Curious about following the world’s best diet, while eating delicious food and never feeling hungry? In today’s post, we dig into two important questions: What is the Mediterranean diet? And, how to follow the Mediterranean diet? Grab my Mediterranean diet shopping list (free), see my video on eating the Mediterranean way, and check out some tasty recipes below!
There are many reasons, the the US News and World Report recently selected the Mediterranean diet as top among the 40+ diets they examined. And as we kick off the month of May, Mediterranean diet month, it’s only fitting to put together a complete resource that will help you start and enjoy this delicious way of eating.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Very simply put the Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional foods and eating patterns of the people and countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
The Mediterranean diet, as the pyramid below highlights, focuses more on fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes (very base of the pyramid); lean proteins from fish and poultry; good fats from olive oil; and some dairy–while consuming sweets and red meats on fewer occasions (top of the pyramid)
A “diet” or a “way of eating?”
I would rather refer to it as the Mediterranean way of eating. The word “diet” comes with a certain assumptions– a set of rules to follow, a list of “what not to eat,” empahsis on counting calories, or whatever it is you need to keep track of etc. That is not what you’ll find with the Mediterranean diet.
As Oldways expert Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN, explained to me in a recent conversation: while many “diets” in the common sense of the word are rooted in deprivation, the Mediterranean diet is a joyful way of eating that celebrates foods; keeping a focus on flavor and the pleasure of the table.
The Mediterranean diet is not a structured diet. It’s a healthy, well-balanced eating pattern based on the Mediterranean diet pyramid. Kelly Toups says,”the pyramid show the combination of all our meals over days or weeks, demonstrating a clear, long-term path to better health.”
So what are some ways to follow the Mediterranean diet?
How to Follow The Mediterranean Diet: Advice for Beginners
If you’re brand new to eating the Mediterranean way, expert Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN says, “begin with simple swaps.”
– The first week, buy some quality extra virgin olive oil and start using olive oil as your primary cooking oil (in place of butter, lard or other oils).
– To end your meals, in place of desserts, enjoy a small piece of traditionally produced cheese like feta, Parmigiano-
Reggiano or Pecorino Romano with a handful of dried apricots, figs, or cherries.
Want to go beyond? Read on for 7 ways to follow the Mediterranean diet…
7 ways to follow the Mediterranean diet (Recipes Included):
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 or Spicy Spinach and Lentil Soup. 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; Balela 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…a lot. Eat more lean proteins–fish about two times a week; and poultry in moderation. 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 on occasion (very limited), 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 and eggs. 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 Tzatziki 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!
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*This post originally appeared on this site in 2017, it has been revised and reposted with new photos and information for readers’ benefit. A special thanks to Oldways and Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN for lending expertise.