The Mediterranean diet is always making headlines and for good reason! Based on the traditional healthy living and eating habits of people in Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy, this diet always manages to make it to the ‘best diet’ lists in the media, both in the US and globally.
What Is The Mediterranean Diet? What Is The Meal Plan?
The Mediterranean diet is derived from that of various countries, and so it is really broad in the sense that it differs slightly by country and region. It is, however, primarily a plant-based diet that includes lots of olive oil.
The main components of a Mediterranean diet are, but are not limited to:
- Olive oil as this is a staple
- Fruits like olives, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, dates and figs
- Vegetables like cherry tomatoes, broccoli, turnips, spinach, kale, arugula and potatoes
- Herbs and leafy greens like cilantro, parsley, basil, and limited intake of spices
- Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, beans, pulses and peanuts
- Cereals and grains (mostly whole)
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, macadamia and cashews
- Meat (limited intake)
- Dairy foods (limited intake)
Along with the above, there are other characteristics of the Mediterranean diet like:
- Add in a good amount of starchy foods like pasta, bread, couscous, all-bran cereal.
- You may include but stick to a limited quantity of lean protein such as fish, low-fat dairy or eggs.
- Avoid meat altogether or stick to chicken or other meat in very low quantity
- Always include extra virgin olive oil, whether in salads, pasta, to sauté vegetables or in hummus and baba ghanoush.
Nutrients In The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is known to pack in as many tasty foods as one would be happy to hear about, that are just as loaded with nutrition.
We know that all fats are not bad, and so, this diet, like the DASH diet, does not place restrictions on the total consumption of fat. What it does, though, is it serve as an intelligent guide on what types of fat to consume.
Low in unhealthy trans-fat that’s usually found in processed foods, this diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids with the inclusion of fish or if you’re vegetarian, walnuts, flaxseed, and certain vegetables—and has good amounts of healthy monounsaturated fats, thanks to the staple ingredient, olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet almost always includes legumes and whole grains, as well as whole fruits, which make it a fiber powerhouse, ensuring reduced levels of cholesterol, better digestion and bowel function, healthy blood sugar levels, as well as better management of weight.
Unrefined fiber-rich sources like whole wheat and beans are the main sources of carbohydrates in the Mediterranean and similar diets. This diet can be high in such carbs but people also follow a strict low-carb Mediterranean diet for health reasons or for weight loss, which makes the diet more effective than other low-carb diets.
Vitamins And Minerals
This diet is rich in B group vitamins, especially folates (and vitamin B9) that are known to enable healthy cell growth and function, as well as antioxidant vitamins like E and C which boost immunity, help protect against diseases, and help slow down aging.
MedDiet is also rich in several minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, which enable the effective function of the body in different ways.
Health Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet
A diet that brings together many ingredients that are rich in flavor and fats that are good for your heart, the Mediterranean diet is just as delicious as it is full of nutrition.
With a variety of health benefits to boast of, including better brain function, heart health, and regulated blood sugar levels, it’s no surprise this diet tops several ‘top diets’ lists.
There has been enough and more research stating the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the heart, including lowered risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke—which is as low as 30% as per a report by The New England Journal of Medicine.
John Hopkins researchers also found that a healthy lifestyle and check on weight combined with this diet has helped slow down plaque buildup in arteries and reduced the overall risk of early death by 80%.
Blood Sugar Levels
The Mediterranean diet is known to help reduce fasting blood sugar levels while also decreasing the body’s resistance to insulin, help better levels of hemoglobin, and protect one from developing type 2 diabetes while helping regulate overall blood sugar levels in the short and longer term.
Cognitive function and memory tend to deteriorate as one gets older, but the Mediterranean diet is known to help people age more healthily also because of its ability to help slow down the mental aging process.
Strictly and proper adherence to a MedDiet can ensure a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and in some cases, even improve memory, attention spans, or cognitive function.
As per a 2018 study, the diet also helps improve the quality of sleep in older adults, which in turn had a positive effect on the brain.
Whether weight loss is healthy for everyone is debatable, it is good news for those trying to lose weight, especially since it ensures it happens the healthy way. The MedDiet is known to help weight loss more effectively than a low-fat diet, according to this 2016 review.
Foods To Limit In The Mediterranean Diet
While this diet is pretty accommodating, certain foods are not to be included.
When it comes to beverages, it is recommended to avoid alcohol or sugar-based beverages altogether. However, the MedDiet does allow moderate amounts of red wine, usually about one glass a day.
Coffee and tea are not restricted but must be consumed in moderation and without much sugar or cream.
Sugary Or Processed Foods
Soda, ice cream, baked items, and syrup contain very high amounts of added sugar and must be avoided as should processed fast food. Processed meat includes sausages and hot dogs too must be avoided. This includes anything with trans fat.
Refined Grains And Oils
White bread is a strict ‘no’ as well as chips, tortillas, and crackers. Rarely would one find any oil other than extra virgin olive oil in MedDiet, and especially refined oil like that of soybean, canola or grapeseed oil is avoided.
What Is The Mediterranean Diet? Summing Up
Now that you know everything you need to know about this hyped-for-good-reason nutrient-rich diet, why not experiment and try on numerous recipes, and incorporate this into your diet plan!