Healthy eating vegetarian food cooking weight loss and people concept. Happy young couple woman and man in kitchen at home preparing fresh vegetables salad meal

When is a diet not really a ‘diet’ at all? Sounds like a riddle, but the answer is easy: When it’s the Mediterranean diet. A more accurate name might be the Mediterranean lifestyle, since a big component of making this diet work is how you approach life in general. There are no strict dietary restrictions. A balanced social life and enjoying meals with others are key components. Laughter, reducing stress, and living simply are recommended.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on the quality of what you eat rather than a single nutrient or food group. It’s been proven to reduce the risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A recent study by the National Institute on Aging reports that it may even help protect the brain from damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

Many of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are likely due to the rich blend of essential vitamins, minerals, fats, fiber, and phytochemicals that are packed into every meal. For example, the abundance of vegetables, fruits, spices, and herbs provide important disease-preventing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients like vitamin C. Phytochemicals, including lutein in green vegetables and lycopene in tomatoes, also help fight disease. The fiber in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans keep blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check while supporting healthy gut bacteria. Added sugars, which tend to raise triglyceride and blood sugar levels, are limited. Healthy fats, which improve blood cholesterol and reduce inflammation, take center stage.

Here’s how you can get started:

  • Slowly increase your daily intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans), and unprocessed whole grains, such as oats and barley.
  • Learn about fragrant fresh herbs and spices and how to incorporate them into your meal prep.
  • Limit whole-fat dairy products, red and processed meats, and sweets.
  • Incorporate lean sources of protein like fish, poultry, and legumes
  • Get acquainted with healthy fats, found in avocados, walnuts, and olive oil

Thankfully, there’s an abundance of Mediterranean diet recipes on the web. Creativity is key, but here are a few easy ideas to get you started:

Breakfast:

  • Greek yogurt with berries and low-sugar granola
  • Whole-wheat toast topped with smashed avocado
  • Omelet with diced spinach, peppers, and onion
  • Oatmeal with almond milk, cinnamon, and blueberries

Snack:

  • Hummus or salsa with carrots, cucumbers, or jicama sticks
  • Canned chickpeas mixed with diced parsley, onion, and a lemon-juice/olive-oil vinaigrette
  • Frozen grapes
  • A handful of strawberries or blueberries
  • A quarter cup of pistachios
  • Avocado on whole-grain crackers

Lunch and/or dinner:

  • Grilled salmon or shrimp with a side of quinoa or brown rice
  • Greek salad with tomatoes, peppers, spinach, and other veggies
  • If opting for bread, choose whole grain and dip in olive oil instead of butter

The Mediterranean diet includes incorporating daily lifestyle practices as well. In addition to eating more mindfully, set aside some time every day to move. A walk outdoors, stretching throughout the day, and daily yoga are a few examples. The important thing is that you find something that you enjoy and will look forward to doing.

Eat your meals and snacks in a slow, relaxed state, paying attention to the pleasure you are getting from your food. Enjoy meals with others if you can. When we slow down, our brain and body relax, promoting better digestion, healing, and immune function. While you’re eating, eliminate distractions like your phone or television and pay attention to the food and people around you.

Finally, remember to talk with your healthcare provider. They may have some valuable suggestions specific to you and your condition that will be helpful as you start any new diet.

Even if a trip to Italy or Greece isn’t in your future, you can still embrace a few tips from the Mediterranean culture and cuisine that will help you feel better, and live a healthier life.

###

Submitted by Dignity Health Yavapai Regional Medical Center.