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Diets

The Mediterranean Diet: A Plan for a Lifetime

The Mediterranean diet focuses on consuming whole foods, instead of processed ones — here are the key points of the diet, risks, and more.

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The widely popular Mediterranean diet plan may be the quintessential “healthy diet.” It emphasizes the importance of whole grains, vegetables and lean proteins; it’s famously heart-healthy; can be used as a part of a sustainable weight loss method; and may make you feel all-around better.

Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition says the the Med diet is so popular because it’s been widely researched and is easy to follow, with its lack of restrictions.

“The Mediterranean diet is well-researched in relation to disease and health,” Feller says. “The pattern of eating can [also] be modified to take personal likes and dislikes into consideration.”

The Mediterranean Diet Plan Focuses on Healthy Food and a Communal Lifestyle

A family eats a Mediterranean diet dinner together in an outdoor garden
The Mediterranean diet highlights sharing whole, real foods with family.Blue Images/Getty Images

Harvard Health’s guide to the Mediterranean diet breaks down what food groups are included. In addition to fruits and vegetables, dieters should focus on including whole grains;, moderate amounts of dairy such as cheese and yogurt, lean proteins such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes, a little wine with meals and olive oil as the main source of fat.

Mediterranean Diet Main Food Types

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Moderate dairy
  • Lean protein
  • Lots of olive oil

You should eat red meat, refined sugars and simple starches infrequently. And family meals should be as communal as possible — yes, that means dinners in front of the TV, and lay off the takeout.

“It emphasizes plant based foods, healthy fats, allows for lots of variety, and isn’t rigid,” Sarah Lynn Quick MS, RDN, CDN, of Sarah Lynn Nutrition, tells Woman’s World.

Dietitians Praise the Diet For the Variety of Food and Nutrients It Offers

A spread of wine, cheese, and a variety of salads sit atop a table in a garden outside
The Mediterranean diet doesn’t eliminate many of the foods people love, such as dairy and wine.Image Source/Getty Images

Lynn Quick explains the Mediterranean diet is praised by many dietitians because it promotes a “healthy lifestyle” rather than a fad or crash diet: “Year after year, the Mediterranean diet comes out on top in the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of best diets,” she said. “A panel of experts judges various eating plans and popular diets on criteria including how healthy they are, how well they work and how easy they are to follow.”

The Short- And Long-Term Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet Are Endless

Two young women on walker as they exercise in a well equipped gym
The Mediterranean diet has a number of long-term advantages, including weight loss.imagewerks

Maya Feller reiterates that the short- and long-term advantages of the diet could greatly improve one’s quality of life. “Adopting a Mediterranean pattern has been associated with a decreased risk of mortality as well as a decreased risk of incidence of disease,” she explains. Those working to normalize blood sugars, blood pressure and lipid profiles are likely to experience significant improvements across the board. This eating pattern does not center on weight loss, there is an overall focus on improving one’s overall health and well-being.

Maya Feller

Many Meals Can Be Kept Simple

For an idea for a Mediterranean diet breakfast: PureWow lists a variety of Mediterranean diet breakfast ideas, including:

  • Overnight oats
  • Breakfast frittatas
  • Porridge
  • Grain bowls
  • Smoothies
Woman chops vegetables in a white kitchen
The Mediterranean diet lets people cook a variety of their favorite meals.AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

For lunch and dinner: Eating Well‘s lunch and dinner roundup consists of:

  • Quinoa bowls
  • Stuffed avocados
  • Plant-based sandwiches
  • Salads
  • Wraps

In terms of meal tips, Lynn Quick says to maintain a variety in your day-to-day menu: “Keep it varied! Think about some of your favorite dishes — how can you add or replace some of the ingredients with Mediterranean foods?” she muses. “You are more likely to stick to an eating plan if you are satisfied.”

The Mediterranean Diet Shopping List Consists of High Quality Basics:

Although the exact items in one’s shopping cart will vary, a typical Mediterranean diet plan shopping list would likely include the following:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • An abundance of fruits and vegetables
  • Fish — salmon, tuna, shellfish, swordfish, et c.
  • Lean meats — chicken, turkey, tofu, legumes, nuts
  • Grains — quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oats, whole wheat bread
  • Small amounts of dairy — milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Red wine
  • Dark chocolate

The Mediterranean Diet Plan’s One Drawback Can Be Cost

A shopping cart sitting in the aisle, with groceries in it
Groceries on the Mediterranean diet don’t have to break the bank.John Lamb/Getty Images

Similar to many other healthy regimens, the Mediterranean diet plan tends to be more costly than the average American diet. Lynn Quick explains this is because cheap cuts of meat and carbohydrates tend to be much cheaper than nuts, olive oil and seafood. But, there are ways to adhere to the diet on a budget.

“Food prices have increased across the board,” Feller says. “Learning to shop the entire grocery or dollar store while being an informed consumer can lead to cost savings. Shopping on sale, purchasing produce in bull, processing at home and then bagging or freezing to extend shelf life. Using dry or canned beans can all be ways to cut the cost of groceries.”

Fresh Isn’t Always the Only Healthy Option

And even though fresh and seasonal food is ideal for human health and the environment, Lynn Quick reminds shoppers that fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, meat and fish aren’t the only viable options. “Canned and frozen fruits and veggies, as well as canned tuna and salmon are all cheaper alternatives that are Mediterranean diet approved,” she reminds those adhering to the diet.

The Med Diet Is a Flexible Plan That Really Works

The Mediterranean diet is praised by dietitians for its flexibility and widely studied benefits. Focusing on lean proteins, whole grains, and small amounts of refined sugar, it promotes good heart health, lowered cholesterol, and an overall healthy lifestyle. While it may be more expensive than the average American diet, adhering to a budget is doable, with a little creativity.

How long should someone stay on the Mediterranean diet to see health benefits?

Because the Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle than anything else, one can follow the diet as long as it’s benefitting them. But switching to a lower cholesterol and less processed diet could make someone feel better in a matter of days.

Are there risks to the Mediterranean diet?

There aren’t many documented risks, but dieters should consult a physician before going on the diet, to ensure it’s right for them. There are some potential allergens featured in the diet, including nuts and seafood.

Can someone adhere to the Mediterranean diet with dietary restrictions or preferences?

The Mediterranean diet is highly flexible, and can be followed by vegans and vegetarians. Plant-based dieters should just make sure they are consuming enough lean proteins such as tofu, tempeh and nuts.

What is not allowed on the Mediterranean diet?

Although the Mediterranean diet isn’t particularly strict, dieters should refrain from eating processed foods, refined sugars, a surplus of red meat, butter, hydrogenated oils, and alcohol (aside from small amounts of red wine).

Does the Mediterranean diet restrict protein?

Lean protein is encouraged on the Mediterranean diet. This includes fish, poultry and tofu. Red meat and other processed protein sources are discouraged.

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