How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet

I just wrote an article on my Mental Fitness blog about the Mediterranean Diet and it’s wonderful effects on brain health. New findings show that eating the   When you finish here, check this post out – the findings are pretty remarkable.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet sounds like it would be a fad diet used by the rich and famous, doesn’t it?  The terms are actually used to describe the foods eaten by people living in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea (Greece, Morroco, Italy, Spain). The foods that form this diet are associated with a slew of positive health effects:

  • a lower risk of cancer
  • a lower risk of hear heart disease
  • fewer heart attacks
  • less hypertension
  • lower risk of diabetes
  • prevention of brain disease
  • trimmer body

Just glance at that list again!  Just think, you can protect your body and mind and improve your fitness and health simply by choosing to eat the right foods and refusing to eat the wrong ones.

If it’s so simple…. and it pretty much is… why aren’t we all doing it? I think one of the reasons is habit.  We’re accustomed to eating a certain way and find the thought of drastic change overwhelming.  (Wonder how overwhelming we’d find heart disease or diabetes to be?)  Some people may think that incorporating new foods into their diet will be expensive or inconvenient (Again, how expensive or inconvenient would serious health problems be?)

No more excuses.  Today’s the day!

What Foods Are In a Mediterranean Diet?

When incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your daily meals, think fresh and wholesome.  Think unprocessed and natural.  You’ll want to become as familiar to the produce department as a head of lettuce.  The staples of the Mediterranean diet include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, seafood, yogurt, and olive oil.

Try new foods and try fresh new things with old favorites.  I’d wholeheartedly recommend buying a bamboo steamer and getting all kinds of fancy pants with steaming vegetables.  Steamed asparagus, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, snap peas, nappa cabbage, artichokes…. Heavenly. If, at first, you have trouble falling in love with fresh vegetables, experiment with different Mrs. Dash seasonings, fresh herbs, and squeezed lemon and/or lime juice.

Adding steamed vegetables (or grilled on a George Foreman Grill – another one of my favorite kitchen toys!) to pasta dishes is a wonderful way to make them into a meal.  I’ll give you extra points if you use wheat pasta.  I promise you, if you season everything right, you’ll never even know it’s wheat – but your body will.

Roasted garlic is also a healthy way to add flavor to meals – and garlic is very much a part of the Mediterranean diet.

A few other things you’ll want to know about the Mediterranean Diet:

  • The  people who live around the Mediterranean Sea use olive oil as often as I drink coffee.  They use it in almost everything they eat.  Whether it’s pasta, bread, vegetables, salads, fish, cakes, pastries… whatever.  Olive oil is the principal fat in the Mediterranean diet.  It replaces other fats and oils such as butter and margarine. Why should you fall in similar love with olive oil? Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that oleocanthal, a compound in olive oil, reduces inflammation.   This alone could help prevent  heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers.  The next time you have French or Italian bread, try this.  Instead of butter or margarine – pour a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil into a pretty dish then grind fresh pepper on top.  Dunk your bread into the peppery olive oil in lieu of unhealthy butter.  My favorite approach is with different colored peppercorns – they look gorgeous and taste outstanding.  A little crushed basil, thyme, or oregano is also a nice touch.
  • Use local produce – not only is it healthier for it to be handled as little as possible, it’s cool to keep your money in your community.  I’m all about that.
  • Try to eat beans in your diet each day.  Throw some in your salad, chili, soup, and even pasta.  Bean soup is always delicious and you can’t beat a great bean salad.  Combine your favorite beans with a little olive oil, garlic, and red onion.  Season and dive in.  Also, hummus is another wonderful way to utilize beans, olive oil, AND garlic in one delicious sitting.  Use fresh vegetables to scoop up the hummus and you’ve leveled up to a whole new level of greatness.
  • Leave bowls or baskets of nuts around the house to nosh on instead of candy and potato chips. Throw pine nuts and sunflower seeds into your salad for crunch and flavor.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids run free and wild in the Mediterranean diet. Why’s this such a great thing? As WebMD tells us, Fatty acids have been shown to reduce the incidence of heart attacks, blood clots, hypertension, and strokes; and may prevent certain forms of cancer and lower the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Try to eat less meat, opting for fish, vegetables, legumes instead.  Just remember to fill up on protein from healthier sources.
  • Mediterranean people devour lots of tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, capers, spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, white beans, lentils, and chick peas.  Throw capers into orzo, pasta, rice, salads, and even egg dishes.  Chick peas, of course, are the foundation of hummus and are excellent in bean salads as well as tossed salads and taco salads.
  • Try to eat fish and seafood at least twice a week. Again, remember that freshness is your body’s friend.  Check your bakery for beautiful seafood that you can take home and wax brilliant with.
  • Fall in love with fruit and never stray.  Keep a fruit bowl in a prominent place in your kitchen and/or dining room and keep it filled with a variety of beautiful, healthy fruits.  They look and smell as good as they taste.  Keep dried fruit and fruit juice on hand as well.  Send them in your kid’s (and spouse’s!) lunch for a healthy alternative to chips.
  • The Mediterranean diet includes lots of whole grain foods as well.  Foods such as rice, couscous, bread, pasta, potatoes, and polenta are popular with Mediterranean people. In their natural state, grains are full of cancer and heart disease-fighting fiber, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.  But white bread, pasta, and rice defeats the healthy purpose. Stripping the grain’s outer layers to make white flour and white rice eliminates the health benefits.  The whole process leaves you with little more than the dreaded EC – empty calories.

A final word about portion control:  The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes healthy foods eaten in healthy portions.  Because of the fiber content, less food is needed to make you feel full.  Less empty calories, less unhealthy fat, less junk, and less bloat will lead to a much healthier and happier you.

On my recipe blog (Get Cooking) I intend to start posting as many Mediterranean Diet- friendly foods and recipes as humanly possible.  I’m creating a whole new category for the Mediterranean Diet and will add my favorite ways to fix, cook, and serve healthier foods.   I love to cook more than almost anything else in the world.  I have a very large family with lovely people from all age groups – so I know the challenges of feeding a family on a budget while providing them with foods that are healthy for them.  What’s more, our family is filled with young people, so I know the importance of feeding them healthy foods that they’ll actually eat!  I’m still working on the challenge that is eggplant, but I’ll let you know when victory is mine!

If you’re truly interested in a healthier diet and lifestyle, head over to Get Cooking and subscribe by e-mail or rss and watch for the healthy recipes to pour in.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are disrespectful, offensive, or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet

  1. It could have been Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Higher Laws, 1854 who was responsible for saying the quote – Goodness is the only investment that never fails.