The Mediterranean diet is a great way to eat. Not only is it nutritious and health-promoting, but it also tastes good! The Mediterranean diet and other traditional “heritage” diets are plant-based diets, rich in whole foods and contain very few highly processed foods. There are a large variety of foods to choose from, as well as many delicious ways to prepare these foods.
Many countries and food cultures fall under the Mediterranean diet umbrella. The countries that border the Mediterranean Sea include not only Greece and southern parts of Italy, France and Spain, but also Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco and several others. It’s a satisfying way to eat that offers heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, inflammation-fighting phytonutrients, gut-friendly prebiotic fiber, and a wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Research Shows Health Benefits to Mediterranean Diet Choices
It seems that every week there is a new study showing a different health benefit related to the Mediterranean diet. The research is strongest in showing a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammation, some cancers, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Not to mention increased longevity.
One study, the PREDIMED (PREvention con DIeta MEDiterranea) randomized clinical trial followed 7,447 adults who were high risk for cardiovascular disease for eight years. One group followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil, a second group followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, and a third control group followed a generic low-fat diet. Results showed that the Mediterranean diet showed significant reductions in cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer.
Bringing the Mediterranean Into Your Home
The Mediterranean diet doesn't highlight any one particular food—it’s the combination of nutrient-rich foods working together synergistically. Here are a list of foods you can include to make your diet Mediterranean:
- Greens, greens and more greens. Dark leafy greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and plant-based omega 3 fatty acids. We don’t have the same access to the 150 types of edible wild greens found on the Greek island of Ikaria, but we can forage for “weeds” like dandelion greens and purslane. We can also enjoy cultivated greens like kale, beet greens, mustard greens and collard greens. Try adding greens to frittatas, scrambled eggs or bean and lentil soups. Sauté greens with garlic and finish with a squeeze of lemon and enjoy raw salads of dark leafy greens, dressed with an olive oil vinaigrette.
- Pulses. How fortuitous that it’s Mediterranean Diet Month and the Year of Pulses! Pulses are an important part of the Mediterranean diet, especially chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils, fava beans and other pulses. These are common ingredients in soups, stews and spreads (hummus). Pulses contribute protein, fiber and nutrients to our diets.
- Herbs. Herbs are high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Each region in the Mediterranean has a different flavor palette, but herbs and spices are universally important. Do as they do in the Mediterranean, and add fresh herbs to salads to give then an antioxidant boost.
- Lemons. Lemons were brought to the Mediterranean from the Far East long ago. The acidity and high flavonoid content of lemon juice and lemon peels have a beneficial impact on blood sugar by slowing stomach emptying after a meal. Lemon juice is a staple ingredient in hummus, but you can also go Mediterranean by squeezing lemon juice on salads, fish, roasted broccoli, beans, into soups and drinking water.
- Nuts. Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and other nuts are staples in the Mediterranean diet. Eat them on their own or chop and add them to salads and other dishes for heart-healthy fats along with protein, fiber and a wealth of nutrients.
- Olive oil. Italy, Spain and Greece are the top three producers of olive oil in the world. Olive oil also happens to be the common dietary denominator throughout the Mediterranean. Olive oil is the principal source of dietary fat for both cooking and baking. Is important not just for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but also because it makes it all those vegetable and pulses more delicious!
Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
This simple salad includes many foods that are central to the Mediterranean diet. You could enjoy this salad on its own or as a side dish.
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained, or 2 cups cooked chickpeas (from dried)
- 1/3 cup chopped or quartered Kalamata olives
- 1/4 cup chopped almonds
- 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Place chickpeas, olives, almonds, feta and parsley in a medium bowl.
- Toss gently to combine.
- Add lemon juice, olive oil and garlic to bowl, toss again to coat.
- Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. Can be served chilled or at room temperature.
Recipe by Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD
- Menu for Change
- Oldways: Inspiring Good Health
- Menu for Change Offers Weight Management Support
- “The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook” by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
- “Mediterranean Harvest” by Martha Rose Schulman
- “Recipes for Health” by Martha Rose Schulman
- “The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook” by America’s Test Kitchen