The Mediterranean diet is based on the typical eating habits in the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. A traditional diet from the region includes a generous portion of fresh produce, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, as well as some healthful fats and fish.
The Mediterranean diet is well-balanced and nutritionally diverse. It’s full of flavor, texture, and colors. While the diet is plant-based, it is not vegetarian, as fish, shellfish, and poultry are also consumed. A strong emphasis is placed on whole, fresh foods with lower sugar content. A glass of red wine may also be enjoyed with dinner.
A 2016 study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal found that people on the Mediterranean diet added the fewest inches to their waistlines compared to those on the control group’s low-fat diet. Participants who consumed olive oil for their healthy fat lost the most weight.
Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet also reduces the risk of heart disease. The diet has been associated with a lower level of LDL cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up in your arteries.
While some dietitians caution that the Mediterranean diet is high in fat, followers of the plan typically consume less saturated fat than people who eat the average American diet. In fact, saturated fat consumption is well within our dietary guidelines.
Furthermore, a meta-analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality.
The Key Components
Eat Primarily Plant-Based Foods
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts are all a large part of every Mediterranean diet. They are filling, full of fiber and anti-oxidants, as well as macro and micro nutrients.
Enjoy Healthy Fats
Use monounsaturated fats such as olive or avocado oil instead of butter and include heart healthy foods such as olives, avocados, and nuts.
Use fresh or dried herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods. Bright citrus flavors such as lemon, lime, and orange can also give foods some added zip.
While you don’t have to completely give up red meat, enjoy it only a few times a month. Poultry is generally consumed 2 – 3 times per week.
Fish is a healthy protein that should be consumed at least twice a week. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are a great source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. They help decrease triglyceride levels and slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, further improving heart health.
You may consume pasta but the key is to watch your portion size. A single serving of pasta is generally regarded as 2 oz. (57 g) of cooked pasta. Picture a heaping plate of pasta in vodka sauce versus a perfectly portioned dish of pasta mixed with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and a dribble of olive oil. The latter makes a much more balanced meal containing various food groups. Use your Precision Digital Kitchen Scale to keep pasta portions under control and always add unlimited veggies.
Enjoy meals with family and friends. Be sure to slow down and savor each bite, which also helps you pick up your body’s cues that it is full.
Drink Alcohol in Moderation
A glass of red wine can be an occasional addition to your dinner.
Drink Water Often
Water should be your main go-to, but feel free to also enjoy unsweetened coffee and tea.
Move Your Body
Getting plenty of exercise each day is part of what keeps you healthy. While movement is important it should also be enjoyable – walking, gardening, biking to work, or any fun activity will be a benefit.
Eat certain Foods in Moderation
Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt may all be enjoyed in moderation as part of the Mediterranean diet.
Foods to Avoid
- Sugar-sweetened beverages and foods with added sugars
- Highly processed foods, like red meat and packaged foods
- Refined grains, such as white bread, white pasta, pizza dough, cookies, cakes and other foods that contain white flour
- Refined oils and trans fats
As with any eating plan there are pros and cons. What may work for some people will not work for others.
Easy to follow
The Mediterranean diet doesn’t require a lot of specialty or hard to find foods. It’s even easy to dine out while following this diet.
Not calorie restrictive
You don’t count calories on this particular diet.
You shouldn’t feel hungry
Large amounts of fiber and healthy fats help prevent you from feeling hungry.
Following this plan has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol.
The focus is on whole foods and healthy monounsaturated fats. No entire food group is off limits.
Promotion of physical exercise
Movement is a key part of the plan and is strongly encouraged. This helps you lose weight, lower blood pressure, relieve stress, as well as other numerous benefits.
Strong social component
Enjoying other people’s company while dining helps ease stress as well as making mealtime more pleasant. People who dine with others also tend to eat more slowly which helps aid digestion and can reduce gas and bloating from eating too quickly.
No one diet to follow
There isn’t a specific written down plan to follow. If you need a step by step guide this isn’t the plan for you.
High percentage of calories comes from fat
Pro Tip: Using our smart scale can help you monitor both your BMI (Body Mass Index) as well as your body composition. Our Bluetooth Precision Smart Scale measures weight and calculates BMI, Cal-Max (daily calories needed to maintain, gain or lose weight), body fat, body water, muscle mass, and bone mass using our new ITO BIA technology. It tracks data for up to 8 users using auto-recognition software on your scale and our EatSmart Performance app.
Wine can be an issue for some people
Moderate wine consumption may not be advisable for people taking certain medication, those with elevated triglycerides or who have pancreatitis.
Pro Tip: Blueberry, cranberry, and grape juices can all provide the same antioxidants and heart healthy benefits without the alcohol.
No exact calorie count
It can be hard to know if you are eating too much or not enough when there isn’t a specific calorie intake to follow.
Pro Tip: Keeping track of portions can help you from overeating without realizing it. Our Pro Digital Kitchen Scale helps measure out accurate serving sizes by displaying weights in ounces/lbs/grams/kgs in graduation increments of .05 oz / 1 gram. It also comes with a free EatSmart Calorie Factors Guide to help make portion control easy.
You need to find time to cook
Meals actually need to be cooked or prepared rather than popping something into a microwave or drinking a shake. With the focus on fresh foods, meal times can involve more food prep and planning.
Pro Tip: For simple ideas on how to make mealtime easy read Healthy Meal Prep Ideas to Save You Time and Money.
Changes can be hard on digestive tract
While a diet high in fiber is recommended it can be tough on your digestive tract to suddenly start eating a lot of fiber. The increased consumption of olive oil can also cause digestive issues.
Pro Tip: Increase your fruit, vegetable, and olive oil intake slowly to help your body acclimate accordingly.
If you are tired of counting calories, prefer a flexible way of eating, and enjoy cooking, this may be the perfect diet for you. It’s not overly restrictive and it’s full of fresh whole foods. In many ways, The Mediterranean Diet is more of a lifestyle change than a highly regulated diet.
Have you had success with the Mediterranean diet? Tweet it to us at @EatSmartScales.
You may also enjoy reading How to Eat Healthy on a Budget.