There are so many different diets out there that people try as a way to improve their health and fitness.
One of these diets which you may not have heard of before is the Mediterranean diet (med diet). This diet is based around eating mostly plant-based food, and it tries to reflect the food that would have been eaten in Greece and Italy in the 60s.
The med diet is known to bring a huge number of different benefits, including helping to reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases and even increasing the average adult life expectancy. Sounds amazing, right?! Well, keep reading to find out more and what you need to do to start following the Mediterranean diet today.
What Foods to Eat on the Mediterranean Diet
So, as briefly mentioned already, the types of food you eat on the Mediterranean diet are sourced mainly from plants, and you won’t be eating much animal-based food at all.
The diet will be mainly fat and carbohydrate based. The bulk of your meals should be vegetables, and then you can have small portions of meat along with it, although this shouldn’t be consumed every day.
The food involved is very minimally processed, and so doesn’t have any nasty hidden ingredients or artificial sugars, which is why this diet brings some of the amazing benefits that it does.
Additionally, the food and meals involved are easy to make from home, so you know exactly what is going into them.
Below are some more details about what specific types of food are suitable for the Mediterranean diet, and how much of it you should have:
You should eat seasonal and locally bought vegetables.
A good idea is to cook the vegetables in olive oil and tomato to make a lovely main course meal.
Stocking up your freezer with vegetables is also a good thing to do as it means you always have plenty available, which can help prevent you from straying from plan.
You should try to eat about 6 servings of vegetables each day.
2 or 3 pieces of fruit every day is the rough guideline for how much fruit you should eat on the diet.
Why not use them to make a nice snack or dessert?
You should eat no more than 2 to 3 servings of dairy a day.
If you want some ideas of what dairy products you can have on the diet, why not try some goat’s or sheep’s cheese and yoghurt.
- Meat and Poultry
Meat shouldn’t be eaten as a main dish, and instead should be served alongside vegetables (which should be the main bulk of the food)
- Fish and Seafood
For those of you who like fish, you’re going to be very pleased to know you will be able to eat canned fish, and small fatty fish.
2 servings a week is the recommended amount.
- Grains and Bread
As already mentioned, the med diet doesn’t consist of a huge amount of carbs. The most common carb consumed on the diet is bread, which is a nice side to accompany your main vegetable dish.
Another way of getting your carbs is to have a tasty pasta dish. However, it’s not recommended to have it more than once a week.
- Fats and Nuts
You should only have a minimal amount of fat, and olive oil should be the main way you get your intake. 3 tablespoons a day is your limit.
You can have 3 servings of nuts in a week, and this is a lovely choice of snack to keep you going when you’re out and about.
Beans are a great thing to include in any meal! They are extremely healthy and very tasty. The recommended intake for beans is to have them about twice a week!
In any diet it is so important to eat plenty of greens. They aren’t only delicious, but also have amazing nutrients that are important for your body.
Having at least 2 to 3 servings of greens every week is the recommended amount, but you can have more if you want! They are a great way to bulk out your meals.
Water should be the beverage you most often opt for when on the med diet. This should be the case even if you are not going on a diet, because staying hydrated helps to keep you at your optimal health and prevents you from getting a whole variety of health issues.
One glass (for women) or two glasses (for men) of wine a day is completely fine on the med diet as long as you are drinking it alongside your meal.
Another type of beverage you can have on the med diet are herbal beverages. They not only help keep you hydrated but are also a great source of antioxidants. For example, why not try a nice chamomile or thyme tea!
Then, for the one you’re probably all waiting for; coffee can still be consumed! You can have one or two cups a day. However, just make sure you aren’t adding lots of sugar or other sweeteners. Furthermore, if you put milk in your coffee, make sure you include this as part of your dairy allowance.
Foods to Avoid on The Mediterranean Diet
Now you know all about the foods you can eat on the med diet, it’s time to hear what foods you need to avoid whilst following the diet.
Those no-go foods are:
- Vegetable and seed oils
Examples of these types of oil are corn and canola oil. Stick to olive oil whenever you can!
- Certain Snack Foods
Many supermarkets sell snacks such as chips and breakfast bars that claim to be ‘Mediterranean’. However, these often are very processed and usually full of added sugars.
- Soft drinks and other sweetened beverages.
These are never good in any diet but are also not a part of the traditional Mediterranean way of eating.
- Flavoured Yogurts
It is important you avoid any yoghurts that have lots of added flavours and sugars. Instead, stick to plain, natural Greek yoghurt and make sure you only have the recommended amount (see dairy section above).
- Salad Dressings
Salad dressing might taste lovely, but it should be avoided when following the med diet.
They tend to contain a lot of unhealthy ingredients, such as vegetable oils, and don’t contain many nutrients.
They can also often contain added sugar which hinders weight loss.
Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
To help make getting started on the med diet even easier, below is a little sample meal plan that you can follow. It lays out what you should eat throughout the day to ensure you are sticking to the guidelines of the diet.
Having a plan like this already set out for you means there is no excuse to delay getting started on your new health journey. We’ve done the hard bit, so now you get to do the fun bit…eat!
- Option 1: Bread, or other form of wholegrain, with cheese, olives and tomato
- Option 2: Greek yoghurt with fruit or nuts
- Option 3: Savoury pie i.e. spinach or cheese pie
All of these options can be accompanied by a cup of coffee or herbal tea
- Option 1: Seasonal vegetable casserole
- Option 2: Beans cooked with olive oil, herbs and tomato sauce
These can be accompanied with whole grain bread and cheese.
For dinner why not make a lovely Greek salad. Whilst you can’t use shop-bought salad dressings, you can make your own out of olive oil!
Alongside this you could have some feta cheese and whole grain bread.
Then, why not treat yourself and have a glass of wine with it!
- Greek yoghurt (why not add some nuts or honey to add a bit of natural flavour)
- Wholemeal bread with vegetables on top
What to Eat at Restaurants?
When going on any diet it’s probably going to be a struggle finding something suitable on the menu for you to eat at restaurants. Whilst this can be true for the med diet, most restaurants do have something that fit within the diet’s guidelines.
What you can do best is to have a look at the menu online before you go. This will help give you a bit more time to check out what meal looks suitable for you, so you don’t have a mad panic at the restaurant!
When perusing the menu, check out what vegetable dishes they have.
For example, you can have some roasted or grilled vegetables with olive oil or balsamic vinegar on top. Grilled fish is another great option!
Alternatively, why not see if the restaurant offers a nice salad with protein or cheese in.
Or, a safe option is to get a tasty pasta dish.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
When deciding if a diet is right for you, it’s important to know what sort of benefits the diet can bring you.
The med diet has a variety of amazing benefits that can help to improve your health, fitness and overall wellbeing. Below is a list of some these incredible positive health impacts:
- Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
The med diet is a diet that’s been historically used for it’s amazing benefits on heart health.
Studies have shown that the diet can help to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. One way it does this is by helping to increase the amount of healthy cholesterol and lowering that of bad cholesterol. Additionally, it helps to prevent the oxidation of lipids which is something that can cause issues such as inflammation which can then lead to cardiovascular disease.
It’s been proven that the med diet can help to protect our hearts better than most other low-fat diets and is a great way for someone who is at an increased risk of heart disease whether for environmental or genetic reasons.
- Increases Life Expectancy
Those who follow a med-based diet have been shown to live longer. Yes, you heard me right! This has even been proven by numerous studies.
So, do you want to add a few more years onto your life? Then, you best get started on the med diet!
- Reduces Risk of Diabetes
Studies have shown that following a med diet can actually help to significantly lower your chance of getting diabetes, as well as helping relieve some of the symptoms for those who already have the condition. It’s a diet which has been shown to be better than other low-carb diets for diabetes.
This is due to the fact that the med diet involves consuming a lot of fibre, complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and other foods that have anti-inflammatory properties which is extremely important for helping protect people against diabetes.
- Cancer Protective
Another benefit of the med diet which might surprise you, is that it can actually help protect you from cancer.
This is because it contains a lot of nutrients including selenium, vitamin E and C, omega-3 fatty acids, fibre and foods with antioxidant properties. All of these nutrients are extremely beneficial to our bodies and have been shown to help lower our risk of getting cancer.
- Aids in Weight Loss
Whilst the med diet consists of 40% fat, all the fats consumed are of the healthy type, and so the med diet is actually a great choice of meal plan to help you lose weight.
Many people who are looking to lose weight opt for the med diet because it’s healthy, realistic and shows great results. It’s a diet you can adapt and keep with for the foreseeable future because it’s not restrictive at all.
- Elevated Mood
Numerous studies had been done in the past few years that have shown to have an association between improved mood the Mediterranean Diet.
Researchers pointed out that western diet has the potential to cause damage to our brain from repetitive oxidative stress, inflammation and insulin resistance.
When you protect yourself from oxidative stress using food, it can reduce damage to your neurons. The Mediterranean Diet contains anti-inflammatory foods that reduce oxidative stress.
- Prevents Alzheimer’s Disease
Many studies have proven that the med diet can prevent and lower people’s risk of experiencing cognitive decline, which often happens as we age. Specific studies have even shown that some of the changes the med diet brings about can prevent the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Now you know everything you need about the med diet, it’s time for you to get started!
It is best to make a few small changes first, rather than diving in headfirst and changing your whole diet in one go. Starting gradually helps make everything more manageable, will make your body better able to adjust and so will make you less likely to stray from the diet.
So, for example, you could start off by reducing the amount of meat you consume and stop having it as the main bulk of your meal. Or, you could try to just increase the amount of fish you are eating.
Another thing you should do is to try and keep your cooking nice and simple. A lot of people try to find various complex “Mediterranean” recipes with long preparation. This isn’t necessary at all and will just make the diet more difficult to follow. Instead cook the more traditional, simple Mediterranean recipes as they will involve a lot less effort to make and will also likely be cheaper to make!
So, what are you waiting for? The Mediterranean diet can bring you so many amazing health benefits including protecting you from diabetes and cancer and can help you to lose a lot of weight. The food is delicious and it’s something you’ll be able to adapt to your lifestyle permanently!