The Mediterranean Diet: A Guide to Healthy Eating

I had the privilege of travelling to Israel a few months ago, and as a dietician, I was probably more excited about the food than the average person would be.

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is followed by countries around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, Spain, Greece, France and Morocco.

While the Mediterranean diet can be different from place to place, the following foods are often included:

  • vegetables and fruit
  • whole grains
  • legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils)
  • nuts, seeds and olives
  • fish and poultry eaten in moderate amounts
  • small amounts of red meat
  • olive oil, as the main source of fat
  • moderate consumption of wine, mainly with meals

The Mediterranean diet focuses on a healthy lifestyle or pattern, which includes:

  • being active
  • getting enough rest
  • sharing meals with family and friends

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Following a Mediterranean diet has many health benefits and may help to:

  • reduce your risk of developing heart disease
  • lower blood cholesterol levels
  • lower blood pressure
  • improve blood glucose (sugar) control for individuals with type 2 diabetes

Early research shows the Mediterranean diet may prevent or improve some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and glaucoma. It may also help maintain brain health.

The foods that we ate, not only looked appetising with all the vibrant colours and textures but was also packed with fibre, nutrients and phytochemicals.

AKA very healthy, dietician-approved foods.

If you would like to make the Mediterranean diet a healthy part of your everyday eating, make use of the tips below as a guide:

Choose plant-based foods most often

Eat a variety of raw and cooked plant-based foods. They are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.

  • Include whole grains and fruit at each meal.
    • Choose whole grains such as brown rice, barley, oats and quinoa.
    • Include whole grain couscous, wheat and rye bread and products made with whole grain flour.
    • Eat a variety of fruits such as berries, apples, pears, melons, plums, peaches and bananas.
  • Eat vegetables at lunch and dinner every day.
    • Choose a variety of colours and types of vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, peppers, zucchini and eggplant.
    • Eat three or less servings per week of potatoes. Avoid potatoes that are fried.
    • Cook vegetables in a variety of ways. Roast, sauté, steam and add them to soups.
    • Eat at least one serving of raw vegetables each day, such as green leafy salads or cut-up vegetables like carrot sticks and cucumber slices.
  • Eat olives, unsalted nuts and seeds every day.
    • Sprinkle a handful of unsalted almonds, walnuts or sunflower seeds onto salads.
    • Add diced olives to salads, stews or sandwiches.
    • Snack on unsalted nuts.
  • Eat legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils) at least twice a week.
    • Prepare broth-based soups and salads with brown or green lentils, chickpeas, black or kidney beans.
    • Dip vegetables or bread into hummus, white or black bean dip.

Drink plenty of fluids

  • Aim for 1.5 to 2 litres (6 to 8 cups) of fluid every day. Ways to do this include:
    • Drink regular tea, herbal tea or coffee without sugar.
    • Put a jug of tap water on the table during each meal as a reminder to drink.
    • Keep a glass of water at your desk or have a water bottle close by.

Use olive oil to cook with and add flavour to foods

  • Aim for at least 15 mL (1 Tbsp) of olive oil each day.
    • Extra virgin olive oil has more antioxidants than other types of olive oil and is the most flavourful.
    • Use olive oil when you sauté, grill, roast, pan-fry, stir-fry and bake.
    • Drizzle olive oil on vegetables, salads, bread, toast and other dishes.

Flavour food with spices, herbs, garlic and onions instead of salt

  • Flavour foods with herbs such as rosemary, oregano, parsley, basil and mint.
  • Mix spices like paprika, black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg into dishes that need extra flavour.
  • Top soups, stews and other dishes with chopped or minced garlic and onion.

Include low-fat milk and alternatives daily

  • Choose two servings of low fat milk (skim, 1%, 2%), low-fat cheese (20% milk fat or less) and low-fat fermented dairy foods such as kefir and yoghurt (0%, 1%, 2%).

Eat at least two servings of fish and seafood (75 g) each week

  • Include a variety of fish such as salmon, sardines, cod, anchovies and canned tuna.
  • Choose a variety of seafood such as scallops, shrimp, mussels and clams.

Include up to two to four eggs every week

  • Prepare omelettes, scrambled or boiled eggs.
  • Use eggs in baking or cooking or adding to salads and casseroles.

Choose red meat and processed meat less often

  • Include no more than two servings (75 g) of red meat each week. Examples of red meat include goat, beef, pork and lamb.
  • Limit processed meat to a maximum of one serving each week. Examples of processed meat are hot dogs, sausages, deli meats, salami and bacon.
  • Replace red and processed meat with lean white meat, legumes (dried peas and lentils), eggs, fish or seafood.

Choose lean white meat at least twice a week

  • Include lean white meat such as chicken, turkey or rabbit.

If you drink wine, limit to moderate amounts with meals

  • This means about one glass per day for women and two glasses per day for men. One serving of wine is:
    • 142 mL glass of 12% wine.
  • You do not have to drink alcohol to follow a Mediterranean diet.

Limit sweets

  • Limit sweets such as candies, pastries, desserts and sweetened cooldrink or sweetened juice to two servings per week or less or save them for special occasions.

Enjoy a Mediterranean lifestyle

  • Make time to cook and prepare meals.
  • Whenever possible, enjoy cooking and sharing mealtime together with friends and family.
  • Include three meals a day.
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Get enough rest.
Typical North American Diet Mediterranean Diet
Juice, fruit drinks, cooldrink, speciality coffee and tea with sugar Water, herbal tea (without sugar)
Cream soup Broth or clear soup
Vegetable oil, butter, margarine Olive oil or olive oil margarine
Potatoes, white bread, pasta and rice Whole grain bread, pasta, rice, whole wheat couscous
Salted, spiced, flavoured nuts and seeds Unsalted nuts and seeds
Higher fat milk, cream, ice-cream, cheese and yoghurt Low-fat yoghurt and cheese
Red meat (including lamb, goat and pork), processed meats (sausages, luncheon meats, bacon) Fish, seafood, poultry (including chicken and turkey) and veal
Canned beans in sauce, refried beans

 

 

Legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils)
Salt Herbs, spices, onions and garlic
Frozen meals, delivery meals or takeout Meals prepared at home from scratch
Snack foods such as chips, candy, or baked goods (e.g. cakes, pastries and cookies) Snacks such as fresh fruit, unsalted nuts and seeds, hummus and pita

To conclude, when you eat the Mediterranean way your plate will look like a rainbow, contain a variety of textures and have a lot of health benefits.

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