Introduction to the Mediterranean Diet
Every day: Physical activity (walking, yard work, exercise), enjoy meals, and spend time with friends and family.
Every meal: vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruit, olive oil, herbs and spices.
A couple times a week: fish and seafood- not battered or deep fried.
Weekly: Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in small portions and used to add flavor to a meal not as the main component of the meal.
Once or twice a month: Red meat and deserts/sweets.
Avoid: sugary beverages, refined grains (white flour), added sugar, processed meats, refined oils, and other processed foods.
“Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” -Micheal Pollan
Vegetables: Vegetables should be a staple of your diet and eaten every day and with most meals. There is no restriction on the amount of vegetables you eat as long as you are eating a wide variety. Try to work on adding green leafy vegetables into more of your meals.
Fruits: Fresh whole fruit can be eaten at most meals and is a great option to quell that sweet tooth craving. If fruit is dried, make sure there is no added sugar.
Grains: Whole grains are a staple of the Mediterranean diet and should be a part of most meals. The grains should be minimally processed; you should be able to tell what grain it is by looking at it. If the grain is processed, it should be a whole grain flour or bread (be sure to check the label!).
Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and other legumes should eaten daily and are an excellent source of protein and fiber that will help keep you full.
Nuts and Seeds: Nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters or pastes are great sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. They should be eaten daily and are a versatile ingredient if you want to get creative.
Olive oil (and olives): Olives can add flavor and salt to a dish or be eaten whole but remember they are high in salt and should be consumed in moderation if you need to avoid sodium. Extra virgin olive oil should be the primary oil used in cooking, baking, and dressings. Extra virgin olive oil has healthy fats, phytonutrients, and other health promoting properties. Remember, it is still oil so it still has a significant amount of calories and isn’t a whole food so it should be used in moderation.
Herbs and Spices: Adding herbs and spices to your cooking will give flavor without added salt and fat. Many spices and herbs are anti-inflammatory, high in antioxidants, and may promote a healthy metabolism.
Fish and Seafood: Seafood is a healthy source of protein and fat and should be consumed at least twice a week. Fish and seafood should not be battered or deep fried and aim for fish with low mercury and high omega-3 fatty acids.
Dairy: Cheese and yogurt are the eaten in the Mediterranean diet but in low amounts. Cheese and yogurt should be eaten in small amounts, only as flavoring for the main dish, not as a main component of the meal. The cheese should be a natural/traditional cheese not a “cheese product” or other highly processed option. Yogurt should contain active cultures with no added sugar and few, if any, additional ingredients. Milk and butter are not regularly used.
Poultry and Eggs: Poultry can be consumed in small amounts up to twice a week. Eggs can be consumed as well, up to 7 per week (1/day) including eggs used in baking and cooking.
Red Meat: Red meat should be limited to just a couple meals a month at most and should be used to add flavor to a dish or as a small part of the meal, not a large piece of meat at the center of the plate with a small side of vegetables.
Sweets: Small portions of deserts or other sweets can be consumed a few (2-3) times per week. Try to get your sweet tooth satisfied with fruit most days. Fruit based deserts can also be a healthier option.
Alcohol: Moderate consumption of alcohol (1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men) is fine and has been associated with some health benefits. However, if you don’t drink now, you don’t need to start. Red wine has been associated with the Mediterranean diet and heart health in the past and is a good option. If you prefer beer or white wine that is fine as well, just stay away from high sugar mixed drinks. Also, you can’t save up all those drinks to use them on weekend.
Water: You should avoid drinking your calories and stick to drinking water for most of your fluid intake. Flavoring your water with fresh fruit can be helpful if you are used to flavored/sweetened drinks. Unsweetened coffee/tea without cream added are good options as well. Try to avoid soft drinks, fruit juice, or other drinks with sugar and calories.