If you’ve read my earlier article, 5 basics of the Mediterranean lifestyle, you already know that there is more to it than just what we eat. But this time, we are in fact focusing on what we eat. A few ways for how to follow the Mediterranean diet, plus lots of Mediterranean diet-friendly recipes to try!
What makes the Mediterranean Diet effective?
One reader wrote, “I love this blog and search it weekly for recipes and ideas. Since starting to follow a Mediterranean eating plan 10 weeks ago, I have lost 20 lbs (25 for my husband). We also have more energy and my face (mild acne at almost 60) has cleared up!”
And she is not alone!
Many people, including Bill Bradley, R.D. and author of Foods of Crete, swear by the Mediterranean diet.
“I lost 45 pounds eating a slightly modified Mediterranean diet and have never felt deprived or hungry,” Bill told me. “And I have many clients with amazing success stories who, not only lost weight, but have also experienced large drops in cholesterol numbers. Many have been able to get off their cholesterol and diabetes medications altogether!”
Bill credits the success to the fact that the Mediterranean diet is easier to follow. “It is a whole-food, plant-heavy diet; but it is also high in fat, fresh herbs, and flavor. This means that people don’t feel deprived, and so have no problem following it for a lifetime,” he explains.
How to Follow The Mediterranean Diet
When talking about the Mediterranean diet, it’s helpful to reference the Mediterranean diet pyramid again.
Oldways expert Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN explains,”the pyramid show the combination of all our meals over days or weeks, demonstrating a clear, long-term path to better health.”
7 Ways to Follow The Mediterranean Diet
Loosely translating the pyramid into a few practical things we can do, here are 7 ways to follow the Mediterranean diet:
1- Eliminate fast foods. For many of us living in America, this is one of the tougher adjustments and may take some time. To start with, try swapping a fast-food meal with a homemade one. For example, if it’s chicken wings you crave, make them Greek-style like in this recipe! Or if it’s sweet potato fries (my personal guilty pleasure), try baking them in olive oil with a sprinkle of Mediterranean spices like in this recipe. And So on!
The point is, find a healthier homemade alternative to your favorite fast foods.
2- Eat more vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. The base of the Mediterranean diet pyramid should make up the base of every meal. When you can, opt for vegetarian entrees like this Cauliflower and Chickpea Stew; Spicy Spinach and Lentil Soup; or Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie). Rely more on satisfying, flavor-packed salads to make up a good portion of your plate. Some ideas: Kindey Bean Salad; Mediterranean Chickpea Salad; Greek Salad; Bean and Lentil Salad.
3- Swap fats. A good place to start is by replacing butter with olive oil in your cooking.
4- Reduce your intake of fatty red meats. Eat more lean proteins–fish, poultry, eggs–two to three times per week. A few favorites are this Easy Baked Salmon; Shrimp Skewers; One-Pan Halibut and Vegetables; Mediterranean Grilled Chicken; and Egg Shakshuka!
You can certainly still eat red meat once in a while, but choose leaner cuts. Lamb is often the red meat of choice in Greece and other Mediterranean countries. You might like to try: Kofta Kebobs; Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint Quinoa; or Moussaka (Greek eggplant and lamb casserole). For special occasions, I highly recommend Leg of Lamb with Potatoes.
5- Eat some dairy. Consumption of dairy products (in moderation) provides health benefits including lower risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Sadly, according to USDA, more than 80 percent of the entire U.S. population does not meet the daily dairy intake recommendation!
We are not talking about topping everything with loads of processed cheese. But perhaps for a snack, swap your chips for a low-fat Greek yogurt. Add a sprinkle of feta cheese to your salad; or swap mayonnaise or your sandwich spread for low-fat Tatziki sauce.
6- You’ve heard this before,”don’t drink your calories.” In the Mediterranean diet, this translates to drinking more water and swapping calorie-laden Margaritas for an occasional glass of red wine.
7- Share as many meals with others as possible. This helps in several ways. Spending time with loved ones reduces stress and elevates our moods. But being deliberate, and slowing down to socialize with others, also allows us to control our portions.
If you’ve tried some of these tips, or if you’ve been eating more Mediterranean recently, I would love to hear from you in the comments!
*Disclaimer, tips and information shared here is the result of readings and my own personal experience. Special thanks to Oldways; Kelly Toups MLA, RD, LDN; and Bill Bradley, R.D. Please consult your healthcare provider or a dietitian to receive more information and to see if the Mediterranean diet is right for you.