Healthy eating is all about a few very simple things: eating natural, whole foods, mostly plant-based, and watching your portions. for many years now I have been following the Mediterranean Diet, which is in fact not a “diet” but rather a lifestyle and way of eating. It is not something you do for a month to lose a few quick pounds, but it is something you stick with to maintain health and longevity. The Mediterranean way of eating is fresh, clean and certainly something you can learn to stick with since the food is great and the recipes are endless.
The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating based on the traditional foods and drinks of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Italy, France, Spain, Greece… they all put a different spin on the Mediterranean Diet, while sticking with the same principles. The eating habits of these populations have been extensively studied, and it is proven that the mediterranean diet is by far one of the healthiest in the world and can prevent disease like cancer and cardiovascular disease, promote longevity and an overall healthy lifestyle.
So, how does one go about eating like a Mediterranean? There are a few core principals that are applied to all meals, all the time.
- Grains, vegetables, and fruits should be eaten at most meals and be the majority of the diet. They are important sources of vitamins, minerals, energy, antioxidants, and fiber. A diet high in these foods promotes good health and weight control when eaten in moderate portions. Grains should be whole, minimally processed forms, such as wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, and corn. Vegetables are an important staple of people bordering the Mediterranean Sea, providing valuable nutrients antioxidants. Raw or steamed, vegetables come in a large variety of colors and flavors, so experiment! Whole fresh fruit is ever-present in the Mediterranean, and along with vegetables provide a ton of nutrients and antioxidants. Use fresh fruit instead of candy next time you are craving something sweet!
- Olives and olive oil are central to the Mediterranean diet. Olives are eaten whole, and widely used for cooking and flavoring. Olive oil, especially extra virgin, is the principal source of dietary fat used for cooking, baking, and for dressing salads and vegetables. Use olive oil in place of butter.
- Nuts, beans, legumes and seeds are great sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. They also come in a huge variety and can be used to make some wonderful dishes.
- Herbs and spices add flavors to foods, and are much healthier than using salt, which is grossly overused in many places around the world. Herbs and spices are also rich in a broad range of health-promoting antioxidants.
- Cheese and yogurt are eaten in low to moderate amounts. I personally do not eat a lot of dairy, but when I do it is in the form of Greek yogurt, which is always a healthy meal or snack option. Whenever you do incorporate dairy into your diet, make sure you choose low-fat options to reduce your intake of saturated fat.
- Fish and shellfish are the big source of protein for people in the Mediterranean. Fish such as tuna, herring, sardines, salmon and bream are rich in essential heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish and crustaceans including mussels, clams and shrimp have similar benefits. Fish is steamed, grilled, or lightly cooked in olive oil.
- Meats such as beef and port are eaten, but in small portions. Poultry is also a good source of lean protein without the high levels of saturated fat found in some cuts of red meat. Try to limit your intake of red meat to no more than once a week!
- Sweets are consumed minimally. Fruits should replace anything that is made with sugar for a much more nutritious meal or snack option (and just as tasty!) If you have to indulge in some candy, do it only on rare occasions and watch your portions.
- Wine is consumed regularly, in moderation. “Moderately” means up to one five ounce glass of wine per day for women and up to two five- ounce glasses for men. If you have any issues with alcohol or do not drink, then it is better to avoid it all together!
- Water is essential for life, and good hydration makes a positive contribution to health, well-being and energy levels. Keep a reusable bottle with you at all times and drink water throughout the day!
- Portion size. Become aware of the calories you are taking in… just because it is healthy doesn’t mean you can eat until you put yourself into a food-induced coma. Know what a proper portion size is, and learn to stick within your caloric needs… especially if you are trying to lose weight.
- Exercise is key to any healthy lifestyle. Incorporate movement into your daily life not just by working out but walking instead of taking the car whenever you can and maximizing the time you spend moving around. The more activity you do now will contribute to an active lifestyle well into older age.
- Spend time outside in the sunshine. Fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for your body, mind and soul. Read a book outside, go for a walk or a run on the beach… make sure to get a dose of fresh air every day.
- Enjoy your meals with others – People of the Mediterranean enjoy their meals in the company of others, and even if they do not have the opportunity to do so, they savor their meals so that each bite counts. By eating slower and taking the time to really enjoy your food, you are also allowing time for your brain to catch up with your stomach and let you know when you are truly full.
I really have no doubt that the Mediterranean way of eating is the best way to go… there are no chemically modified shakes for weight loss, and no cutting out an entire food group, which to me is absolutely insane. Eat well, eat natural, eat mostly plants, not too much, get moving and enjoy the sunshine. Sounds like a recipe for success to me!
For more information about the Mediterranean diet and some great recipes, click here!