The Mediterranean diet has been on the front pages for decades. And earlier this month it was the top ranked diet on US News & World Reports best diets of 2020. If you’re wondering what a Mediterranean style diet is and how you start a Mediterranean diet, look no further.
Everything you need to get started on a Mediterranean diet is only a click away.
This lifestyle diet has been shown to help with
- heart disease,
- and much more.
So if you’re looking for a sustainable diet everyone in your family can follow and enjoy, this is the diet for you.
A Mediterranean diet includes all the elements we talked about last week in our “A Beginners Guide to Doing a Plant Based Diet Right” and that’s one of the main reasons this diet has so many health benefits.
As you’re reading I’ll point out the key differences between a Mediterranean and plant based diet. If you’ve read the “Plant Based” post, you’ll likely notice the small differences between these two diets.
To start let’s define what a Mediterranean style diet is and then we’ll look at how you can get started following a Mediterranean diet.
What Is A Mediterranean Style Diet
The first thing we need to clear up is that there isn’t “a” Mediterranean diet. It’s a way of eating modeled after how people in the Mediterranean ate in the 1950s and 60s. And because everyone in the Mediterranean region followed a different diet there isn’t one exact Mediterranean-style diet..
But there are several things all people in the Mediterranean regions had in common:
- They had active lifestyles,
- ate low amounts of red meat, sugar, and saturated fat, and
- ate a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts, healthy fats, and whole grains.
I know, I know – that’s kinda vague and most of you want specifics.
It’s not a diet with hard and fast rules to follow.
What a Mediterranean-style diet is can be hard to firmly nail down but I’m going to do my best to help you know how to start a Mediterranean diet.
What is a Mediterranean style diet? It’s a plant based diet that
- includes 7-10 servings of vegetables per day,
- includes more plant based sources of protein than meat,
- focuses on whole grains, and
- fruit is the desert of choice.
Another significant part of following a Mediterranean-style diet is living an active lifestyle. So be looking for opportunities to move your body. We have some great activity tips in this post here.
Now let’s break this down and look at how you can start a Mediterranean diet.
How Do I Start A Mediterranean Diet
There are 11 key aspects to starting a Mediterranean-style diet. If you’re concerned that doing all 11 at once would be challenging then start with step 1 and do it for the first week. Then add step 2 the following week.
Continue adding a step each week until you’re successfully doing all 11. Make sense?
Let’s get started…
1. Think vegetables first.
How can you make vegetables the star of every meal? The Mediterranean diet is vegetable heavy. So whether you’re snacking, brown bagging, or sitting down to a formal meal, vegetables should be the most prominent ingredient.
Think outside the traditional grocery store box and explore the produce section at your local ethnic grocery stores. Many of the benefits attributed to following a Mediterranean diet come from the colorful polyphenols in the many different vegetables they eat. Polyphenols are antioxidant and health promoting micronutrients contained in plants.
They’re plants’ super power.
2. Get active.
Your body was created to move and an active lifestyle is foundational to following a Mediterranean diet right.
- How can you increase the amount you’re moving each day?
3. Whole grains or no grains.
When you think of whole grains think brown rice, steel-cut oats, millet, teff, sorghum, etc.
Whole grains aren’t the packages that say “made with whole grains”. Look at the ingredients.
- Does it list 100% whole wheat or 100% of other whole grains?
If not, it’s not a whole grain.
4. Use healthy fats.
Mono and polyunsaturated fats are one of the many reasons why a Mediterranean diet has so many health benefits.
Include plenty of nuts, seeds, and olives in your day-to-day meals. And if you’re going to use oil make sure it’s as unprocessed as possible.
Many grocers sell unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil that still has cloudy bits of olive floating in it. This oil is full of health benefits but it’s not a cooking oil. It’s a dressing and finishing oil.
Cook your food in a seasoned cast iron pan without oil or use water to deglaze and keep food from sticking. Then use extra-virgin olive oil to help carry the foods flavor after it’s finished cooking. Also keep a dish of great quality flavorful olive oil handy for drizzling on vegetables, whole grains, or dipping bread into.
Click here to learn more about cooking with water instead of oil.
5. Spice things up.
Herbs and spices have a leading role in Mediterranean foods.
Fresh herbs like:
- thyme, and
are mixed into dressings and sauces as well as sprinkled generously over all types of food.
Dried spices like
- bay leaf,
- black pepper,
- sumac, and
are also used regularly to build flavor in foods.
6. Finish with fruit.
Fresh or dried fruit is the Mediterraneans dessert of choice. If you’re planning to follow a Mediterranean style diet as a way of life, plan on replacing things like cookies, bars, and other sweets with fruit.
Over time you’ll begin to recognize the inherent sweetness many plant foods contain.
You don’t have to kiss sugar sweetened desserts completely goodbye though, you just have to save them for special occasions like birthdays and weddings.
7. A little dairy’s okay.
Full fat unsweetened dairy products are a-okay on a Mediterranean style diet. The key is moderation and quality. You want the dairy products you consume to be the best quality your budget allows.
You also want to use dairy as a garnish, a way to boost and enhance plants flavor. If you eat yogurt it should be unsweetened Greek yogurt and sweetness should come by adding fresh fruits or berries.
8. Use meat sparingly.
And by sparingly I mean as a garnish. Meat is the most expensive thing you can put in your grocery cart and people following a Mediterranean diet know this.
- How would you use expensive things?
You’d use them sparingly. So use a little poultry or pork to compliment a vegetable based meal or sprinkle a little prosciutto over a vegetable heavy salad.
9. Remove the red meat.
Red meat is seldom found in traditional Mediterranean diets because meals are largely built around less expensive, health promoting plant foods. If you’re going to make a Mediterranean diet your new way of life then red meat should become a thing of the past.
10. Make friends with seafood.
Seafood is the only non-plant protein that makes a semi-regular appearance in a Mediterranean style diet. If you’re starting a Mediterranean diet then eating seafood twice a week is a-okay.
You want to look for seafood that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
They’re found in fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines.
Also look for wild caught, sustainable seafood and try to find a shop that sells seafood that’s either fresh caught or frozen at sea. The Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a great tool for finding sustainable seafood in your area. You can access it here.
11. What about alcohol...
The Mediterranean diet is known for red wine but we’re not going to tell anyone to start drinking alcohol. If you already drink alcohol then making red wine, your alcoholic drink of choice, could provide health benefits.
Research studies on the Mediterranean diet show improved health when small amounts of red wine are consumed, but the benefits aren’t significant enough for them to recommend people start drinking alcohol.
Mediterranean Diet Food List
The plant based food list included in this post here has most of the foods included in a Mediterranean-style diet. The only things it doesn’t include are the dairy and seafood items.
In addition to that plant based food list a Mediterranean diet food list could include:
- wild caught seafood,
- unsweetened Greek yogurt,
- pork, and/or
- red wine.
If you follow the above steps you’ll be eating everything that’s allowed in a Mediterranean diet. But if you need a food list, print this one here and write in the items I just listed.
- So how do you start a Mediterranean style diet?
You make vegetables the star of each meal and fill the rest of your plate with mostly plants.
- What foods are included on a Mediterranean diet food list?
Mostly plants with a small amount of seafood, dairy, eggs, poultry, or pork.
Easy Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
If you grabbed the 7-day meal plan from last week’s post, it’s already a Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan. If you didn’t, you can download it here.
Since that meal plan is 100% plant based feel free to look for recipes you could add seafood or a little bit of dairy to. For instance, you could
- add a little unsweetened Greek yogurt to the muesli,
- have salmon with the apple pecan farro, or
- add shrimp to the Thai peanut noodles.
Because we want you fully equipped, here’s another 3-day easy Mediterranean diet meal plan that’ll give you a few more ideas. This meal plan uses recipes from a variety of different food blogs and many of these blogs have a lot more Mediterranean diet recipes available (so check them out…).
Day One ~ Mediterranean Meal Plan
Day Two ~ Mediterranean Meal Plan
Day Three ~ Mediterranean Meal Plan
There’s so much that could be written on a Mediterranean-style diet that I’ll have to come back to this subject in the coming weeks and months. But I wanted to start by showing you how easy it is to start a Mediterranean diet.
The above 11 steps combined with the resources in our “Beginners Guide to Doing a Plant Based Diet Right” are all you need for making a Mediterranean-style diet your new way of life.
The Mediterranean diet food list and easy meal plan are additional tools for helping you craft your Mediterranean meals.
Until next time remember...
Whether you choose to follow a Mediterranean style diet or something else, make plant based foods, especially vegetables, the star of every meal.