May is National Mediterranean Diet Month and what better way to celebrate than being fully immersed in the Mediterranean way of life? My husband and I will be doing just that as we spend the next 3 weeks traveling Italy and Greece. If you have ever visited any of the countries around the Mediterranean Sea then you know that the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. (If you haven’t, you can see for yourself in a few pictures I’ve included from our last trip to Greece). It’s hard to say what’s better- the bright blue waters, gorgeous sunny beaches and towering beach-side cliffs…or the FOOD! The food is so bright, fresh and flavorful; offering the best of both worlds- taste AND nutrition. What’s more? The Mediterranean diet is more than just great cuisine- mealtime is used to relax, talk and spend quality time with friends and family. Sounds like a great means to a healthy and happy lifestyle to me! Turns out, research agrees. Numerous studies have linked Mediterranean-style eating patterns to several health benefits.
Studies show that adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with weight loss, a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, a reduction in overall mortality- especially from heart disease and cancer and reduced rates of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Bottom line- there is a wealth of evidence that eating like a Mediterranean is beneficial for your health.
So what are the foods and flavors that make up this remarkable way of eating?
The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are staples- as are whole grains, legumes and nuts. Residents of Greece average six or more servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables per day. The average American consumes between two and three servings, or less than half of that. (Yikes!) The grains consumed in this part of the world are typically whole, fresh, and minimally processed- free of trans-fats and artificial preservatives. They are also enjoyed plain or dipped in olive oil rather than spread with butter or margarine. This brings me to another key component of the Mediterranean diet, which is healthy fat- primarily from olive oil, but also olives, nuts, seeds and avocado. Fish and seafood are also eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean diet, whereas red meat is eaten sparingly and in small (aka recommended 3-4 ounce) portions. Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt, are consumed in moderate portions on a daily to weekly basis. Dessert is usually fruit and sweets are only eaten occasionally. Red wine is enjoyed in moderation (one glass for women, one to two for men), but water is the go-to drink. The preparation of foods in the Mediterranean diet is also important to address- almost nothing is processed, deep fried, or contains preservatives. For all of these reasons and more, other parts of the world are starting to take notice as research identifies the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest ways to eat.
Here are 10 tips to help you eat more like a Mediterranean:
- Load up on fruits and vegetables!! Aim to get at least 3 servings of each per day.
- Swap out butter, margarine and refined vegetable/seed oils for heart healthy extra virgin olive oil.
- DRINK WATER and enjoy red wine in moderation (optional).
- Choose fresh, whole grains that are minimally processed and free of preservatives.
- Make meat the garnish on your plate and not the centerpiece. Focus on vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts.
- Eat fish/seafood twice a week and consume red meat sparingly.
- Season foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.
- For dessert, eat fresh fruit.
- Enjoy dairy products like plain Greek yogurt and fresh cheeses- just don’t go overboard.
- Eat slowly and in good company- take the time to enjoy your food and surround yourself with friends and family (and when possible beautiful scenery).