There’s a reason (or many) why the Mediterranean diet is beloved across the globe. That said, calling it a diet is a bit of a misnomer. This style of eating is consistently ranked as the healthiest diet by the world’s leading experts, but it’s much more of a lifestyle than a diet. Honoring local and seasonal ingredients, it’s a delicious, satisfying, and healthy way to eat. As a whole, the Mediterranean diet nourishes your body from the inside out. Think: heart health, blood sugar regulation, and more.
As an intuitive eater — and someone who supports women on their intuitive eating journeys — eating the Mediterranean way is practical and sustainable. It’s flexible in its approach. It emphasizes bio-individuality, fresh produce, lean proteins, anti-inflammatory seafood, and whole grains. If you’re new to this style of eating, take a seat. Today, we’re chatting about the ins and outs of the Mediterranean diet, what to fill your grocery cart with, and the many health benefits it’s known for.
what is the mediterranean diet?
Despite its name, there is no (official) thing as a Mediterranean diet — not in the sense that there’s an Atkins diet. Rather, the Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that’s based on the traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, are the foundation of the diet. Olive oil is the main source of added fat. Fish, seafood, dairy and poultry are included in moderation. Red meat and sweets are eaten only occasionally.
Growing up in California, I relate extensively to this style of eating. And for good reason, many of us gravitate towards a coastal lifestyle too. Not only does it connect us with our natural environment, but the temperate climate allows us to enjoy the simple things in life — like, dining al fresco and shopping at the farmers market. In the realm of food, that means getting back to basics and putting fresh, easy, and wholesome ingredients first.
What are The health Benefits?
Research shows that those who live in countries along the Mediterranean Sea consistently have longer life expectancies. The people of Greece, Spain, Italy, Southern France, etc. don’t share a single diet, per say, but they do have a lot in common. They emphasize eating an abundance of fresh produce, plant-based protein (legumes, beans, and nuts), fish, healthy fats, and whole grains.
Of the many reasons to eat the Mediterranean way, these are the top five:
- Reduces inflammation.
- Reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Protects against cancer.
- Prevents and manages diabetes.
- Saves the planet.
eating for the health of your body and the planet
When it comes to reducing inflammation, certain ingredients of the Mediterranean diet include omega-3 rich nuts and seafood. With an emphasis on long-term, lifestyle nutrition habits, the Mediterranean diet has been proven to provide systemic anti-inflammatory effects that help minimize stress and maximize taste
Regarding heart disease, the most convincing evidence comes from a randomized clinical trial published in April 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine, known as the PREDIMED study. For about five years, authors followed 7,000 women and men in Spain who had type II diabetes or a high risk for cardiovascular disease. Those who ate a calorie-unrestricted Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts had a 30 percent lower risk of heart events.
Many studies have demonstrated a strong and inverse relationship between a high level of Mediterranean diet adherence and some chronic diseases and cancer. Given its protective effects in reducing oxidative and inflammatory processes of cells and avoiding DNA damages, the Mediterranean diet is considered a powerful and manageable method to fight cancer incidence.
In terms of diabetes prevention, an 83% lower risk of diabetes has been found among those who closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet. Furthermore, adherence to a Mediterranean diet, even without calorie restriction, seems to be effective in preventing diabetes among those at high cardiovascular risk.
Last but not least, the Mediterranean diet is synonymous with the sustainability diet. In encourages shopping seasonally and locally, is less resource-intensive, cuts fertilizer use, and more.
Myths and facts
Myth 1: Eating the Mediterranean diet is expensive.
Fact: If you’re creating meals out of beans or lentils as your main source of protein, and sticking with mostly plants and whole grains, then the Mediterranean diet is less expensive than consuming processed foods.
Myth 2: Eating large bowls of pasta and bread is the Mediterranean way.
Fact: Typically, Mediterraneans don’t eat a huge plate of pasta. Instead, pasta is usually a side dish with about a 1/2-cup to 1-cup serving size. The rest of their plate consists of salads, vegetables, fish or a small portion of organic, grass-fed meat, and perhaps a slice of bread.
Myth 2: The Mediterranean diet is only about the food.
Fact: Yes, the food is a huge part of the diet. However, don’t overlook the other ways the Mediterraneans live their lives. A cultural experience, they it down for a relaxed, leisurely meal with others, which may be just as important for your health as what’s on your plate. Mediterraneans also enjoy plenty of physical activity.
how to build a plate, the mediterranean way
For simplicity’s sake, think about these four core principles:
- Build meals around leafy green vegetables, beans, legumes, fruit, and nuts
- Eat high-quality, omega-3 rich fish at least twice per week (think: sardines, anchovies, salmon, etc.)
- Choose lean poultry and pasture-raised eggs in moderation
- Use extra-virgin olive oil regularly
Mediterranean diet recipes embrace vibrant foods that are rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats. There is a general focus on plant-based ingredients, a variety of seafood, and eating seasonally (and locally!).
delicious mediterranean recipes
Digging into the world’s most healthful diet means variety. There are so many recipes to choose from. Best of all, they’re simple and flavorful without requiring hours of time in the kitchen. Suzy, from the Mediterranean Dish, shares deliciously wholesome recipes with Mediterranean flavors. They’re steeped in her own upbringing. Otherwise, hop over to Downshiftology for all-things Mediterranean-inspired breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Lisa has everything from shakshuka to falafel to cauliflower rice tabbouleh.