After a wild year, most of us are looking to get back on track with our diets … and possibly even checking out new diet options to reach our resolutions.
One popular option that many are curious about is the Mediterranean Diet. We can gather from the name that it has something to do with the Mediterranean region, yet what exactly does it consist of? And what are its benefits?
I choose a lot of foods for myself that are found in the Mediterranean Diet, and have found nothing but good things. However, I’m breaking the diet down a bit more below so you know what it is, and also if there’s anything you need to avoid within it if you want to lose weight (there are a few, so be sure to go through carefully!).
What It Is + the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is a diet that models its food choices off of indigenous diets eaten by people who live in the Mediterranean region. This includes Greece, Turkey, Italy, and other nations bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Typically, individuals in these regions are found to have lower rates of heart disease and other “diseases of aging,” including cancer and diabetes, than other countries. Researchers discovered the local cuisine may be playing a huge role in this, and after intensive study, developed a set of diet recommendations that included foods popular in the regions.
These foods include: cold-pressed, virgin olive oil and olives, wild fatty fish like salmon and sardines, antioxidant-rich fruits like figs, pomegranates, grapes, and berries, beans, lots of fresh veggies and greens like artichokes, spinach, and dandelion greens, potatoes, whole grains, dairy, and moderate amounts of wine.
Meat is consumed much less in the Mediterranean areas where people are living longer and with less disease, so it is limited in the diet, opting instead for more wild fish.
Sounds extremely healthy, right? And it seems research agrees. Below are some of the benefits of this style of eating:
1. Great for Heart Health
Because it is high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids from wild fish, the Mediterranean Diet has been linked to decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, and early death, which all associated with better heart health.
2. Boosts Brain Health
Studies have found that participants who followed a Mediterranean diet were less likely to get Alzheimer’s or experience cognitive decline in old age, likely due to the abundance of healthy fats in the diet from olive oil and wild fish. In fact, higher fish consumption was also shown to be directly correlated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
3. Can Stabilize Blood Sugar + Assist in Weight Loss
The Mediterranean Diet focuses on getting carbs from whole, natural sources rather than processed varieties, which intensely spike your blood sugar (a big “no” when it comes to fending off diabetes and losing fat).
This includes things like buckwheat, beans, and potatoes/sweet potatoes rather than breads, pastas, cakes, and flours. If they desire a sweet treat, it’s usually a spoonful of raw, local honey.
Choosing whole-food carb sources can also help with weight loss. When we consume processed carbs and sugars, the spike in blood sugar is too much for our bodies to use all at once through activity, so it rapidly stores the excess as fat in order to get it out of your blood stream. When we eat whole-food carbs, the fiber and other nutrients give us a slow, steady supply of glucose, so our bodies are less likely to store it as fat.
4. Great for Gut Health
Studies have shown that people who follow the Mediterranean diet have a higher population of good bacteria in their microbiome compared to those who ate a Western diet. This has a whole host of benefits, from more efficient weight loss to widespread reduced inflammation.
Should You Try the Mediterranean Diet?
Short answer: absolutely!
Like I said, I include many of the foods listed in the Mediterranean Diet in my own diet, as these are some of the healthiest choices you can make within ANY diet.
I have ONE mention to consider before you go all-in, however, and that is regarding the dairy and “whole grain” recommendations of the diet.
When you research the standard Mediterranean model, you’ll see dairy is recommended, as well as whole grains. HOWEVER, there is often no mention of the quality of these two extremely important aspects.
Commercial dairy (this includes cheese and yogurt, as well as milk) in the U.S. contains added hormones and antibiotics, many of which are banned in the EU (where the Mediterranean is). These can have a number of nasty side effects, including up to even increased risk of cancers.
Now, this is by no means hinting at you giving up dairy, or promoting a vegan lifestyle: it is simply pointing out that dairy contains pretty dangerous stuff if you aren’t buying organic. Not to mention, many Mediterranean populations that have been studied in accordance with this diet are consuming raw, unpasteurized dairy. Raw dairy contains the natural enzymes needed for us to properly digest dairy in the first place (pasteurization kills all of the beneficial stuff), so this is also a consideration to keep in mind.
You can find raw dairy and cheese in many health food markets, and if you truly want to model the Mediterranean Diet without dealing with dairy issues, that would be the direction to go.
The same also goes for whole grains: many genetically modified ingredients are banned in nations of the EU, yet are put on the shelves in the U.S. A HUGE source of these genetically modified organisms is wheat and “whole grains.” So, when you’re shopping for anything to do with wheat or whole grains, triple-check that they are organic and “non-gmo.”
With that being said, the Mediterranean Diet is an awesome template that includes many of the healthiest foods in the world! Check out the list below on the foods it includes to eat, as well as what to look for when purchasing them (try to buy organic as much as possible):
Foods to Eat:
• WILD fatty fish (always purchase wild due to chemicals in farmed) like salmon, sardines, and mackerel
• Beans and legumes like chickpeas, great northern beans, and adzuki beans
• Roots and tubers like potatoes and sweet potatoes, and winter squash like butternut
• Veggies like artichokes, broccoli, celery, carrots, and bok choy
• Small amounts of whole grains (organic and non-gmo certified) like buckwheat, quinoa, and organic bread (once in a while)
• Cold-pressed, VIRGIN olive oil (a must to avoid inflammatory oils) and organic olives
• Nuts and seeds like walnuts and pumpkin seeds
• Lots of greens like spinach, kale, dandelion, and chard
• Fruits like berries, figs, pomegranates, oranges, and grapefruits
• Very small amounts of organic dairy (raw if you can find it)
• Raw honey
• Red wine (1-2 glasses per day)
• Extras: Almond or other nut milks
• Very small amounts of organic meats once in a while
As you can see, the Mediterranean Diet is basically just a clean diet with Mediterranean foods … so indulge!