The internet is awash with information on the best diets to follow — and navigating this maelstrom of tips and tricks can be daunting. One that frequently crops up in this space is the Mediterranean diet.
Inspired by the foods of sun-soaked and olive-rich countries such as Spain, Greece and Italy, this traditional diet has a reputation for being both delicious and healthy.
What is in the Mediterranean Diet
Though the exact approach and recipes may vary, it generally consists of a lot of fruits, vegetables and legumes, whole grains, herbs and spices, olive oil, poultry and fish. Red wine is also commonly drunk with food — in moderation.
According to UNESCO, the diet entails much more than just food intake: “[It] involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food.”
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Is the Mediterranean Diet Healthy
These cultural aspects of the diet – centered around traditional consumption of food and socialization – likely play a role in its health benefits in countries where it originated. Exercise is also a factor.
Simon Poole, a Mediterranean diet expert and author of The Real Mediterranean Diet, says it’s also possible to separate these aspects. One doesn’t necessarily need to change an entire lifestyle to derive benefits from the diet. Evidence shows that following these eating habits can have a real impact in a variety of ways, he says.
“You can look at the individual ingredients and run through all those vegetables, fruits, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, olive oil, fish, and pinpoint health benefits," Poole says.
Taken together, they provide “excellent quality carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and high levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and more,” he adds. Also, consider common food ingredients that are being avoided in this diet: red meat, highly processed foods and added sugars. In a nutshell, yes, the Mediterranean diet is healthy!
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How to Start a Mediterranean Diet
As the Harvard School of Public Health notes, this diet can help decrease the risks of several chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes. Other studies state it can be beneficial for weight-loss, general wellbeing and mental health.
As such, health professionals often prescribe the diet to patients.
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Switching to a diet of this kind may appear “revolutionary” for some at first, says Poole. But following it doesn’t have to be complicated and can always be done in steps.
“The first challenge is to really ramp up the colored vegetables in people's diets,” he says.
Next, try kicking processed foods from the menu and increasing the use of herbs, spices and extra virgin olive oil in meals. Reducing red meat and dairy consumption could follow. Thankfully, you can now find many easy-to-follow recipes online and in cookbooks.
Costs can be another potential barrier that put people off. But Poole says it doesn’t have to come with a high price tag: “I think the key message is that it's not all expensive foods such as pistachios and pomegranates. It really is all about vegetables and cooking from scratch.”
Now that you know how healthy a Mediterranean diet is and how to start one, you may already be considering ways to manage a healthier lifestyle!
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