the perks the Mediterranean diet has to offer—but here are a few of the highlights:
- Some kinds of fat (i.e. unsaturated fats) can contribute to a healthy lifestyle and increase longevity, but the wrong kinds of fat (i.e. processed saturated fats) can cause health issues.1, 2 The Mediterranean diet guides you towards the right kinds of fat.
- A plant-based diet decreases the risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, among other things.3, 4
"The effectiveness of the traditional Mediterranean diet for preventing cardiovascular disease and premature death has been tested by both time and rigorous scientific methods. Health care providers should feel confident recommending this as a way of helping their patients live long and well."
- Walter Willet, MD Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Main dietary components
Some dieters (we’re looking at you, Whole30 and Paleo followers!) shy away from grains. Longstanding health world stigmas label carbs as the enemy to weight loss and healthy living. However, the Mediterranean diet disproves this claim—healthy, whole grains are chock full of fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory agents, and are an integral part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle, and even improve life expectancy.5 Healthy grains include brown rice, oats, and ancient grains (like quinoa and buckwheat).
In any diet, veggies should take up the majority of your plate space—that gives you a lot of opportunities to try out new foods and recipes. Use the Mediterranean diet as a safe space to experiment and have fun with vegetables!
The Mediterranean diet encourages moderate amounts of lean meats and seafood, especially those that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The best seafood meats include oysters, mackerel, and salmon. Along with meats, plant-based proteins like nuts, beans, legumes, and seeds are integral to the Mediterranean diet, either as part of a meal or as a quick snack.
Look for fruits that are high in fiber and antioxidants, like olives, avocados, grapes, and figs. Fruits are also a great way to curb those late-night sugar cravings!
Olive oil is integral to Mediterranean life—so, naturally, it is also integral to the Mediterranean diet! Olive oil, a healthy fat, is essential in cooking, baking, making sauces and vinaigrettes, and more. Other healthy fats, like canola, peanut, and safflower oil, can also be used.
While not necessarily essential to the Mediterranean diet, red wine can serve as a relaxant and help enhance the flavors of a meal. There have also been studies linking the consumption of one serving of red wine per day to an increase of good cholesterol.6
How do I get started?
Getting the ball rolling on a new diet can be extremely difficult, especially if you don't have a meal plan. That's why we've included a sample meal plan, prepared by the folks over at Cooking Light, to help get you started.
*Disclaimer: The following meal plan in its entirety is the work of Elizabeth Laseter for Cooking Light. See the full article, including shopping list ideas & further resources, here.*
Breakfast. Set a high bar before the day starts by packing in as much nutrition as possible. Opt for fiber-rich whole grains as a base and top with fresh fruit or homemade nut butter. Whole grain toast is a perfect canvas for any ingredient—try sliced avocado, summer tomatoes, eggs, and other toppings. Avoid sugary cereals and convenience foods.
Lunch. Your midday meal is crucial fuel for afternoon energy, so make it count. Grain bowls make a perfectly packable lunch and deliver a diverse offering of healthy ingredients, from quinoa to canned tuna or salmon to roasted veggies. Here, it’s all about convenience—add a protein boost to a crisp, leafy salad with cannellini beans of chicken, then pack into a Mason jar.
Dinner. If lunch was a nutritional bust, then dinner is your chance for redemption. Focus on creating a balanced plate and challenge yourself to go meatless as least once a week. Find small ways to boost the nutrition of your meal, whether it’s piling fresh arugula over homemade pizza, tossing leftover grilled veggies into pasta, or sprinkling chopped nuts or seeds over a salad.
- Seared Salmon Salad with Beets and Blackberries
- Mediterranean Chicken and Bulgur Skillet
- Mushroom and Arugula Pizza
- Veggie-Quinoa Soup
Snacks. Cure an afternoon snack attack by munching on whole fruits, such as apples or grapes; healthy nuts, such as almonds; or raw vegetables, such as carrots or celery dunked in nut butter, hummus, or Greek yogurt dip. If you have time, make homemade hummus or fruit and veggie chips.