Improving your Health with The Mediterranean Diet

Written by Evita Basilio BSc Nutrition

Reviewed by Andrea Miller MHSc, RD

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is not actually a “diet”, it is a lifestyle. It is the eating pattern followed in many Mediterranean countries. Research shows that these populations of people are healthier and have less risk for heart disease than we do in North America. This eating pattern focuses on plant-based foods including vegetables, whole grains, nuts & seeds; it limits or minimizes meat, sweet foods, and dairy products.

The pyramid is a helpful graphic to illustrate the proportions of food we should eat with each meal. The foods we should eat in the smallest amounts are shown on the top of the pyramid, and the foods we should enjoy most often are on the bottom.

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What are the benefits of The Mediterranean Diet?

Research suggests that the benefits of following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern include weight loss, better management of blood glucose (sugar) levels, reduced risk of depression, and reduced levels of inflammation. The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of heart disease cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Steps to Following a Mediterranean Diet:

Eat as many vegetables as you can and choose fresh, unprocessed foods. Include baked, stir-fried, raw, steamed and roasted vegetables, on a daily basis.

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Eat less meat. In the pyramid, meat appears at the very tip of the pyramid in the smallest amount. Meat is often the main part of a meal in North America, but in the Mediterranean it’s all about the vegetables. Meat is consumed on a monthly basis- not daily or even weekly.

Eat fish/seafood twice per week or more. Choose omega-3 rich choices most often including tuna, herring, salmon, sardines, shellfish.

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Have a vegetarian meal at least once per week. Ideas to include are: beans, lentils, whole grains, vegetables. Remember, meat is limited in this diet so start with one night per week and gradually increase the amount of vegetarian meals you are having.

Have fruit for dessert and snacks, instead of baked goods.

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Include dairy products in moderation. Healthy choices include plain lower-fat regular or Greek yogurt; include cheese in small amounts.

Eat more monounsaturated fats such as olive oil in your cooking and use other healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds on a daily basis.

Season your foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.

Enjoy your food and conversation. Do not rush, when eating or eat in front of the TV. Instead, sit down at the table, eat at a leisurely pace and take the time to chat with friends and family members while you enjoy your meal.

The Mediterranean Diet is a way of living, so remember to include daily physical activity, to enjoy healthful foods with friends and family, and to drink plenty of water!

If you have questions about this way of eating, talk to a registered dietitian.

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