Have you heard about the benefits of a Mediterranean style diet? I’m sure you have, since scientists and doctors have been advocating it for years. Read on to find out how I implement a Mediterranean style diet as a part of my daily lifestyle.
I’ve tried all the different diets/ways of eating over the years, and I mean literally ALL of them, from vegan, pescatarian, keto, paleo, gluten free, dairy free, you name it.
And now I’m at the point in my health journey where it no longer serves me to be strict about labeling my diet a certain way. Nothing is off limits, and that’s a better feeling mindset for me to have around food.
But with that said, my health is incredibly important to me. Especially now that I’m 40.
Over the years I have gone on and off with following a Mediterranean style diet. I first learned about it years ago while I was a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
What is a Mediterranean Style Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating approach that emphasizes eating fresh, whole foods. It’s based on the traditional foods that people eat in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, like Greece, Italy and Spain.
Numerous studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet can help to improve cardiovascular health, help with weight loss and weight management, prevent type 2 diabetes and improve longevity.
The Mediterranean diet has also repeatedly been ranked as the overall best diet by U.S. News & World Report.
But to me, it’s not so much a diet as it is just the way of eating that helps me feel best. It’s part of my healthy lifestyle which also includes plenty of good sleep, daily exercise and stress management techniques.
Why I Love The Mediterranean Way Of Eating
Since I turned 40 last year, things like heart health, weight management and longevity are on my mind more than they maybe were in my 20s and 30s. And I found myself returning to this way of eating after years of trying the “diet of the moment.” And now it’s what I mostly follow on a daily basis.
With my own customizations, of course.
I no longer feel the need to remove whole food groups. Following a Mediterranean style diet means I focus mainly on veggies, good fats, beans and legumes, whole grains, fruit and seafood. I do eat the occasional red meat, just not very often. But all real foods are included. Even high quality dairy. Even some high quality wheat. I try to steer clear of processed foods as much as I can, which is also a main component of a Mediterranean diet.
This way of eating serves my body. It’s full of variety, I never feel unsatisfied and it really just comes down to eating real, whole foods. It’s pretty simple. My digestion loves it. My hair and skin love the good fats. My blood sugar is stable from all the fiber in these foods which helps with cravings, energy and healthy weight management.
But most of all, I really love all the fresh, delicious flavors of a Mediterranean style diet.
Here are the ways I incorporate a Mediterranean style diet:
1 | Focus on Eating Lots of Vegetables
This includes any and all vegetables, none are left out with the Mediterranean diet. Veggies should be the main focus on lunch and dinner. One of the reasons why I’m such a fan of soups and try to include them in our weekly menu rotation is because they are so easy to load up with a variety of veggies. Don’t overlook frozen veggies, either. I love to keep frozen veggies like broccoli, peppers, greens, mushrooms, etc on hand for quick and easy meal prep (they’re pre-cut, such a time saver!).
2 | Choose Whole Grains
Whole grains are full of fiber and will help to keep you fuller for longer. I love oats, brown rice and quinoa and also other more traditional Mediterranean whole grains like farro. When you do eat bread or pasta, be sure to choose ones made from whole grain flours. My favorite bread is Food For Life sprouted grain bread and I love the einkorn wheat and brown rice pastas from Jovial Foods, both of which I order from Thrive Market.
3 | Include Plenty of Good Fats:
Healthy fats are another main component of a Mediterranean diet. Good sources of healthy fats to include in your daily meals are high quality extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts and seeds. Don’t be afraid of the healthy fats, your body loves them.
4 | Eat a Vegetarian Dinner Once or Twice a Week
I actually try to plan for two vegetarian meals for our family each week, but if you’re just starting out, one is a good number to shoot for. It feels light on digestion to eat vegetarian once or twice a week. I build our vegetarian meals around vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes. Remember that vegetarian doesn’t mean vegan. Sometimes I’ll add eggs to our vegetarian dishes, or a little bit of high quality cheese. I love homemade soups for our vegetarian nights because it’s so easy to add in many servings of veggies.
5 | Eat Seafood Twice a week
Fish and seafood is another main component of the Mediterranean diet, and they’re beneficial because they’re full of omega 3 fatty acids. But it’s also important to be mindful of mercury levels and try to choose fish and seafood that are lower in mercury. I try to rotate through different seafood options each week, but our favorite low mercury fish options are wild caught salmon, shrimp, cod and tuna.
6 | Include some Dairy and Always the Highest Quality
It may come as a surprise to many of us in the U.S. who have been told that all dairy is bad, but moderate amounts of high quality dairy are included in a traditional Mediterranean diet. Think organic, regular fat cheeses and plain or Greek yogurts. I’ll often add just a small amount of cheese on top of my soup or a salad, and I love a little bowl of plain Greek yogurt with berries as a snack.
7 | Limit Red Meat
A traditional Mediterranean diet limits red meat to once a week, and in small amounts when you do eat it. I’m fairly sure no one is eating cowboy ribeyes in Greece. We rarely buy meat to eat at home, but if I’m at a nice restaurant and there’s a good looking burger and fries on the menu, I’ll definitely order it. But then I won’t have it again for at least another week or so.
8 | Make Fresh Fruit your Go-To Dessert
The Mediterranean diet limits sugary desserts like ice cream and cookies to celebrations and favors fresh fruit for daily dessert. I try to follow this somewhat and we do have fruit for dessert a couple of nights a week, but some nights I’ll have a few squares of a high quality 70% dark chocolate, or a homemade, naturally sweetened treat if I’ve made them. Remember that sugar is inflammatory in the body and the concept of the Mediterranean diet is to reduce inflammation and improve all areas of health.
Here’s an example of what a weekly meal plan for our family would look like:
- Sunday: vegetarian soup
- Monday: fish or seafood
- Tuesday: chicken dish
- Wednesday: vegetarian dish with beans or eggs
- Thursday: fish or seafood
- Friday: dinner out (might be red meat or fish at a nice restaurant)
- Saturday: homemade pizza (usually vegetarian)