The Mediterranean Diet is the healthiest diet, a way of eating and combination of ingredients that has been proven over and over to be the healthiest, easiest to adopt and maintain diets. The diet is mostly plant based and has reversed heart disease, diabetes, and other serious illnesses while helping people lose weight and keep it off. Although the benefits were first recognized in the northern Mediterranean countries, ingredients worldwide work well with the Mediterranean Diet.
People new to the Mediterranean Diet have typically heard of this Way of Eating (WOE) but have misconceptions about what that means. Things I get asked most often are is it vegetarian, how much meat should I eat, can I eat pasta, what are the best vegetables to eat, how do you determine portion control, is it different than keto, is it better than keto, how non Mediterranean Diet ingredients and recipes can be part of this WOE, and what’s the deal with all the olive oil?
These are all legitimate questions and most have pretty definitive answers. Let’s start with the ingredient question and work our way back to the others. The important things about the Mediterranean Diet that helps people lose weight and feel great are the portions and ingredients of all you consume every day. My Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is a great way to visualize this.
As you can see Way of Eating includes taking meals with other if possible, and some daily physical activity. Those are basic elements of enjoying this way of eating and way of life. The next step is water consumption, which is an increase for most people as my rule “don’t drink calories” kicks in and soda, fruit juices, and other drinks are eliminated.
Using superfoods in every day meals is a real key to successfully adopting the Mediterranean Diet. Although the overall term is Mediterranean, there are a wide variety of cultures and cuisines around the Mediterranean Sea. The studies that talk about the healthiest diet are based on a handful of countries, namely Portugal, Spain, southern France, southern Italy, and Greece. However those countries share cuisine and dishes with countries to the east like Lebanon and Turkey. The fact is if you are incorporating EVOO and superfoods in the right amounts you are practicing the Mediterranean Diet whether your ingredients are from Italy, California, Chile, Japan, or Indonesia. Just as members of my Facebook group are from over 100 countries, the component ingredients can come from anywhere as long as they have the nutrition and provide you with meals you enjoy eating.
Nearly all my group members tried other diets before settling on the Mediterranean Diet. As a result most expect to count and restrict calories to lose weight. I recommend being generally aware of calories but not counting them, as there is nothing satisfying and easy about counting calories and this WOE should be both. Being strict about portion control, no second helpings, eating slowly so that one doesn’t overeat can be successfully substituted for counting calories. Then we add a significant amount of olive oil, specifically extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) which has many benefits. EVOO is a primary ingredient in the Mediterranean Diet, and has three qualities that make it the perfect cooking oil. It contains mostly stable monounsaturated fatty acids; it has low levels of free fatty acids and high level of protective antioxidants.
EVOO is also very high in monounsaturated fats and is loaded with antioxidants, such as Vitamins E and K and contains plenty of beneficial fatty acids. Extra virgin olive oil’s primary health benefit are the biologically active antioxidants that help fight serious diseases. EVOO fights these diseases by reducing chronic inflammation that is among the leading drivers of diseases including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and arthritis. Be aware that the amount of recommended olive oil is often challenging for people to consume at first. Learning recipes that use an abundance of olive oil will help get new dieters using the daily recommended ¼ cup (60ml) amount of oil.
In that same basics and staples category are vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds and herbs. This is where nearly all of your calories will come from, and vegans and vegetarians often stop here to get the maximum benefit of this WOE. So yes you can eat pasta, but make sure it is whole grain. Many people in my Facebook group have started and continued making sourdough bread which is both delicious, filling, and pairs well with many other Mediterranean Diet meals.
Moving up the pyramid is the fish or seafood category, which some people struggle with. A fair number of Mediterranean Dieters won’t eat fish or seafood, while most others love it. Although some of the fish eaters like tilapia, however he consensus in my group is that this farm raised fish does not have the nutritional value we look for in our WOE. Salmon, trout and some of the deep water fish are the preferred fish. Wine can also be controversial as understandably not everyone can drink alcohol, as with fish and seafood use it if you can and don’t worry about it if you cannot.
The Poultry, Cheese, Yogurt category is easier for most new to this WOE as most people consume, enjoy and have recipes these ingredients for these ingredients already. The difference with the Mediterranean Diet is that the consumption of all these have to be reduced from the typical diet. This can be challenging and somewhat counterintuitive, when people think of the typical Italian diet for instance, big bowls of spaghetti or other pastas come to mind. I have found that the way to make this transition is to be generous with vegetable and sparing with any meats or vegetables. It should also go without saying that a key concept with this diet is to stay away from processed food.
A word about which cheese to favor. Although it tends to be high in sodium, feta cheese has a lot of calcium, phosphorous and B vitamins. Feta is also low in calories and fat while containing beneficial fatty acids and bacteria, making it a good choice when choosing a recipe with cheese to make.
In my Mediterranean Diet we don’t disparage other diets, they all have their place. However we do get a lot of people who have tried and discontinued keto. Keto is popular but for me it is similar to the dozens of other popular diets that have been promoted over the years. If you are counting calories and not enjoying your meals the fact is that you will not stick with a diet. The Mediterranean Diet has such delicious meals that people continue and it is easy to make a lifelong commitment to their health and wellbeing. When I am asked what tis the best diet, my response is “the one that is sustainable and healthiest”. We all know the answer to that!
The other question I often get is how do I get started? I have a get started guide on my website here and articles that focus on the steps necessary to make changes in your life on my website. Get started and get healthy.
To Your Health!