Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet
When you think of the word diet, what do you instantly assume? Typically, it would correlate with restriction and no "unhealthy foods" for a period of time. However, the Mediterranean diet is a diet that doesn't include deprivation. It is focused on an overall healthy lifestyle approach. It includes plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, hearty whole grains, lean protein, fish, nuts and healthy fats.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
A variety of fresh fruits and non-starchy vegetables are a key component of the Mediterranean diet. 5-10 servings a day is recommended. One serving is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw. Salads and cooked vegetables are recommended to include on your lunch and dinner plate to ensure a balanced meal. Fruits are best eaten raw and fresh rather than in juices because the nutrients are contained. Fresh fruit or raw veggies (carrots, celery, snap peas) are great quick snacks to have on hand.
Hearty Whole Grains
Rather than refined grains, switch to mostly whole-grain products. Some whole-grain products include cereals, rice, pasta and breads. For breakfast, have some whole-grain bread with peanut butter and banana - or oatmeal with fresh berries to start your day off. Instead of white pasta, switch to whole wheat or whole-grain pasta. Choose brown or wild rice over white rice.
Chicken breast, fish, nuts and beans are all great protein options. Lower your red meat intake by replacing it with the above choices. This will lower your saturated fat consumption intake as well. It might be difficult to make a switch at first so start by making small gradual changes. Tuna, salmon and sardines are fish options which are recommended to have 1-2 times a week. They are rich in omega-3's, improving heart health. Red meat consumption should be eaten in moderation. Try to pick leaner cuts such as strip steak, flank or loin.
Legumes & Nuts
Legumes are a source of fiber and protein. Hummus is a very traditional popular appetizer in the Mediterranean diet. It is typically made with chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and any additional add-ins. It is a great dip for fresh vegetables or pita bread. Lentil soup is also a popular appetizer. You should have a serving of legumes (1/2 cup cooked) 1-2 times a week.
Olive oil is a primary in Mediterranean dishes. It is used in salad dressings, bean dips and to grill meats. Consume 4-6 servings of fats a day. 1 serving is equivalent to 1 teaspoon oil, 1/8 avocado or 1 oz of nuts. Olive oil along balsamic vinegar is a great dip for breads in replacement of a butter spread.
Spices are a big part of the Mediterranean diet to flavor foods. Cumin, garlic, saffron, ginger, nutmeg, dill, basil and parsley are all common spices to incorporate in cooking.
All these foods along with physical activity - play a great role in fighting diseases. Since a Mediterranean diet is rich in fiber, it protects against Type 2 Diabetes by regulating digestion and keeping blood sugars stable. Refined and processed foods are not part of a Mediterranean diet but red wine is encouraged in moderation to protect against heart disease and stroke. It is a diet worth complying with because of it's benefits of a long and healthy life.