For the first time, the Mediterranean Diet has been ranked as the best overall and easiest to follow diet in 2019, according to U.S. News & World Report. It was also named the best diet for healthy eating, best plant-based diet, best diet for diabetes and the easiest diet to follow.
But what exactly is the Mediterranean diet? We hear about the Mediterranean Diet in the news, but how can you put it into practice?
The Mediterranean Diet gets its origins from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The diet’s history goes all the way back to the Middle Ages and the eating habits of ancient Roman tradition. However, the health benefits were not studied and defined until the 1960s.
The diet is based on traditional foods in the Mediterranean, such as Crete, Italy and Greece. Researchers found that people in the Mediterranean were much healthier than Americans and had a lower risk of lifestyle diseases. From an initial study during the 1950s and 60s, the Mediterranean Diet as we know it today was formed.
By following the Mediterranean Diet you will increase your longevity, lose/manage your weight and decrease your risk of lifestyle diseases. Want to know more?
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
This is not necessarily a diet—it is a way of life and a way of eating for the rest of your life. It is not a quick fix, but a long term healthy way to eat and live. It is a lifestyle.
The Mediterranean Diet does not cut out one food group, but puts an emphasis on the healthiest ones and gives healthier options for the not so healthy ones.
This is not a structured diet with strict rules, but an eating pattern to maintain throughout your life. There are no specific measurements, no counting calories or macronutrients. It is a diet that you can interpret and alter in whatever way works best for you.
When it comes to food, the focus is on the traditional foods of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The diet can be fun and flavorful with olive oil, herbs and spices and, if you are so inclined, a glass of wine.
Your main food source will be plant-based: Fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts.
However, the diet is much more than that.
The largest emphasis in the Mediterranean Diet pyramid is on physical activity, mindful eating with friends and family, socializing and enjoying life.
The History of the Mediterranean Diet
In the 1950s and 60s the Seven Countries Study looked at heart and vascular diseases in countries that have varied traditional eating patterns and lifestyles. The study found that the dietary patterns of countries in the Mediterranean were associated with low rates of coronary heart disease and longevity.
From the study, it was clear that people who ate a diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and fish were healthiest.
The concept of the Mediterranean Diet emerged from the Seven Countries Study.
In 1993, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was created by the Oldways in partnership with the Harvard School of Public health and the World Health Organization. The pyramid was created as an alternative for to the USDA’s original food pyramid.
What to eat
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is a map to healthy eating and living. On the Mediterranean Diet, the goal is to find a way to eat that is sustainable. Your main source of food will be plant-based, with less dairy, poultry and meat. That doesn’t mean you have to completely cut out those foods, but eat them in moderation.
While the Mediterranean Diet doesn’t strictly prohibit certain foods, it does recommend avoiding them most often.
The diet is based on foods with a whole, single ingredient. Check out our simple Mediterranean diet pyramid for a visual help.
- Whole grains
- Seafood (twice a week)
- Olive oil
Eat in Moderation:
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.)
- Red Meat
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Foods with added sugars
- Processes meat
- Refined grains
- Refined oils
- Processed foods
When it comes to the diet, you don’t need to eat meat, poultry or seafood every meal to get your protein. Add beans, whole grains and vegetables for a protein and fiber packed meal.
If you want dessert try fruit that is in season. Eat it raw, poach, sauté or grill whatever fruit you have on hand. Get creative.
If you want, add a glass of red wine to the mix. While wine is included in the diet, make sure to not overdrink. Women and men over the age of 65 should drink no more than 5 ounces of wine daily. And men under 65 should drink no more than 10 ounces, according to Mayo Clinic. If you are unable to stick to these guidelines or have a history of alcohol abuse – refrain from drinking.
How to follow the diet
There are many ways to implement the Mediterranean Diet into your daily life and schedule. Follow these easy steps to get started.
- Replace refined grains with whole grains, white bread while whole wheat bread, white rice with brown rice.
- Instead of using butter or margarine, use olive oil.
- Use herbs and spices to flavor foods.
- Eat seven to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Choose all kinds and colors of plants to get a broad range of nutrients and fiber. You can roast, steam or eat them raw.
- Keep almonds, cashews or pistachios on hand for a healthy snack. Choose natural nut butters (with no additives).
- Change the way you think about meat. When you do eat it, have smaller portions.
- Eat seafood twice a week.
- Cook a vegetarian meal at least once a week.
- Enjoy dairy products, but in moderation.
- Add whole grains and fruit to every meal.
- Eat fruit for dessert.
It can seem overwhelming to get started on any new diet. But take one step at a time and make simple switches, like replacing your white bread with whole wheat bread.
Since this is a diet to be followed long term, make sure you start off slow. You don’t need to completely change your eating habits in one go. Find what works best for you and implement the diet over time.
Foods You Can Eat
- Vegetables: Tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, zucchini, carrots, cabbage, asparagus, green beans, beets, chard, mushrooms, bell peppers
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, cherries, strawberries, grapes, pears, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, dates, figs, melon, peaches, nectarine, watermelon, avocado, plums
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas, flax seed, hemp seed, poppy seeds, chia seeds
- Legumes: Peas, beans, lentils, pulses, peanuts, chickpeas
- Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams
- Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa, whole oats, rye, barley, farro, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole grain bread and pasta
- Fish and seafood: Salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, mussels, halibut, swordfish, cod
- Poultry: Chicken, duck, turkey, eggs
- Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, Greek yogurt, milk
- Herbs and spices: Garlic, mint, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, thyme, cumin, cardamom, dill, turmeric
- Healthy fats: Olive oil, olives, avocado, avocado oil
- Drink: Water, coffee, tea, red wine (in moderation)
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The benefits of the Mediterranean Diet are far-reaching.
The diet is good for healthy weight loss and management. If you follow the diet and don’t overeat, it should be easy to manage your weight.
Research has shown that people who follow the diet will have a reduced risk of lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, stroke, premature death and some cancers.
The Mediterranean Diet strengthens bones, improves brain health, improves eye health, helps you breathe better and wards off dementia and depression.
With all of these benefits, many organizations and studies recommend that people incorporate the Mediterranean Diet into their lifestyle.
The bottom of the Mediterranean diet pyramid
The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle. And a large aspect of that is not about eating, but about how you live your life. The focus is on enjoying time with friends and family and getting some movement.
Socializing and spending time with people is important to this diet. Enjoy a delicious meal in the company of loved ones, talk, eat slow and relax. While it may be difficult in this day and age, make an effort. Put the phone away, turn off the television and focus on the people around you. You will get much more enjoyment out of your meal if you are taking the time to listen to others and eat mindfully.
Other than enjoying time with others, physical activity is an important aspect of the Mediterranean Diet. Physical activity is anything that works best for you, as long as you are moving and getting some exercise. Go for a long walk, do some yoga, take a workout class, go swimming. The options are endless. There are no set guidelines. Just move with joy and be active. The important part is that you are getting in some movement to go along with your healthy eating.
Ready to give it a try?
We hope this has answered your question of “What is the Mediterranean Diet?” The Mediterranean Diet should not be intimidating or overwhelming. It is a way to improve your health through delicious food, movement and socialization.
The great thing about this diet—the cost is dependent on you. While certain olive oils and fish can be expensive, there are ways to do this on a budget, especially if you are cutting back on your meat intake.
The Mediterranean Diet offers a way to take charge of your health and increase your longevity. As Jim Rohn said: “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”