I am sure at one point or another you have heard about the Mediterranean diet. It has for a long time been promoted as one of the healthiest ways to eat (and there is research to support these claims), but what does eating the mediterranean way really mean and how can you incorporate Mediterranean meals into your daily routines.
Read on to find out more.
Find this recipe below
What is the mediterranean diet?
The mediterranean diet is a diet based on the eating patterns of countries surrounding the mediterranean sea such as Greece, Southern Italy, Spain, etc.
It consists of a diet that is rich in fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts and legumes, with moderate amounts of fish/seafood, poultry, red wine, and dairy. It limits the consumption of red meats, processed meats, and sweets while focusing on incorporating healthy fats in the diet from plant based sources.
Foods to choose daily:
Fruits - more than 3 servings/day
Vegetables - more than 2 servings/day
Legumes - more than 3 servings/week
Herbs and spices instead of salt
Foods to choose weekly:
Low fat cheese/dairy
Foods to choose monthly or occasionally
See the image below for an overview of the Mediterranean diet. It should be noted that the Mediterranean diet also emphasizes eating with others (e.g., family and friends), keeping portions small, choosing fresh and in season produce, and making foods from scratch (so really limiting that processed food intake).
What are the health benefits?
As I mentioned above the mediterranean diet has been well researched over time with large groups of people and the findings to support this diet have been incredible. Various studies have found links between following a mediterranean styled diet and longevity, lower risk of chronic disease (including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes), lower risk of depression and anxiety, and protection against certain diseases.
In fact a meta-analysis that analyzed 12 cohort studies for the mediterranean diet with over 1.5 million healthy adult participants found that a 2-point increase to adherence to the mediterranean diet led to (Sofi et al., 2008):
9% reduced risk of overall mortality
9% reduction in mortality from CVD
6% reduction in incidence of or mortality from cancer
13% reduction in incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s
Does the mediterranean diet work for weight loss?
A meta-analysis that reviewed 16 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with over 3000 participants following either a Mediterranean diet or some form of a 'control' diet found that those following a Mediterranean diet had a significant effect on weight and body mass index (BMI). The effect of weight loss when following a Mediterranean diet was greater with restricted calories, more physical activity, and when following it for 6 months or longer. It should be noted that none of the studies reported significant weight gain while following the Mediterranean diet.
Bottom line: following the Mediterranean diet along with restricted calories (I prefer to refer to this as portion control) and more physical activity over a 6 month period or longer can help people lose weight.
I personally believe the Mediterranean diet is a great example of balanced eating that also emphasizes eating with others and enjoying mealtime. This is something I promote in my simply balanced healthy eating program.
What can you do to incorporate more Mediterranean styled eating into your routine?
Add dips to your meal plan- make healthy dips, such as tzatziki, hummus and baba ganoush (eggplant dip) at home and use them as veggie dips and sandwich/wrap spreads
Aim to add more beans and legumes to your meals. They are a great source of plant based protein and fibre. Add chickpeas and beans to salads, rice, soups, and pasta dishes.
Go plant-based a few times a week! Swap the meat for beans/legumes, other plant-based alternatives such as tofu or extra veggies when making stir fry’s, pastas, soups or wraps
Replace red meats with seafood as they are rich in omega-3s and are easy to cook. Add tuna or shrimp to your salads, tacos or stir fry 1-2 times a week
Enjoy as many meals as possible with family and friends
Sofi, F. et al., (2008). Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a1344
Esposito, K. (2011). Mediterranean diet and weight loss: Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. Vol.9(1).