In today’s culture of social media and influencer marketing, we are exposed to new diets every day by individuals who don’t know the science (if there is any) of what they are promoting. On Monday we’re being told to put butter in our coffee, Wednesday we need to purchase detox tea, and by Friday, you better be drinking celery juice. The ever-changing trends of what foods are “good” and “bad” can be confusing, discouraging, and harmful to our physical and mental health.
However, the Mediterranean Diet has been gaining popularity due to its comprehensive lifestyle revamp, and is recommended by physicians, dietitians, and other health practitioners. The combination of a healthy diet, exercise, and celebration of good food and company is the reason why Spain, France, Greece, and Italy—Sardinia in particular—are consistently amongst the countries with the longest lifespan.
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about this life-lengthening, sustainable, and delicious eating pattern that will make you want to ditch the fads and adopt this practice for good. Also, be sure to check out all the recipes eMeals offers on the Mediterranean meal plan!
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is so much more than simply increasing fruit and vegetable intake. It’s a lifestyle change that stems from the cooking and socializing styles of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
Food staples are generally plant-based, including fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Not only are these components lower calorie than the staples of the Western diet, but they are loaded with fiber and antioxidants. Fiber keeps us feeling fuller, longer, and aids in digestion by feeding the good bacteria in our gut. It has been suggested that an increase in these good bacteria in the digestive tract can have an effect on the brain by reducing anxiety and improving mood.* Antioxidants prevent cell damage by neutralizing harmful substances in the body which prevents tissue inflammation and curbs the manifestation of diseases such as diabetes and dementia.
Not all fats are created (or digested) equally. Western diets are full of the unhealthy saturated fats, and synthetic trans fats which are found in red meat, snack foods, butter, and processed foods. These molecules can increase risk of heart attack, obesity, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
On the flip side, the Mediterranean Diet endorses the consumption of healthy fats, specifically unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature and are shown to be helpful in reducing LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Some examples include olive oil, avocados, and almonds. Healthy fats in the form of omega-3s are also found in fish, such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Omega-3s are a key component of a heart healthy diet and consumption has been shown to improve brain function and development.
Broiled Salmon with Mint Yogurt Sauce is a fast weeknight option on the eMeals Mediterranean diet meal plan.
The foods themselves are delicious and the flavors of the Mediterranean are far from boring. Herbs and spices such as saffron, mint, parsley, and basil will engage your palette in a fresh new way that will make you excited to try new dishes.
You are even able to enjoy alcohol. While the diet does not encourage heavy alcohol consumption, it does allow red wine in moderation, which means 1 glass per day for women, and 2 glasses per day for men. When consumed in a healthy way, red wine packs an antioxidant punch in the form of polyphenols. These compounds may help prevent damage to blood vessels and protect against blood clots. However, don’t feel like you have to drink on this diet if alcohol isn’t for you. In short, drink red wine in moderation, or don’t drink at all.
The Mediterranean diet works for so many because it’s not a traditional “diet.” It does not tell you to cut out entire food groups and supplement with mega-doses of vitamins or to consume copious amounts of a single superfood. Instead, it allows you to eat a variety of delicious foods full of texture and flavor. This is key, as nutrients from foods are more readily absorbed by our bodies than traditional vitamin and mineral supplements. Keeping portion sizes in mind is important as well, but this regimen does not encourage calorie counting or macronutrient tracking. The Mediterranean diet does not restrict or deprive, which means you’re more likely to stick with it and experience results.
Further, weight loss is not the primary intent of the diet, but it usually does happen as a result of decreasing processed carbohydrates and saturated fats. It sounds cliché, but many agree that feeling good as a result of the diet is more valuable than losing weight.
Food staples on a Mediterranean diet are generally plant-based, including fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains as well as healthy fats, including olive oil, avocados, almonds, and salmon.
The final component of the Mediterranean diet is lifestyle. The diet encourages followers to make eating a social affair by enjoying meals with family and friends. Take in the atmosphere, savor each bite, and slowly sip on a glass of red wine or fresh, lemony water.
The Mediterranean lifestyle also includes exercise. This doesn’t mean you have to vigorously workout every morning (unless you want to)! Instead, focus on moving your body more in simple ways. For example, go on a leisurely walk after dinner or go for a quick morning swim. Try taking the stairs more often at work or making more trips to unload the groceries – everything counts! The most important factor is to find something that brings you joy and feels more like relaxation than exercise. Much like the food component, sustainable exercise habits are sure to bring results. According to the World Health Organization, a combination of the Mediterranean diet and a consistent exercise regimen can combat the advancement of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The Big Picture
There is no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to nutrition. True wellness comes as a result of an all-encompassing lifestyle change involving more than just diet. Based on current research and the recommendations of health professionals, the Mediterranean Diet is the most promising approach to achieve optimal health and longevity while maintaining a social life and a healthy relationship with food.
*Citation: The microbiome as a novel paradigm in studying stress and mental health, Richard T. Liu, Dept. of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Alpert Medical School of Brown University Bradley Hospital