If you want to lower your risk of heart disease and lose weight, without feeling deprived, the Mediterranean diet just might be the plan for you. The Mediterranean diet is known for being one of the healthiest eating patterns and one of the easiest plans to follow. In fact, research has shown that it can lower bad cholesterol, lower risk for certain types of cancer, and even improve brain health. The Mediterranean diet doesn’t call for eliminating entire food groups, but encourages smart choices from each.
Many of the grains you will find available in the Mediterranean diet, like barley and buckwheat, are whole grains, which have so many health benefits. Whole grains are not only packed with heart-healthy vitamins and antioxidants, they also contain fiber. Fiber is good for digestive health and heart health, as it can help lower LDL cholesterol (the type of cholesterol that causes heart disease). The Mediterranean diet also encourages enjoying whole-grain breads with olive oil instead of butter because of the heart-health benefits.
FRUITS & VEGETABLES
The diet places an emphasis on consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables. Cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, onions, bell peppers, broccoli, and spinach are all great examples. Combining vegetables with whole grains, in a pasta salad or couscous for example, is a great way to enjoy both. Fruits such as berries, apples, melons, and figs all make great snack or even dessert options. For breakfast you can easily combine fruits with whole grains for a breakfast muesli or try blueberry pancakes made with buckwheat.
Protein from lean sources such as poultry and seafood are encouraged at least twice a week. However, red meat is supposed to be limited to only a few times per month. Seafood is encouraged because of the heart healthy fats, which are good for brain and heart health. Lean poultry is encouraged because it’s low in saturated fat, but high in protein, which is good for muscle building and satiety. Lemon chicken salad or Tuscan chicken stew would both be great dishes to include on the plan.
Dairy is allowed on the Mediterranean diet, but moderation is key. Instead of fat-free or sugar-free yogurt, switch to plain Greek yogurt, which is lower in sugar, but higher in protein. Low-fat milk and cheeses like feta and brie are also allowed, but moderation is encouraged because of their saturated fat and sodium content. For a simple and healthy weeknight dinner, try combining grilled chicken kabobs with a lemon-dill Greek yogurt dipping sauce.
NUTS & LEGUMES
Nuts, seeds, and legumes are encouraged because they contain heart-healthy fats and fiber. Almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, and sesame seeds can be enjoyed as a snack or sprinkled on vegetables or hot cereals. Legumes, such as split peas and red lentils, are great in soups, stews or on top of salads. Try making hummus at home by using chickpeas, olive oil, and lemon juice, then enjoy it with grilled chicken, sliced bell peppers, and whole-wheat pita bread.
Saturated fats like butter are discouraged on the Mediterranean diet, which instead urges heart-healthy fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Heart-healthy fats can actually help raise HDL cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol that our bodies make in order to fight heart disease. To incorporate them, opt for a baked potato with a drizzle of olive oil, or try adding diced avocado to green salads with grilled chicken. If creamy chicken salad is more your pace, serve it with chopped olives.
Instead of using salt to season your dishes, the use of herbs and spices is highly encouraged on the Mediterranean diet. Garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, and basil are all great flavors to add to simply grilled chicken or green salads. Citrus juice from lemons, limes, and oranges can also add flavor that’s perfect for salads and marinades. Try experimenting at home with different seasonings, and find what works for you.
VARIETY & BALANCE
The Mediterranean diet has a lot to offer in terms of variety and health benefits. In additions to focusing on making smart choices, the plan also encourages family meals and making time for physical activity. Lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy are all smart choices that can help you maintain a Mediterranean-style eating pattern. One you and your family can stick to.
“Work With What You Got!”
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