The Mediterranean way of eating has been extensively studied and remains one of the top diets for positive heart health.
I generally don’t like to use the word “diet”, because it’s often associated with short-term, extreme and restrictive eating patterns. Diet, in the traditional sense of the word—and how I mean it—just means a way of eating.
Overall, the Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating, with an extra splash or two of olive oil. This diet pattern is based on the traditional eating habits of people living near the Mediterranean Sea.
Mediterranean Diet Pattern Basics
Though the specific patterns can vary from by country, a few basics are shared across many countries throughout this region, such as:
- Plant-focused – lots of plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains
- Season foods with herbs and spices, rather than salt or butter
- Swap out animal-based fats for plant-based fats which are higher in monounsaturated fats (i.e. olive oil instead of butter, avocado instead of cheese)
- Check out our lowdown on fats for deeper dive into some of the different kinds of fats
- Replace red meats with plant-based proteins like beans and nuts
- Consume cold water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and anchovies
- Drink red wine in moderation (optional)
Other key elements of this diet include the lifestyle components, such as getting plenty of exercise, enjoying meals with family/friends and drinking alcohol in moderation.
Why is Mediterranean cuisine so beneficial?
The Mediterranean diet pattern has been associated with many health benefits including:
- Reducing heart disease risk
- Lowering bad cholesterol—oxidized LDL or low density lipoprotein
- Improving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
- Reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
- Decreasing the risk of cancer as well as other age-related health conditions
The Mediterranean diet pattern is by no means a miracle diet. But the eating patterns associated with this diet can be an enjoyable and nutritious way to reduce your risk of heart disease. Now that’s some great multi-tasking!
Tips to get started with the Mediterranean diet pattern
Try some of these easy tips to start incorporating the Mediterranean Diet principles into your diet:
- Sauté in olive oil instead of butter and use low heat
- Choose whole grains (brown rice, oats, barley, millet, etc.) over refined grains (white rice, refined flour, regular pasta, etc.)
- Center meals around vegetables, adding meat as a flavor enhancer or garnish
- Choose fruits and vegetables for snacks instead of highly-processed snack foods
- Flavor foods with herbs, spices, lemon, garlic and onion, rather than salt
Start small, it’s not about being perfect
Begin by incorporating more Mediterranean-style dishes into your diet. These simple changes can help you cook up fresh meal ideas that are great for your health.
In The Crooked Carrot household, we don’t eat a strict Mediterranean diet, but we do incorporate many of the principles from this way of eating. We enjoy a varied, plant-forward diet, while not worrying about following any specific “diet” pattern. It’s simple really, we just eat lots and lots of vegetables.