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Imagine living along the Mediterranean Sea. Does it sound like a beautiful, out-of-touch dream?
While you may not be able to pack your bags and move to Greece, you can eat Mediterranean cuisine from the comfort of your own home. Named the best diet of 2023 by U.S. News and World Report, the Mediterranean diet brings the Mediterranean vacation to you with added health benefits for your heart. Here is everything you need to know about this nutrient-rich and nonrestrictive diet.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the traditional diets of people who live along the Mediterranean coast. While each country’s diet may vary from the next, the Mediterranean diet consists mainly of plant-based foods, seafood, lean poultry, whole grains, nuts, beans, olive oil, herbs and spices. The key is to eat as much fresh food as possible since highly processed foods are limited in the diet.
Green Mediterranean diet
A recent popular variation of the Mediterranean diet is referred to as the Green Mediterranean diet. Instead of having red and processed meats on occasion with the regular Mediterranean diet, the Green Mediterranean diet cuts out meats altogether and places more focus on plant-based foods. There is a set amount of calories and protein to hit each day, in addition to three recommendations. Each day, an individual must obtain 100 grams of duckweed (an aquatic plant, usually put in a shake), 3 to 4 cups of green tea and 1 ounce of walnuts. A 2021 study found that the Green Mediterranean diet variation may be healthier for one’s heart than the original diet. It may even be more effective in preventing and managing chronic diseases. A 2022 study found that the diet may aid in age-related brain health.
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Mediterranean diet benefits
In addition to being a great diet for those who are kosher, vegetarian or budget-conscious, the Mediterranean diet has many health benefits.
The most well-known benefit of this diet is its potential to boost heart health. A 2019 study concluded that the Mediterranean diet could lower your risk of stroke and heart disease. Also, due to the lower saturated fat content in the diet, another study found that it can slow the process of plaque building up in the arteries.
The Mediterranean diet can promote brain health as we age. A recent study on Alzheimer’s disease found that a Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of dementia and other risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. It may also improve memory and cognitive function.
Possible weight loss
This diet may help you lose weight and maintain long-term weight loss. A 2020 study found that participants who lost at least 10% of their body weight on the Mediterranean diet were two times more likely to keep the weight off.
Note that any diet is not complete without added exercise. If you are serious about weight loss, add daily exercise to your routine in addition to a new diet.
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How does the Mediterranean diet work?
The Mediterranean diet is one of the easiest to follow, and counting calories is not required. While there are no strict rules, there are a few recommendations. These include eating fish or seafood at least twice a week, drinking lots of water, eating a wide range of foods and filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and olive oil, daily. On top of these recommendations, your meals and snacks are up to you. Here is what you are encouraged to eat.
Foods to eat on the Mediterranean diet
On the Mediterranean diet, try to eat plant-based and whole foods. These may include:
- Fish (salmon, tuna, herring, etc.)
- Poultry, in moderation
- Dairy products
- Eggs, in moderation
- Olive oil
- Yogurt, in moderation
- 100% whole-wheat bread
- A glass of red wine with meals (no more than one glass for women, two glasses for men)
- A bit of dark chocolate
Foods to limit on the Mediterranean diet
While no foods are “off-limits,” try to rarely eat the following:
- Red meats
- Sugary foods and drinks
- Processed foods
Fill your grocery list with these meal ideas for the week.
- Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and a cup of tea
- Whole-wheat toast with natural peanut butter and a cup of coffee (added cream and sugar in moderation)
- Chicken orzo soup with vegetables
- Greek salad with olives, avocado and feta cheese
- Salmon cooked in olive oil, brown rice and roasted vegetables
- Tuna over quinoa and arugula with olive oil vinaigrette dressing
- Assorted nuts and seeds with natural cheese
- Pita bread and vegetables with hummus
Is the Mediterranean diet for you?
Although named the best diet of 2023, the Mediterranean diet is not for everyone. Talk to your doctor before making any major dietary changes. If you are considering trying this diet for yourself, here are some points to keep in mind.
You should try the Mediterranean diet if:
- You do well with nonrestrictive diets
- You already eat lots of seafood, plant-based foods and whole grains
- You are looking for a budget-friendly and diet low in unhealthy fats and high in healthy fats
Try another diet or seek a dietitian if:
- You need more structure or require some foods to be completely off-limits
- You have major food restrictions or allergies
- You need a tailored diet, weight loss and exercise plans