The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating pattern that’s common in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. It includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, healthy fats and whole grains, while limiting red meat and sodium.
It’s not a fad, there are no calorie restrictions, moderate wine intake is smiled upon and the focus isn’t just weight loss. So the Mediterranean diet is really more a lifestyle than a “diet.” That’s because it’s a real-life eating plan that emphasizes healthy choices without being overly restrictive. And that’s why dietitians like it.
“It keeps all the food groups on the plate, while highlighting which ones should be enhanced in your diet,” says Amy Goodson, RDN and nutrition consultant. “It is rife with fruits, vegetables and healthy fat like nuts, seeds, fatty fish and healthy oils. It also focuses on high-fiber whole grains that are helpful in lowering one’s risk for heart disease.”
For most people, it’s a lifestyle that can be followed without requiring any major dietary changes.
“I typically don’t emphasize the word ‘diet,’ as I think that puts an unspoken time frame on things, and it restricts or categorizes foods as good versus bad,” says Louise Chen, a Dallas-based dietitian. Instead, she prefers to focus on characteristics beyond just counting carbs and calories.
“Treat yourself to quality nutrients that come naturally from whole foods, and don’t beat yourself up if you slip,” she says. “A healthy eating pattern that includes all types of foods is more sustainable than any ‘diet.’”
READ MORE > A PRIMER ON THE EVER-POPULAR MEDITERRANEAN DIET
There are plenty of ways to employ this healthy-eating pattern in your own life. Here are 10.
10 EASY WAYS TO MAKE YOUR OWN DIET MORE MEDITERRANEAN
1. Focus on general health and wellness rather than calories, carbs and fat.
2. Make half your plate vegetables, 1/4 of your plate whole grains and 1/4 of it lean protein, suggests Goodson.
3. Cook with olive oil.
4. Think of animal protein as a garnish rather than the star of the show, says Chen.
5. Seek protein in more sources than just meat and fish. Nuts, seeds, grains and even some vegetables are good sources of protein.
6. We all need carbs, fat and protein. Carbs get a bad reputation, but it’s about the quality of carbs, says Chen. A medium apple and 1/2 cup of ice cream contain the same amount of carbs, but clearly the apple has more nutritional mileage.
7. If you choose to drink, wine, in moderation, is a good bet. Try limiting your daily intake to 5 ounces for women and 10 ounces for men.
8. Be intentional with including vegetables and fruits by building your meal around them, says Chen. And don’t skimp — feel free to be generous with those portions.
9. Swap salmon for your basic boring chicken breast at dinner for a dose of heart-healthy omega-3s.
10. On the go? Goodson recommends packing a bag of nuts, so you’ve got a healthy, filling snack at the ready.