Mediterranean (Lifestyle) Diet 101
The Mediterranean [lifestyle] diet is one of the most studied diets out there.
It's based on the traditional foods that people who lived around the Mediterranean Sea ate about 50 years ago. Back then, in the mid-20th century, researchers noted that people in Spain, Greece, and Italy lived longer and healthier than Americans. And they had lower levels of heart disease, the #1 killer.
So, they set out to find what was so healthy in this part of the world. And the research keeps coming in. And it’s pretty impressive. Many Centenarians (those who live past 100) base their lifestyle on the Mediterranean diet.
Eating a Mediterranean [lifestyle] diet is linked with
Less overweight and obesity (it's better than low-fat diets)
Better blood sugar control (for diabetes and metabolic syndrome)
Lower risk of heart disease and stroke (and blood markers like cholesterol and triglycerides)
Reduced risk of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases
Fewer cancers (breast & colorectal)
Less premature death
Overall, it’s simply really good for you.
PRO TIP: Recent research even links the Mediterranean diet to better gut microbes! This makes sense when you feed your friendly gut microbes their favorite foods including fiber, fruit, and vegetables.
Here's another bonus: Many people who start eating a Mediterranean [lifestyle] diet can stick with it long-term.
How’s that for a healthy whole-foods, health-promoting, not-so-restrictive diet?
What to eat and drink on a Mediterranean [lifestyle] diet
The Mediterranean diet is chock full of healthy whole foods. Foods like:
Fruits and vegetables
Nuts and seeds
Fish and seafood
Extra virgin olive oil
Herbs and spices
These foods are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, and fiber. And they’re often eaten in social settings where the food (and the company) is enjoyed.
The go-to beverage for the Mediterranean [lifestyle] diet is water. Coffee and tea are also regularly consumed (without the addition of lots of cream and/or sugar). And yes, red wine (about 1 glass per day) is very commonly enjoyed.
Some foods and drinks that are eaten in moderation include:
Cheese and yogurt
Red meat, unfermented dairy (e.g., milk), butter, and salt are rarely consumed, if at all.
What to ditch on a Mediterranean [lifestyle] diet
There are many foods and drinks that are not part of the Mediterranean [lifestyle] diet. Not surprisingly, this includes many highly processed and unhealthy foods like:
Sauces and gravies
Sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit juices
Refined grains and oils (including hydrogenated oils)
Too much salt
And if alcohol is a problem, you can also forego the wine.
The Mediterranean diet also incorporates a different lifestyle. Some things to release are being too sedentary, eating alone, and being overly stressed. You may have heard the term Blue Zones – they too follow this lifestyle and are located around the world (Japan, Costa Rica, California to name a few).
Those in the Blue Zones have the Power of 9:
Move Naturally - no dumbbells, etc – walks in nature, gardening, etc
Purpose - why you get up in the morning – “Ikijai”
Belong – faith-based community
Love Ones First – family always comes first
Down Shift – afternoon naps, meditation/prayer – reduce stress
Right Tribe – social community – like-minded people
Wine at 5 – all but Loma Linda have 1-2 glasses of red wine (preferably Sardinian)
Plant Slant – Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils are cornerstone – red meat once a week, if that
80% Rule – stop eating at 80% full – that 20% gap could be the difference between gaining or losing weight
The Mediterranean [lifestyle] diet is a very healthy way of eating. It is a whole-foods diet based mainly focused on plant foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains). It also contains fish, olive oil, and herbs and spices. The Mediterranean diet is high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, and fiber; all of which are health-boosting from your head to your heart… and the rest of your body.
Don't forget that health involves more than just food. The Mediterranean lifestyle also incorporates regular exercise, eating with people whom you care about, and overall enjoyment of life. This is why I keep referring to it as Lifestyle. Do you think you could add or give up certain foods to get closer to the Mediterranean [lifestyle] diet? Do you have a favorite recipe that embodies this way of eating? I'd love to know! Add it to the comments below.
Recipe (Mediterranean): One Pan Roasted Dinner
4 cod fillets
2 handfuls asparagus, ends removed
1 cup black kalamata olives, drained
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
4 handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
2 tsp dried dill
2 dashes freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, sliced
Preheat oven to 450ºF and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the fillets in the middle of the pan. Add the asparagus, olives, garlic, and tomatoes around the fish.
Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with dill and pepper. Slice lemon and place one onto each fillet. Squeeze juice from the rest of the lemon onto the vegetables. Roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Check if fillets are opaque all the way through and flake easily with a fork. If not, then cook for another few minutes.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can substitute another fish for the cod (e.g., salmon).