There’s a reason (or many) why the Mediterranean diet is a global phenomenon. 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. In fact, calling it a diet is a bit of a misnomer. 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 gets my stamp of approval. It’s 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 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 occasionally.
As a California native, I relate extensively to the Mediterranean diet. 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. Think: Dining al fresco and shopping at the farmers market. In the realm of food, that means getting back to basics. Fresh, seasonal, and wholesome ingredients take priority.
health Benefits of the Mediterranean diet
Research shows that those who live in countries along the Mediterranean Sea consistently have longer life expectancies. Although Greeks, Spaniards, and Italians don’t share the same diet, their nutrition has a lot in common. For example, 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.
Mediterranean diet and heart health
With an emphasis on heart health, the Mediterranean diet takes the cake. In many ways, this diet provides systemic anti-inflammatory effects — thanks to prioritizing omega-3-rich nuts and seafood (which are anti-inflammatory).
Regarding heart disease, the most convincing evidence comes from a randomized clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine. 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.
Mediterranean diet and Diabetes Management
Furthermore, 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. Additionally, 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: Actually, it’s less expensive than consuming processed foods. 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 economical.
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. For example, they prioritize culture and pleasure. They sit down for a relaxed, leisurely meal with others. 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.
Images courtesy of Unsplash.