The Mediterranean diet consistently ranks as one of the healthiest diets to follow.
It represents the dietary pattern consumed among populations bordering the Mediterranean Sea in the 1960s. These people had some of the longest life expectancies in the world.
Research shows that a Mediterranean diet can help improve various health markers. Studies have shown eating a Mediterranean diet can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, prevent the development of type of 2 diabetes, lower blood pressure and help fight obesity.
The diet is also linked with reduced inflammation levels, which is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are some of the simplest ways you can start eating more Mediterranean today.
1. Try Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The Mediterranean diet has a high ratio of healthy unsaturated fats to saturated fats. This is partly due to its high usage of olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil in particular has been associated with anti-inflammatory properties. This may be because it contains oleocanthal, which acts as natural anti-inflammatory compound similar in structure to ibuprofen.
It is easy to see why high consumption has been associated with a significantly reduced risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Try replacing butter with olive oil for some recipes you cook and drizzle some oil on your favorite salads.
2. Snack on Nuts
Nuts like almonds, walnuts and cashews provide protein, fiber and healthy fats.
In one study, eating a Mediterranean diet with nuts was associated with a reduced risk of combined heart disease, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease by 28%.
Studies show eating nuts in moderation can also help you lose weight. This is despite having a high energy density.
Nuts are a perfect snack when you’re busy and they’re very easy to mix into many other recipes too. Just make sure you avoid salted nuts, as they can raise blood pressure.
3. Replace Refined Grains with Whole Grains
Whole grains contain high amounts of nutrients, minerals and fiber. Although refining the grains prolongs their shelf life, this comes at the removal of those.
This is because the refining process removes the bran and germ, leaving just the endosperm. The endosperm is composed primarily of carbohydrates with none of the nutrients and fiber contained in the other parts of the grain.
Eating refined grains has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
On the other hand, one study found women who ate two or more servings a day of whole grains were 30% less likely to have died from conditions connected to inflammation compared to those who rarely did.
Making the switch to whole grain alternatives is one of the easiest changes you can make. Simply swap out for your white carbohydrates like rice, bread and pasta for their whole grain alternatives.
4. Season with Herbs and Spices Instead of Salt
Seasoning often means just adding salt and pepper. Too much salt in the diet can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
However, different herbs and spices can bring out extra depths of flavor and complexity to your meals. Many also carry notable health benefits.
For example, sage has been linked to improvements in brain function, cinnamon to lower blood sugar levels and garlic to reduced LDL cholesterol.
Try experimenting with several spices in the same dish and see what works for you. There’s no wrong way to spice your meals up.
5. Replace Red Meat with Fatty Fish
Fish is a great source of lean protein. They are also high in many nutrients most people don’t get enough of. These include vitamin A, D and omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked with a reduced the risk of heart disease, some cancers and dementia. They are also thought to be helpful for brain development.
In one study of more than 40,000 health professionals, those who regularly ate 2-4 servings of fish per week were associated with a 15% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Unprocessed red meat can be highly nutritious but is often high in saturated fats. Studies show red meat consumption is often associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality.
Many fish dishes are delicious and easy to prepare, making it relatively easy to incorporate into your diet as an evening meal.
6. Savor Your Bites
The Mediterranean diet is not just about the food you eat but also the way you eat it. Mediterranean communities spent more time over their food compared to today.
Eating quickly has been associated with excess body weight. Data also suggests eating slowly may help maximize feelings of fullness and reduce calorie intake within meals.
Try bonding over food by eating with friends and family. This should slow down your eating and reduce your need to snack afterwards. Really try and enjoy the tastes of your food rather than shoveling it all down.