The mediterranean diet pattern is one of the most well-studied human diets. Due to the high life expectancy of people from the Mediterranean region, the typical eating pattern has been closely examined and emulated.
It is best defined as a primarily plant-based diet with a high amount of fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats from olive oil and fish.
Population studies have shown that individuals following this eating pattern have lowered risk of ALL-CAUSE mortality. Specifically, it can lower cholesterol, decrease the risk of heart disease, improve body composition and promote weight loss, decrease inflammation, and improve cognitive function.
While there are many iterations of the Mediterranean diet, there are certain tenets that most Mediterranean eating plans are built upon. Part of this is excluding or limiting many inflammatory foods. Sugar, seed oils, red meat, and processed foods are rarely consumed!
Foods to limit on a Mediterranean Diet include:
- Simple sugars (candies and sodas) / baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries)
- Conventional Meat (pork, red meat and non-organic poultry)
- Most Dairy
- Seed oils (Canola, Soybean, Safflower)
- Packaged / Processed Foods
Instead, the Mediterranean Diet is built on fresh, local produce with an abundance of phytonutrients. A Mediterranean Diet is high in monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants.
Key Nutrients Found in a Mediterranean Diet
Good quality fats are associated with a lower risk of both heart disease and cancer. The Mediterranean Diet is rich in monounsaturated fat from olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds, and lower in saturated fat, meats, and dairy products. Olive oil is the main source of fat in a Mediterranean diet and contains tocopherols, polyphenols, and a balanced linoleic/alpha-linolenic acid profile, which is beneficial for the immune system and inflammatory responses.
An important source of protein in a Mediterranean diet is fish. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish provide cardiovascular benefits and reduce inflammation. Fish contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are associated with improved cognitive function.
Adequate dietary fiber intake is associated with several health benefits including better digestive health, lower blood pressure, weight loss, and reduced inflammation. A Mediterranean diet provides fiber daily from foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Soluble fiber found in oats, lentils, hummus, spinach, and apples have been shown to improve glycemic control and lower blood cholesterol.
Essential fat-soluble antioxidants like vitamin A and vitamin E support various cellular functions of our immune system, reduce oxidative stress in cells, and are useful in the treatment of inflammatory diseases. The Mediterranean eating pattern is packed with vitamin A sources like sweet potato, carrots, and salmon, and incorporates vitamin E through a daily dose of healthy oils, nuts, and seeds. These foods are best paired with healthy fats to increase absorption.
The macronutrient profile tends to be fairly balanced with about 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrate. Unlike the Standard American Diet (SAD), most carbohydrates in the Mediterranean diet are complex from hearty whole grains, legumes and fruit; all beneficial sources of fiber as well. This means better blood glucose control and a primary reason that individuals with Type II diabetes are encouraged to follow this eating pattern.
Easy Tips to implement a mediterranean diet:
A Mediterranean Diet can be implemented by sticking to a few key daily/weekly habits. Use this as a template for planning out your weekly meals, and you’ll be on your way to Mediterranean health.
- 5+ Servings of Vegetables
- 3+ Servings of Fruit
- 1 Serving of Whole Grains/Legumes
- 1 Serving of Olive Oil
- 3+ Servings of Fish
- 5+ Servings of Nuts/Seeds
Healthy Choices :
- Olive Oil for cooking & dressings
- Protein from plant-based sources, fish, and organic poultry
- Whole grains / Ancient grains (Brown Rice, Quinoa, Farro, Buckwheat)
- Fermented Dairy (cheese, yogurt)
- Red Wine (up to one glass daily)
- Opt for fresh, in-season produce
- Eat without distractions and really engage your senses
- Share meals with family & friends
- Eat slowly and listen to hunger/fullness cues
How to Get Started
A typical day on the Mediterranean diet means consuming fruits/vegetables at every meal and having lots of variety in color on your plate! A sample menu may look like plain greek yogurt/berries/flaxseed for breakfast, a green salad/chickpeas/tomatoes/cucumber/onions/olive oil for lunch, and afternoon snack of walnuts/dates and salmon/quinoa/broccoli for dinner.
A good place to start on a Mediterranean diet is getting familiar with a Mediterranean Shopping List. Fill your shopping cart with primarily these foods and build your eating plan around them. Looking at a comprehensive list of healthy foods to INCLUDE in your diet reframes the lifestyle shift into one of abundance rather than thinking about what you must restrict.
Kate’s (Basic) Mediterranean Shopping List + Eating Habits Cheat Sheet
FREE mediterranean diet recipe book
Enjoy the process
The most successful eating plan is one that you are excited and fulfilled by. Take time to look for recipes and ingredients that spark some joy. Healthy eating is achieved one meal at a time; so build your understanding of the Mediterranean diet- then start making the best choices FOR YOU.
Want to work with a nutritionist to personalize your diet?
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