Mediterranean Diet 101: 5 Steps for Getting Started and 7 Simple Food Swaps

Most likely you’ve heard a little something about the Mediterranean Diet over the last few years. You may have heard that eating Mediterranean style can be good for weight loss or that it can improve heart health. The most recent research shows that the Mediterranean diet could cut heart disease risk by nearly half! Studies have even indicated it can help keep our brains healthier longer. All of that and a glass of wine? Sign us up!

The best part is that the Mediterranean diet isn’t just a short-term, fad diet.

The reality is that it’s a LIFESTYLE and not just another DIET – and it’s loaded with great food, healthy habits and lots of benefits for both body and brain. It also happens to match up pretty closely to the MyPlate recommendations and general diet advice given by dietitians the world over. So if you’re ready to get off the diet rollercoaster and take advantage of a host of health benefits, here are the basics of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle to get you started:

Step 1: Make plant-based foods the heart of your diet

Vegetables are a must for almost every meal; fruit is recommended for dessert, nuts and seeds for snacks, legumes as main dishes, and whole grains in a variety of applications. Not only are plant-based foods budget-friendly, but they’re also high in fiber and nutrients and generally lower in calories and saturated fats.

Step 2: Add flavor and variety with lean proteins

Lean proteins make up a relatively smaller part of the Mediterranean diet – they are generally included a few times a week. The high amounts of seafood in the Mediterranean diet (as well as some of the healthy fats the diet is known for) mean added omega 3s, which have been linked to both heart health and brain health.

Step 3: Create a standard for whole foods

Packaged and processed foods and ingredients are generally absent in the Mediterranean diet. This often means less sodium and sugar (among other ingredients) and fresher, more diet-friendly ingredients that can keep blood sugar steady and hunger at bay.

Step 4: Make moderation your mantra

This isn’t a restrictive fad diet, so when on the Mediterranean diet, you may stop cutting foods and food groups out of your weekly menus. This diet embraces foods like cheese, meat, eggs, sweets and wine – only in smaller amounts to savor and enjoy. So have that occasional lamb or steak, pick up some baklava at the local Greek festival and don’t be afraid of that rich cabernet calling out from the wine rack.

Step 5: Move more every day

However you like to move, make sure it’s a part of your daily routine. Traditionally, the Mediterranean culture is a walking one and for good reason. Not only are the views of the Mediterranean inspiring, but walking and exercise, in general, have been shown to boost energy, mood and overall health.

Gradually making changes to your diet and lifestyle by incorporating some of these key elements of a Mediterranean Diet is a great way to start seeing some health benefits now and into the future.

Health benefits, plus just plain good food make this diet a winner, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow a strict eating plan to reap some of the rewards. In fact, the beauty of this diet and lifestyle is that it can be easier and a whole lot more enjoyable to follow than many more restrictive diets. These 7 simple swaps will help you make your diet a little more Mediterranean without the fear of falling off a diet wagon.*

Swap 1: Order whole grains instead of refined

The Mediterranean diet is big on whole grains! Whole wheat pasta, quinoa, bulgur (used to make tabbouleh) and more can add fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals to your meal. The added weight loss benefit is that adequate fiber in the diet has been linked to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Swap 2: Thinking about beef? Opt for fish

It’s no surprise that the Mediterranean diet includes lots of seafood, which is abundant in the region. This lean protein is a cornerstone of a healthy diet and may help with increased satiety and improved muscle maintenance.

Swap 3: Opt for steamed or broiled instead of fried

Mediterranean menu choices are often prepared using these more healthful methods that are generally lower in saturated fat and calories.

Swap 4: Reach for fresh herbs and spices instead of salt

The vibrant flavors of Mediterranean foods primarily come from fresh herbs and spices or a dash of lemon – perfect for the warmer climate. These ingredients bring out the beautiful flavors of fresh foods without adding sodium.

Swap 5: Order the vegetarian choice instead of chicken

The Mediterranean diet is known for its focus on plants. This includes a wealth of fruits and vegetables as well as beans and legumes, which provide plant-based protein and fiber as well as health-boosting phytochemicals.

Swap 6: Skip the cheese on your salad in favor of nuts

Both of these toppings can be higher in calories, but nuts are loaded with healthy fats associated with a host of health benefits. Remember, even healthy fats can be high in calories so include them in moderation.

Swap 7: Request olive oil in place of butter

If you like a good sautéed veggie, make sure you’re getting the most bang for your nutritional buck by requesting a small amount of olive oil in place of butter. Like nuts, olive oil adds healthy fat to your diet. Also like nuts, it’s high in calories so more isn’t always better!

The Mediterranean diet is more than just a way of eating; it’s a way of living that can support a healthy weight. This lifestyle includes plenty of movement, time spent with friends and family and a belief in moderation. Be sure to find ways to walk more, play more, socialize more, laugh more, and don’t be afraid of the occasional glass of wine!

These are just some of the easy choices you can make to embrace the Mediterranean diet. How do you incorporate the healthful ingredients and lifestyle of the Mediterranean into your day?