36% of Americans are ready to eat healthier as we move out of the pandemic, according to Harris polls. One option is the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods of a number of different cultures on the Mediterranean Sea. The American Heart Association, the US News and World Report annual diet report, and the USDA Dietary Guidelines are just a few of the experts that have identified the Mediterranean diet as a healthy way of eating.
It’s not a diet in the sense of a weight-loss plan, though studies have found that people often lose weight by eating this way. Instead, it’s a way of cooking and eating that is good for your heart and can help you manage diabetes. There is evidence that it can reduce the chances of developing Alzheimers disease and even some cancers.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
In countries like Greece, Spain, Morocco, and others in the Mediterranean region, food centers on fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and limited amounts of fish, chicken, eggs, yogurt, cheese, and red meat. Healthy fats like olive oil are included, and seasonings include lots of herbs and spices.
There is no list of foods you must or must not eat, but the Mediterranean diet doesn’t include processed foods or empty calories from sweets and snack foods. Water is the main drink, with a glass of wine as an option at dinner. Sodas and other sugary drinks aren’t part of this diet.
Start with a shopping trip! Here are some foods you’ll want to have on hand for Mediterranean cooking:
- olive oil
- fish — fresh or frozen, but canned salmon is an easy and nutritious choice, too
- vegetables — keep eating your favorites, but try some new ones. Popular veggies for Mediterranean meals include eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, peppers, and greens.
- fruit — add fruit to your breakfast every day, and build your desserts around fruit
- whole grains — if you can switch to whole grains, you’ll make a big difference in the nutrient density of your meals
- nuts — let nuts be your go-to snack, and cook with them, too
Mediterranean recipes are so popular that they’re easy to find online. But if you just start by building your meals around fresh foods like these, you’ll be on your way.
Popular Mediterranean dishes:
- hummus — serve it with whole grain pita chips or cut-up vegetables
- falafel — made from chickpeas, this is the Mediterranean answer to fast food
- chicken cacciatore — hunter style chicken with lots of tomatoes and peppers
- kofta — ground beef mixed with seasonings and cooked on skewers or in balls or patties
- Greek salad — a classic salad that’s quick and easy to make
- ratatouille — you know it from the movie, but it is easy and delicious
- almond cake — traditional Mediterranean cakes are made with nuts and fruit, with less fat and sugar than American-style cakes
You might recognize these dishes (click the links to find recipes) and you can probably find them in local restaurants and groceries. Once you’ve enjoyed these, you can branch out to less familiar Mediterranean meals.
If your idea of healthy eating means salads and grilled chicken cutlets every day, you may feel bored and have a hard time sticking to your plan. Mediterranean food runs the gamut from fresh Italian salads to spicy Turkish sandwiches, hearty chicken stew to French olive oil cakes.
The focus is on cooking with fresh ingredients and enjoying meals with other people. You don’t need to keep track of calories or limit the amount you eat. Fresh foods are satisfying and filled with wholesome nutrients. Eating in this way will never feel limiting.
The Mediterranean way of life also includes regular exercise. Enjoy a walk after your meal or play some outdoor games.
What’s not to like?
If you don’t enjoy cooking, it can be hard to eat in the Mediterranean style. Since the Mediterranean diet is based on fresh foods, it’s not exactly quick and easy.
Since the Mediterranean diet doesn’t have specific rules to follow, it’s easy to get off track. For example, if you continue relying on processed foods all day, avoid veggies, and just add nuts and wine to your evening, you can’t expect to get the benefits.
Some meat and potatoes eaters may find Mediterranean flavors too complex to be enjoyable, and may find that the focus on vegetables is unsatisfying. If you feel this way but still want to give it a try, just give yourself time. New flavors are more appealing after you spend some time getting to know them.
Try making one day a week your fish day. Fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables at every meal. Experiment with herbs and spices. Gradually expand your eating habits to center on the fresh and flavorful.