How does the Mediterranean diet benefit your health?
The Mediterranean Diet has been consistently known for having a starring role in reducing health risks, especially when it comes to heart disease. Nutritionist Lisa Akly, a proponent of the benefits of this way of eating, offered a look at what to eat while following the Mediterranean diet and how it can benefit your health at any age.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
“The Mediterranean diet is less of a strictly regimented diet plan and more of a generic term that refers to the traditional eating habits of people in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea,” said Akly.
Sixteen nations border the Mediterranean, each with its own unique cuisine and culture, so there isn’t any one standard ‘diet’ to stick to. In fact, that’s one of the benefits of the diet itself! There’s plenty of variety involved to suit your personal tastes and still keep you healthy.
When eating in a way that mimics the diet of the Mediterranean, you’ll focus on consuming:
- An abundance of fruits and vegetables
- Olive oil as the main source of fat
- Legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and aromatic herbs
- Dairy products like yogurt and cheese weekly
- Eggs, weekly
- Non-fried fish and seafood a few times per week
- Lean meat once a week if desired
What makes the Mediterranean diet heart-healthy?
“One of the healthiest aspects of this diet is that it’s rich in minimally processed foods, limiting refined carbohydrates and added sugars,” said Akly. “It’s rich in heart-healthy fats which mainly come from nuts and seeds, plus oils from plants and fish. It’s also an excellent choice for being more mindful of your sodium intake since fresh herbs and other seasonings mean you won’t miss out on flavor.”
Using healthy unsaturated fats, which are better for your heart, and favoring foods high in fiber and antioxidants ensures this diet is routinely recommended by the American Heart Association as part of a healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease.
Can you drink wine on the Mediterranean diet?
“Wine consumption is definitely not mandatory on the Mediterranean diet,” said Akly. “While red wine is commonly consumed in small amounts during meals for people living along the Mediterranean, the American Heart Association doesn’t support initiation of alcohol intake at any level as part of a heart-healthy diet.”
If you don’t drink, don’t start. The health benefits simply don’t outweigh the potential downsides.
How to get started with the Mediterranean diet
“Don’t feel like you have to throw out everything in your pantry and start from scratch,” said Akly. “That’s an easy way to feel too overwhelmed to even get started. Instead, focus on incorporating small changes into your daily diet, adding steps here and there as you get comfortable with healthier options.”
Akly’s suggestions for getting started with the Mediterranean diet include:
- Feature a meatless main dish, utilizing beans as your source of protein.
- Replace red meat with non-fried fish, like grilled salmon.
- Use olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oils when cooking.
- Eat a variety of vegetables with every meal. (Want a simple trick to make veggies truly delicious? Toss with olive oil, a little salt and pepper, and roast until they start to brown.)
- Serve fresh fruit as your dessert.
Making healthier food choices will help your heart, your mind and your body in the long run, and you don’t need to change everything all at once. One small change at a time can lead to big improvements in health.
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