The Mediterranean diet has frequently been praised by nutritionists and cardiologists alike, and more recently praised by popular media outlets as a go-to diet. Studies have shown that following a Mediterranean style diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, and lead to a healthier lifestyle overall. Here’s why:
The Mediterranean often brings to mind thoughts of vast fields of olives, and of course, olive oil. It’s a staple in the diets of those who live in the region, and is known to act as a source of monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fat is shown to reduce levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is linked to increased risk of heart disease (4). Those seeking to follow a Mediterranean diet are encouraged to replace butter with olive oil in cooking, flavoring, etc. Another source of monounsaturated fats in the Mediterranean diet stems from nuts such as almonds and cashews. These nuts not only provide a great source of unsaturated fats, but also serve as a great snack on the go.
Focus on Plant Based Foods
Fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of this diet, with a daily suggested intake of 5-10 servings, or 2.5-5 cups of cooked vegetables. This high serving suggestion speaks to the nature of the Mediterranean diet, which prioritizes plant based foods over animal or processed products. With such a prevalent focus on fruits and vegetables, a Mediterranean diet is one sure to be filled with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.
Flavor without an Abundance of Sodium
The Mediterranean diet favors herbs and spices over salt for flavoring. This simple substitution can cut sodium intake dramatically, without sacrificing any of the taste. Common herbs and spices used in Greek dishes include oregano, dill, basil and thyme.
Fish over Beef
The Mediterranean diet encourages fish over beef or poultry for the same benefits as olive oil and nuts—healthy fats. In addition to providing a source of unsaturated fats, fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with heart health (3). Those following a Mediterranean diet are often encouraged to eat three or more servings of fish per week.
Whole Grains and Reduced Dairy
With the Mediterranean diet, it’s important to know when to go whole, and when to cut it down. With breads and pastas, always opt for the whole grain option. Conversely, shy away from whole (full fat) dairy products, and instead choose a reduced or low fat option for yogurt, milk, and cheese.
Overall, the Mediterranean diet is one that focuses on incorporating a variety of healthy choices, rather than eliminating or restricting one food group. Whether you begin to eat like the Greek gods and goddesses or not, here are the main takeaways of the Mediterranean diet:
· Focus on healthy fats
· Reduce sodium intake
· Go for plant based foods, whenever possible