For decades nutrition experts have been touting the advantages of a Mediterranean diet for health and longevity. From healthy fats and omega-3s, to antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, the fertile Mediterranean environment is ripe with some of the healthiest foods on the planet. Today we’re looking at the staples of a healthy Mediterranean diet that you can easily incorporate into your daily meal plan to reap the benefits too.
What is a Mediterranean Diet?
Before you can adopt new eating habits, you must understand the elements that comprise a healthy Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean region refers to countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, including Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia, among others. While the cuisines in these countries may differ greatly, they all draw from the rich regional land and sea to create unique healthy culinary styles.
The key components of a Mediterranean diet include:
- Focus on seafood – whole fish and shellfish – over red meat
- Replacing butter and other fats with natural oils, especially olive oil
- Consuming many fruits and vegetables native to the region: olives, chickpeas, apples, fits, pears, plums, grapes, Brussels sprouts, fennel, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, kale and kohlrabi
- Adding whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, bulgur and whole wheat bread to every meal rather than refined grains
- Having one or two servings of low-fat dairy daily
- Drinking plenty of water and even consuming red wine occasionally
Each style of Mediterranean cuisine has its own flair based on the individual combination of these important elements of a Mediterranean diet. Spices unique to various cultures also contribute to the extraordinary flavor coming from a country’s kitchen. While pasta, tomato sauce and oregano may hail from Italy, and tortillas, salsa and chili spices come from Spain, the essential nutrients of these two cuisines is very similar, and quite healthy at that!
Why is a Mediterranean diet so healthy?
First of all, any well-balanced diet will contain a balance of fats, protein and carbohydrates, while also integrating vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. The make-up of the Mediterranean diet achieves this balance quiet beautifully. Olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils with monounsaturated fats, a healthy fat that shows wonderful heart-health benefits. Seafood also contains good fats, including brain-boosting Omega-3 fatty acids that come from salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, trout, mackerel and herring, as well as some shellfish. Nuts, beans and green leafy vegetables native to the Mediterranean also contain Omega-3s.
Eating habits and the make-up of a meal from the Mediterranean also focus on health. Meals are based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains with appropriate portions of protein incorporated into a dish. With half of the plate being produce and energy-boosting whole grains, the body fuels on a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and fiber found in these foods. Protein can then do its intended job of building and repairing muscles for strength.
Snacks in Mediterranean countries also tend to be fresh produce and light carbohydrates. Plus, Mediterranean diets often boast wonderful dips and sauces based on local produce, such as humus, spinach dips and salsa, to name a few.
Studies show that adopting a Mediterranean diet can not only give you more energy and a range of immediate health benefits, it also has long term health advantages. One report indicated that women who followed a Mediterranean diet during middle age were less likely to be plagued with chronic illness, physical impediments or mental impairments in their 70s and beyond. Researchers believe that less inflammation and oxidative stress over many years, in addition to stabilizing glucose metabolism, can stave off series illness and disease.
If you’re looking for a dietary change, consider adopting a Mediterranean diet. With simple delicious and nutritious substitutions you can greatly improve your health for years to come.