The Mediterranean Diet is all the rage these days. And why shouldn’t it be? The diet is associated with lower risk of numerous diseases, including heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It’s is also associated with decreased rates of depression and increased life expectancy. And if that wasn’t enough, the diet itself helps manage blood sugar levels while often aiding with weight loss. Sounds amazing, right? Well, don’t get overwhelmed with the specifics of overhauling your entire diet. Instead focus on incorporating a couple of the below changes to start living more ‘Mediterranean.’
1) SWITCH TO OLIVE OIL AS YOUR MAIN FAT
Olive oil is the main fat in the Mediterranean diet and with good reason. It is loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids which can help increase our good (HDL) cholesterol levels- probably a solid reason this diet is associated with a healthy heart. So, start using olive oils as a drizzle on your veggies or as your salad dressing. But be sure not to cook with it about 320 degrees and to keep it in a dark glass bottle away from a light source. Otherwise, you risk the oil oxidizing and losing all of its wonderful health benefits.
2) MAKE YOUR CARBS WHOLE GRAINS
Get rid of your processed flour and refined grains and focus on heart-healthy whole grains instead. Things like quinoa, oats, barley, and even air-popped popcorn can be a wonderful and fiber-rich addition to your Mediterranean diet. But always be mindful of portion sizes. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes carbohydrates as side dishes instead of entrée (think side dish of whole wheat pasta instead of giant entrée!)
3) GET MORE FISHY
The Mediterranean diet generally incorporates 2 servings of fish per week as way to increase your omega 3 fatty acids. The diet emphasizes fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. So, consider have a fish dinner night twice a week to become more “Mediterranean.”
4) ADD IN MEATLESS MONDAY
The Mediterranean Diet significantly limits red meat and focuses more on alternative protein sources, such as legumes. So, once a week consider having a meatless Monday with your dinner built around legumes, whole grains, and veggies. If you do eat red meat, to prevent risk of inflammation and heart disease, choose organic, grass-fed meat.
5) GET FRUITY WITH YOUR DESSERTS
Sugar, especially processed sugar, is very limited in the Mediterranean diet, and instead emphasizes fruit for a sweet treat. So consider ditching your processed sugar treats and using fresh fruit as a healthy and delicious dessert option. As a good source of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, it can also be incorporated as a healthy snack option. Keep fruit out on the counter top or at eye level in your fridge to remember to eat it!
6) AVOID THINGS WITH ‘INGREDIENTS’
Fresh, whole foods are the basics in the Mediterranean diet so prepackaged foods are eaten sparingly if at all. Shop for food in its whole form (fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, etc.) or food with limited ingredients (e.g., breads with few ingredients). Choose whole foods as snack options like a handful of nuts, a piece of fresh fruit, or carrot and celery sticks.
7) GET MOVING
The Mediterranean diet is not just about food- it’s a lifestyle. As such, it focuses just as much on activity and behavior as it does on food. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes daily activity, which can include exercising at the gym, or simply taking daily walks, riding a bike, playing with your kids or your dog, dancing around the house, or even sight-seeing. The idea is just to break out of the sedentary lifestyle.
8) SHARE YOUR MEALS
Instead of chowing down mindlessly in front of the TV, the Mediterranean diet focuses on savoring your food and share it with others. This is about using eating time as a chance to connect with others to relieve stress and improve your mood. Sharing meals with others can also prevent overeating and improve digestion. Plan a regular family dinner time and share about your day over the meal. Or, if you live alone, invite your neighbors over for dinner or have Facetime dinner dates with friends.
The Mediterranean Diet is a heart-healthy style of living and eating that can increase your life longevity and decrease your risk of numerous diseases. Incorporate some (or all!) of the changes above to start reaping the benefits!