Q. Tell me more about the Mediterranean Diet. My doctor suggested it, but I’m not sure where to start.
A. The Mediterranean Diet continues to make the list for the best overall diet. It is plant-based, easy to follow, heart-healthy, appropriate for people living with diabetes, and just a general healthful dietary pattern for anyone to follow.
The Mediterranean Diet is not necessarily a “diet” but a way of eating that emphasizes vegetables, beans, fruits, whole grains, healthful fats and fish. Traditionally, people who eat this way have a longer life expectancy with lower incidences of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other diseases.
Research shows that the key to successfully adopting a more healthyful diet is to ensure it can be followed and sustained long term. People may be more successful with the Mediterranean Diet because it does not eliminate foods or entire food groups.
Focus on these six key foods to choose more often when implementing the principles of a Mediterranean Diet. And don’t forget: Start small as you incorporate lifestyle changes to set yourself up for long-term success.
1. Make half your plate vegetables. Enjoy a variety of vegetables in salads, soups and sides. Aim for half your plate to be vegetables at most meals. You can even incorporate roasted vegetables into your breakfasts or add into most snack choices. Vegetables are nutrient-dense, full of antioxidants and fiber and low in calories, yet very filling and are associated with an abundance of better health outcomes.
2. Switch to whole grains. Brown rice, farro, and oatmeal are filling additions to a meal. When choosing bread, crackers, cereals and pasta, look to see that a whole grain is the first ingredient. Aim for a quarter of your plate to be a whole grain at most meals. Whole grains are nutrient-dense and higher in fiber; they have been shown to help with reductions in cholesterol and more balanced blood sugars.
3. Fill up on beans and lentils. Aim to enjoy a vegetarian meal once per week, and incorporate beans and lentils frequently into dishes while enjoying smaller portions of meat. Beans and lentils add a good source of protein and fiber, which is a filling combination, and may help reduce cholesterol and balance blood sugars. Fill a quarter of your plate with protein-rich foods like beans and lentils.
4. Eat seafood twice a week. Seafood provides essential omega-3 fats that are important for heart health. Aim for a serving the size of a quarter of your plate, twice per week.
5. Add a serving of healthy fats. Use olive oil or avocado oil for cooking and making vinaigrettes; enjoy a small handful of nuts, peanuts or sunflower seeds per day; add olives and avocados to dishes. Healthy fats are actually beneficial for cholesterol levels and heart health as well as being very satiating, helping you regulate your intake.
6. Eat fruit to end a meal. Fruit is the perfect sweet ending to a Mediterranean meal. Fruit is rich in antioxidants, nutrients and fiber and is associated with many better health outcomes. By enjoying a piece of fruit at the end of a protein-rich meal, blood sugar will remain more balanced too. Fresh, dried, canned and frozen fruit are all great options.