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

Curated by Healthy Dining

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. It can also improve heart health – which means more energy and better performance. Research shows that the Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health status, including a significant reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), incidence of or mortality from cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease (13%). Other 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 ... is not a diet. It's an eating style – a delicious, fulfilling, and nourishing way of eating that includes a wide variety of foods with a plethora of health benefits.

Here are the basics to get you started:

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

A variety of vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are a must for almost every meal; then add healthy fats such as sprinklings of nuts and seeds, avocado, olive oil, and olives; tasty seasonal fruit is recommended for dessert and small pieces of dark chocolate add to the decadence. Not only are plant-based foods budget-friendly, but they’re also high in fiber and many nutrients and generally lower in calories and saturated fats.

Step 2: Add flavor and variety with lean proteins

Animal-based lean proteins make up a relatively smaller part of the Mediterranean diet – generally included a few times a week. Seafood is a priority as it is not only high in protein but also a great source of omega 3s, which are critical for 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 means less sodium and sugar and other to-be-avoided ingredients and fresher, more health-optimizing ingredients that can keep blood sugar steady and your performance at its best.

Step 4: Make moderation your mantra

This isn’t a restrictive diet, so when you follow the Mediterranean way of eating, you can embrace indulgent foods like cheese, meat, eggs, sweets, and wine – yet only in small amounts to savor and enjoy.

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 eating style a winner. In fact, the beauty of this diet and lifestyle is that it can be easier, a whole lot more enjoyable and filled with important macro and micronutrients.

These 7 simple swaps will help you make your day a little more like you are visiting the Mediterranean:

Swap 1: Order whole grains instead of refined

Whole wheat pasta, quinoa, bulgur (used to make tabbouleh), and more add protein, fiber, and a wide variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to your meal.

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 for brain, heart and joint health.

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, olive oil is high in calories so more isn’t always better!

These are just some of the easy choices you can make to embrace the Mediterranean diet. Check out the Mediterranean-style recipes and enjoy!!

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