Posted on April 17, 2014
The Mediterranean diet is a heart healthy, plant based eating plan inspired by the local cuisine of Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Southern Italy. In the Mediterranean, the rate of chronic disease is low and life expectancy is high. The focus is on eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil, fish and seafood and flavoring them with fresh herbs instead of salt. There is also an emphasis on choosing healthy fats. For example, bread (known as the devil in other diet plans) is part of the diet in these countries, but it’s dipped in olive oil and not smothered in butter. Physical activity and sharing meals with family and friends is not only encouraged but a vital component of the plan. The goal of the Mediterranean Diet, going strong since the 1990s, is not weight loss but rather a lifestyle change. Enjoying and appreciating healthy and delicious food is stressed. And a glass of red wine is encouraged daily. So, feel free to tie on a neck scarf, don some shades and kick back with a glass of vino to kick off your new healthy Mediterranean lifestyle.
Many health organizations have done test studies of the Mediterranean Diet. The results have shown everything from reduced heart disease, improved brain health, and lower incidences of Parkinsons, Alzheimers, cancer, and diabetes. With less salt consumption, blood pressure is reduced. And “bad” LDL cholesterol is lowered by trading saturated fats for good ones. This diet is also approved for everyone from children to seniors so you don’t need to feel like the black sheep making separate little diet meals for yourself. Shedding pounds is not the main goal of the Mediterranean diet but less processed foods, fats, sweets, and meat and more emphasis on exercise often has that result.
On the downside, this diet will not appeal to tried and true carnivores. Red meat is only recommended a few times a month. And foods like nuts, fish, seafood, and high grade olive oils can be expensive. Expect to spend considerable time chopping and cooking your fresh ingredients.
So, what exactly are you chopping and cooking? Primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Nuts contain good fats but are high in calories so only a handful a day are recommended. Butter and artificial spreads are replaced with healthy fats such as olive oil. Herbs and spices are used to flavor food rather than salt. The diet also recommends one to three servings of dairy daily and fish and poultry at least twice a week. The Mediterranean diet doesn’t restrict entire food groups – the learning curve is figuring out the appropriate portions. And don’t forget to enjoy a glass of red wine. After all, it’s good for your heart!