Curious about following the world's best diet, while eating delicious food and never feeling hungry? There are many reasons the US News and World Report recently selected the Mediterranean diet as #1 among the 40+ diets they examined. In today's post, we dig into this important question: What is the Mediterranean diet and how to follow it?
I put together a simple and complete resource that will help you start and enjoy this delicious way of eating. And be sure to check out my top 50+ Mediterranean diet recipes.
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.
As the pyramid below highlights, this Mediterranean way of eating focuses at the base of the pyramid, featuring more on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and legumes. The top of the pyramid focuses on lean proteins from fish and poultry, good fats from olive oil, and some dairy, while consuming sweets and red meats on fewer occasions.
What do you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
- Eat MORE (every day) leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes.
- Eat MODERATELY (weekly) lean proteins from fish, some poultry, and eggs.
- Eat LESS Red Meats and Sweets. Red meat is consumed less frequently and also in smaller amounts. a
- Use Extra Virgin olive oil regularly.
- Avoid processed foods, too much sugar, and any products with a list of ingredients you don't understand or can't read very well.
I would rather refer to it as the Mediterranean way of eating. The word "diet" comes with certain assumptions--a set of rigid rules to follow that may have you counting calories and avoiding food groups that your body needs. Thankfully, that is not what you'll find when eating the Mediterranean way.
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 good foods, while keeping a strong focus on flavor and the pleasure of the table.
The Mediterranean way of eating is not a structured diet. It is a healthy, well-balanced eating pattern based on the Mediterranean diet pyramid. Kelly Toups says, "the pyramid shows the combination of all our meals over days or weeks, demonstrating a clear, long-term path to healthy eating and better health."
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).
- The next week, try and incorporate 1 or 2 fish or seafood based meals, and/or 1 or 2 meatless meals. Stock up on healthy snacks and items like hummus and veggies, as well as fresh or dried fruit.
- For dessert, replace that piece of cake with a fruit or a handful of dried fruit like apricots, figs, or cherries next to a small piece of traditionally produced cheese like feta, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.
7 ways for how to follow the Mediterranean diet (Recipes Included):
- Eliminate fast and processed 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.
- 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.
- Swap fats. Rely on healthy fats. A good place to start is to swap your butter with good olive oil in your cooking.
- 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.
- 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.
- Do not 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.
- 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.
Mediterranean diet recipes & other resources
To help you get started, here are some important resources:
- 50+ Top Mediterranean diet recipes
- Mediterranean diet breakfast
- Mediterranean diet shopping list
- Mediterranean diet food list: 5 foods you need
VISIT OUR ONLINE SHOP FOR QUALITY OLIVE OILS, ALL-NATURAL SPICES AND MORE
*This post originally appeared on this site in 2017, it has been revised and reposted with new media and information for readers' benefit. A special thanks to Oldways and Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN for lending expertise. Readers assume full responsibility for consulting a qualified health professional regarding health conditions or concerns before starting a health program, new way of eating, or diet.