During the 1950's, a scientist named Ancel Keys noticed something strange. Poor populations in Italy on the Mediterranean coast were vastly healthier than even the wealthiest members of American high society. If you know anything about the Mediterranean diet, you know the spoiler: it turned out that the secret sauce (no pun intended) was in the food they were eating.
Fast forward to today, and the Mediterranean diet is a household name. Countless studies have sung its praises: it can lower your cholesterol, make you more heart-healthy, reduce symptoms of depression, increase your longevity and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Plus, it leaves room for all sorts of great recipes and flavors. To sum it up: trying it is kind of a no-brainer.
But, as always, there’s conflicting information out there on what the diet actually consists of. Is it pizza and pasta? Is it a lot of avocados? How much red wine can I actually have? All valid questions. Here’s what you need to know.
The Mediterranean Diet: The Basics
What’s actually allowed in the diet? Your answer: a surprising amount of good, rich food. Still, there are plenty of high-fat, high-calorie options, so make sure you’re looking at your food labels if you’re trying to lose weight with this diet.
Why Do the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet has been described as a peasant diet—meaning poorer populations ate it because it was cheap and the ingredients were whatever they could grow in their gardens. That's good news if you've got a green thumb. But beyond that, you can justify eating the Mediterranean diet for multiple reasons:
- It Can Help You Lose Weight
- Eating the less fatty portions of this diet—i.e., sticking to seafood and taking it easy on the olive oil and avocados—will help you lose weight. That’s not it’s main purpose, though, which is why it’s easier to follow.
- It’s Anti-Deprivation
- This is why people love this diet so much. We know yo-yo dieting and detoxes don’t do the job for our bodies, but the Mediterranean diet is sustainable over long periods of time—and it’s so flavorful that it never feels like you’re missing out. (We can get behind a diet that lets you have dark chocolate and red wine!)
- It’s Cheap
- It doesn’t require a subscription or premade meals. It doesn’t require consultations with experts or a step-by-step meal plan. All it requires is a creative mind for recipes and a little dedication. And any budget can accommodate that.
- It’s No-BS, All-Around Good for You
- It was ranked by US News to be the best diet overall for 2019. That’s not for nothing. We already mentioned a few studies that will tell you why it’s good for your brain and body, but the biggest key here is that you can eat the Mediterranean diet—or some variation of it—for your entire life and still be getting the nutrients your body needs.
What to Eat
- Always: Fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes (especially sweet ones!), breads, seafood and fish, olive oil, and herbs and spices.
- Sometimes: Eggs, poultry, yogurt, and cheese, as well as the daily recommended single glass of red wine.
- Sparingly: Red meat.
- Avoid Like the Plague: Refined and highly processed foods, products (both solid and liquid) with added sugar, and refined grains and oils.
Bonus Tip: Go for fruits and veggies that are dark in color, like olives, spinach, eggplant, tomatoes, berries, dates, figs, etc. Citrus fruits and summery vegetables will never hurt, but the darker the vegetable, the higher its nutrient content. That will give you more bang for your buck! That said, flavorful vegetables, like onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, and more are highly encouraged. Check out a full food shopping list here.
One Full Day of the Mediterranean Diet
To see if the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle fit for you, try a full day of it. For more recipes, don’t be afraid to check out:
- FoodieCrush’s list of 50 Mediterranean diet recipes
- Delish’s easy Mediterranean diet recipes
- Healthy Mediterranean recipes from The Food Network
- And of course, anything off The Mediterranean Dish blog
- Try this Mediterranean Strata for a pint-sized breakfast with a nutritional punch.
- Breakfast cups for busy morning people
- Smoked salmon and poached eggs on toast for when brunch is the only thing that will get you through!
- Find an awesome Greek meatball mezze bowl recipe here! Bonus: one serving has 30 grams of protein!
- Got a panini press? Make this chicken panini the next in line for crisping.
- A chickpea stew? Oh, yeah.
- Have the freshest summer dinner ever with this bruschetta salmon recipe.
- This Greek chicken stuffed zucchini is flavorful and filling.
- Eggplant parm, the right way.
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