A diet is a way of eating. Unlike what a lot of people believe, a diet is not solely to lose weight but it is just our eating habits whether healthy or not.
The Mediterranean diet is highly popular among health junkies and people trying to lose weight. But what is this diet and how does it work?
Basically, the Mediterranean diet is a diet composed mainly of the conventional foods and beverages of the nations that surround the Mediterranean sea.
It includes healthy eating and cooking habits such as the following:
- Make use of good fats. This includes extra virgin olive oil, avocados, olives, and sunflower seeds.
- Limit sweets. The consumption of sweets should be on special occasions only.
- Watch meat size portions. There are many ways to add a lot of flavor to a dish without the need for an oversized portion of meat. For example, garnish a pasta dish with chopped prosciutto or include tiny strips of sirloin to sautéed vegetables. For main courses, an adequate portion is a maximum of three ounces of chicken or lean meat.
- Prepare and eat meals with no meat content. This should be done at least once a week.
- Consume nutrient-rich eggs and dairy products throughout the week.
- Limit consumption of seafood. This should be only two times a week. Fish and shellfish such as shrimp, sardines, salmon, herring, and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven to be very beneficial to the health of the brain and heart.
- Eat breakfast daily. It is true that breakfast is the most important meal of the day because what you eat at breakfast will provide most of the energy you need for the whole day. This is why you should include foods that are rich in fiber in your breakfast, such as whole grains and fruits, together with high-quality and good protein such as that from dairy products and eggs. A good breakfast will also help in making you feel full longer.
- Eat lots of vegetables. Vegetables are the foundation of all meals under the Mediterranean diet.
A very substantial amount of scientific research carried out throughout the last six decades show that the Mediterranean diet is one of the world’s healthiest ways of eating.
Whenever researchers study any single food under the Mediterranean diet, for example, extra virgin olive oil, or a specific fish or nut, they discover that the supreme health benefits are linked to the overall observance of the Mediterranean diet, and cannot be connected to just one specific ingredient.
In other words, there is not a single secret ingredient to good health.
Eating an array of whole foods and foods that underwent minimal processing coupled with regular physical activity is the essential concepts of the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet pyramid
Mediterranean diet meals are based on various foods from the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, which illustrates the traditional foods and beverages that, together, make up the balanced and healthy Mediterranean diet.
Below is an illustration of the Mediterranean Diet pyramid courtesy of Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, a non-profit educational organization.
As you will see, the foods included in this pyramid can also be found in many other dietary pyramids.
The main difference is in how frequent some of the foods are consumed.
Almost any food can be included in a healthy and balanced diet, but the portion size of each food you eat and how often you eat various foods dramatically affect your overall health.
The top of the Mediterranean diet pyramid includes sweets and red meats. These make up the foods that you should only eat “sometimes”.
As much as possible, red meats should be eaten less often and it is better to go for small portions of lean cuts, like flank, T-bone, strip, tenderloin, shoulder, and round.
As mentioned earlier, as the main course, the ideal portion size should be three ounces or less. As for sweets, eat them only as a treat or during special occasions.
The next layer of the pyramid includes eggs, poultry, cheese, and yogurt (dairy products).
These make up a focal part of the Mediterranean diet and you should eat them in moderate portion sizes plenty of times per week.
For example, you should consume cheese regularly but in small amounts only.
Then, the next layer of the pyramid includes fish and other kinds of seafood. These have their own section because they are chief protein sources.
Shellfish like clams, shrimp, oysters, and mussels are high in omega-3 fatty acids which are extremely beneficial to the heart and brain.
Fish such as sardines, salmon, herring, and tuna have the same benefits. Fish and other kinds of seafood should be consumed at least two times per week.
The next and the biggest layer of the pyramid, include healthy fats (such as extra virgin olive oil), herbs, beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
These make up the heart of the Mediterranean diet. Every meal should be based on legumes, spices, herbs, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Meanwhile, the primary source of dietary fat is extra virgin olive oil and should be used for almost all baking and cooking, and for dressing vegetables and salads.
The bottom layer of the pyramid includes everyday physical activity. Exercise is extremely vital for your overall good health.
This includes laborious workout such as aerobics, running, and jogging, less strenuous activities such as:
…and simple physical activity such as:
- doing household chores
- walking back and forth while talking on the phone
- taking the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator
Lastly, the Mediterranean diet includes water and wine as its basic beverages.
Eight to ten glasses of water should be consumed every day as it is vital for the body to be properly hydrated, boosts your energy, and contributes to your overall health and well-being.
On the other hand, it is okay to consume wine regularly, but it should be in moderation. For men, wine can be taken up to two glasses per day, while it can be taken up to one glass per day for women.
Unlike other diets that are very restrictive and drastic that you almost literally starve yourself, the Mediterranean diet still allows you to eat a lot and feel full by preparing and consuming healthy and delectable meals with your family and friends as part of your regular way of living.
The secret is to prepare meals with whole foods and those that underwent minimal processing, coupled with regular exercise.
In addition, following the Mediterranean diet is very simple and easy, and very affordable!
The ingredients needed are extremely rich in flavor, offer a lot of health benefits, and are very easy to find as you would surely find everything at your local grocery store.
If you have enjoyed reading this article and want to learn more about diets or the Mediterranean diet, click on the links below.