Whenever you’re dieting for weight loss, it’s even better when there are additional health benefits. That’s what the Mediterranean diet brings to the table – a plethora of heart health benefits your body needs.
The concept is derived from the eating habits and meal customs of the countries that are based around the Mediterranean Sea where the people enjoy olive oil, red wine, delicious vegetables and more.
On this particular diet plan, your cravings for sweets will dissipate and you’ll be able to enjoy a burst of energy because your blood sugar becomes more stabilized throughout the process.
Basic Principles of the Mediterranean Diet
This diet is proven to help reduce heart disease by helping you lower your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol that accumulates in your arteries and causes blockages).
The weight loss is a side benefit of following this diet, but it’s the primary reason why many people choose to follow it. In addition to heart health and weight loss, you also cut your risk of certain cancers and reduce the chance that you’ll suffer from dementia or Parkinson’s disease.
You’ll want to begin incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet and cut out processed foods like pasta and white rice. Whole grains are perfectly fine on this diet, and while you’ll be able to enjoy meat, it’s not the focus – plants are!
When you do eat meat, make sure it’s heart-healthy fish or lean chicken. Red meat is okay, but it’s best to consume it in moderation. Forget about processed meats like bacon, sausage, or some sandwich meats.
You want to make sure that you’re consuming plenty of produce throughout each day, about 9-10 servings per day – and start enjoying snacks of nuts like walnuts, almonds, and pistachios.
Your cooking habits might change a bit. Instead of cooking foods in a way that’s not healthy, you’ll be using olive or canola oils and naturally occurring herbs and spices to contribute flavor to the food – not salt.
Can you drink milk or wine? Moderate wine (red) is acceptable, as are dairy products – but try to make sure it’s the low fat version. In other ways, you don’t want to eliminate fat from your diet – not healthy fat, that is.
Healthy fats like olives, avocados, and those found in nuts are beneficial for the body and won’t impede your weight loss efforts. They’ll also bring a lot of flavor to your meals and help you feel full, longer.
Who the Mediterranean Diet Works Best For
The Mediterranean diet plans work best for people who also want to reap the rewards of additional health benefits as they shed pounds. The way this diet works to promote better health is perfect for anyone who is borderline diabetic, has a family history of heart disease or who just wants to live a more natural life.
This is a plan that’s best created for people who have some time to meal prep or cook fresh food on a daily basis. Since most processed foods are the ones people choose for a chaotic, on the go lifestyle, this diet requires just the opposite.
You’ll do well if you love vegetables and fruits. If your taste buds haven’t experienced produce in forever, it might be a drastic change for you to engage in right at first. But you can learn to prepare these foods in a delicious and healthy manner.
If you’re a hardcore red meat eater who loves anything fried, then this diet might be a struggle for you. But if you’re a master on the grill, it might be the perfect pairing. Baking is also a wonderful talent to have when you’re following the Mediterranean Diet.
Activity-wise, it’s good either way. Those who are sedentary will do well on it because the diet doesn’t have a ton of foods high in carbs – besides fresh vegetables and fruit. But the active individuals will be able to enjoy the energy boost these foods give them, to help them maintain the go getter schedule they adhere to.
Is this a good plan for the whole family? Yes! It’s not about weight loss. That’s a perk of being on this diet. It’s a meal plan that is heart-healthy and beneficial for the whole family – mom, dad, and kids alike!
If you’re the kind of person who can’t control portions or goes way overboard on calories, then this may not work as well for you as a stricter diet plan. With the Mediterranean Diet, they tell you what foods to eat, but the willpower to maintain normal portion sizes is up to you.
You don’t have to worry about losing weight if you’re eating healthy fats. These are fats that actually work better to help you lose weight – not against you where you’re packing on the pounds.
It’s a good plan for anyone who wants some flexibility. It’s not foods that are eliminated, but more of a swap in the method of preparation. So instead of a chicken fried steak with cream gravy, you’d enjoy a lean filet mignon with fresh vegetables on the side.
You’re still getting the same foods, but they’re prepared in a manner that’s better for your body. Grilled or steamed, baked or broiled. Not fried in unhealthy oils. This is more a matter of learning how to use foods to better your health than to use them against you.
How to Get Prepared for the Mediterranean Diet
Processed food is the enemy of success for this diet plan. You’ll want to spend some time and money stocking up on the freshest foods possible – along with some pantry staples such as herbs, spices and olive oil.
Get a variety of flavors. With olive oil, you can get flavors like garlic, basil, lemon, Italian herb, fig, chili, orange, ginger, oregano, and even bay leaf. Get yourself a seasoning set so you can test out flavors such as cumin, rosemary, cinnamon, thyme and more.
One of the best ways to prepare for the Mediterranean diet is to become familiar with how to cook a wide variety of vegetables to your liking. When you have a good grasp of how to prepare them, it makes it easy to save money.
Instead of being held hostage to the prices of the store, you’ll be able to amend your meal plan on the go whenever you spot a fabulous deal on a particular item in the produce section.
Do some test runs on cooking meat in a healthier way if you’re used to deep frying and breading your meats. Try using the broiler or grilling the food and most importantly – learn which fish your palate likes and master the art of cooking it in line with the Mediterranean diet plan.
If you like alcohol, make sure you have a variety of red wines available to pair with your menu options. Some non-alcoholic drinkers like to replace wine with red grape juice for the same great benefits.
Do you need a scale? The Mediterranean diet isn’t based on exact portions. You’re encouraged to watch your own hunger cues. But if it makes you feel better, then by all means get a food scale so you can measure the meats and other foods.
You might want to get some Mediterranean cookbooks that align with how you like to eat. For example, if you’re a busy person, you might want to get a Mediterranean slow cooker cookbook so you can stick the ingredients in a slow cooker and let it prepare your meals for you by the time you get home.
You can find smoothie recipes for the Mediterranean diet and get recipes for yummy desserts like biscotti, chocolate dipped fruits, baked fruits in wine sauce, grilled fruits and more.
You might be able to find some meal delivery services that specifically offer Mediterranean diet-friendly foods for their customers. The plan has such wide health appeal and is so popular that many companies offer it as a staple selection, so if you’re in a time crunch, ready to cook meals might be just the ticket to longevity with this diet.
Sample Meal Plan for the Mediterranean Diet
When you’re planning your meals, make sure you’re adhering to a natural foods premise. Fruits and eggs are great for breakfast – just make sure you’re cooking the eggs in olive oil.
Omelets are a great options. You can load the eggs up with vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, onions and more – a Mediterranean-friendly breakfast choice. You can also make smoothies that are good for this diet plan.
Lunch and dinner can be similar, depending on whether you’re cooking at home, taking meal prep containers with you for lunch, or needing to pack more convenient foods. Some places, such as Starbucks, offer Mediterranean meals like the protein pack that are in line with this plan.
If you’re cooking vegetables, make sure you add broccoli whenever possible. This vegetable curbs hunger and provides many nutritional benefits. You can sauté some green vegetables in olive oil with something to flavor it – like garlic. Or roast some red peppers for a bright, flavorful addition.
Choose whole grains to cook with – such as brown rice or quinoa. Making pasta meals is fine, but try to make the meal a healthy version and not one loaded with melted cheese and high fat meats.
In fact, meat like fish and chicken are great to have frequently, but if you like red meat, cut down on that and only eat it in moderation, such as a couple of times per week for optimal health.
If you’re eating salads, don’t be shy about sprinkling nuts or seeds over the top. Greek salads are different from a typical lettuce-based salad. They sometimes include tomatoes, beans, cheese, olives, cucumbers, and onions and is drizzled with olive oil.
Even pizza isn’t off limits! Pizza made with fresh ingredients is a healthy option – especially the heart healthy tomato sauce. One thing many dieters appreciate about this meal plan is that bread is not off limits.
You can have bruschetta, which is a delicious mix of the bread, topped with tomato, basil and garlic to flavor it. You can also have dips made from fava beans or hummus made from chickpeas and a few flavor additions.
If you’re in the mood to snack, choose Greek yogurt – or make a nice plate of raw fruits, vegetables and healthy nuts. Anything natural that hasn’t been processed is usually a good option, but just eat enough to take your hunger away and no more.
With all of your meals, keep them fresh and steer clear of drowning the nutrients out with creams and sauces – or cooking them in a manner that depletes the produce from maintaining its health benefits.
Tips to Increase Success on the Mediterranean Diet
Whenever you’re cooking, or planning a meal, look at each individual ingredient and ask yourself if it’s natural or processed. If it’s a processed food, like butter, figure out a comparable, Mediterranean friendly swap – such as olive oil.
Look at the plate as you prepare it. Is it bland looking? Mediterranean meals are often vibrant, so the person eating it gets a wide array of produce, which delivers maximum health benefits.
Check to make sure you’re using whole grains in everything – including bread. You can enjoy bread and dip it into a flavored olive oil as a snack. This is delicious and filling, and helps you lose weight as long as you don’t overdo it.
Make sure you’re not avoiding fat. It’s easy, on a diet to lose weight, to get the mindset where you want to avoid anything that even remotely resembles something you’re trying to lose – but this type of healthy fat can assist you in shedding pounds.
You have a wide variety of foods you can enjoy on this diet plan, so enjoy them! Try tons of foods you’ve never sampled before – or even heard of before. Get a recipe for it, buy the ingredients and go for it.
Use the Greek habit of creating mezzes, which are little plates that almost create a sampling of appetizers or hors d’oeuvres. You can put things like your favorite nuts, green or black olives, and even cheeses.
Make sure that first and foremost, you’re relaxing and enjoying your new Mediterranean way of eating. The natural fats will help you feel full, faster, but you still have to slow down and savor each bite so that you don’t go overboard.
If you’re doing this for weight loss, you’ll likely be tracking your weight on a regular weigh-in basis. But it might be helpful to track other elements of your health such as your cholesterol and triglycerides, too.
You should notice a remarkable change in the numbers and the boost of confidence you’ll get, knowing you’re on the track to overall better health, will assist you in sticking to the program for a long period of time.
The best part is, since the fat is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, you probably won’t be craving sweets anymore. Your energy will level off, rather than spiking and crashing throughout the day because your blood sugar will stabilize.
The Mediterranean diet is also easy to amend while eating out at restaurants. Simply ask the kitchen to prepare your foods in the way that you want them, and avoid menu options such as breaded meats and dishes with heavy creams and sauces in them.