How many times have you heard the phrase, “You are what you eat”?
It is easy to become desensitized to common expressions, but this one is very true. What you eat literally becomes a part of your body.
The Mediterranean Diet is based on a heart-healthy approach to good eating. When you commit to a healthy diet, you agree to embrace health by screening what goes into your body.
Living in areas like Northern Virginia, where many individuals eat out at least 3 – 5 times a week, can make healthy diet decisions even more difficult.
Although there are lots of restaurants to choose from, it can be difficult to find the ones offering menu items that are both healthy and pleasing on the palate.
Most diets on the market focus on eating healthy foods.
Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are good for you and that unhealthy fats should be avoided.
But the Mediterranean Diet focuses on the proportions of healthy foods that should be eaten and differentiates between healthy foods that should be eaten on a regular basis and healthy foods that should be eaten at every meal.
Familiarity with the Mediterranean Diet will help you make healthy choices whether you’re dining out or shopping at the grocery.
First, we’ll take a look at the benefits and key components of the Mediterranean Diet and then we’ll provide you with a shopping list that will get you well on your way to eating the Mediterranean way!
Why Choose the Mediterranean Diet?
Studies following more than 1.5 million adults have shown that following a Mediterranean Diet, combined with a healthy lifestyle, resulted in reduced cancer and heart disease risk and also lowered the chances of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Consumers of the Mediterranean Diet also maintain lower BMIs and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol
The Mediterranean Diet promotes good health, reduces disease, works for folks of all ages and is affordable and simple to embrace. A trip to your local grocery is all it takes to start making small changes that will have a profound impact on your eating habits and ultimately on your health.
Major Components of the Mediterranean Diet
- Focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. These foods should be included in every meal.
- Whenever possible, replace margarine and butter with olive oil.
- Use plenty of herbs and spices to flavor your food instead of salt.
- Red meat consumption should be limited to only a few times a month.
- Eat fish, seafood or poultry at least twice a week.
- Eat dairy products daily but restrict to low and non-fat products.
- Replace desserts with fruit.
- Drink red wine … in moderation, of course!
Your Mediterranean Diet Shopping List
Did you know that people living in Greece eat seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily? Their average lifespans are longer than U.S. citizens, so they’re obviously doing something right!
To help you get started with the Mediterranean way of eating (we don’t even like to call it a diet!), we’ve summarized below a few examples of the kinds of food items you should be adding to your grocery list and including in your diet every day.
Beans and chick peas are first-class contributors of fiber and protein.
They reduce your chance of colon cancer and are great for limiting and managing diabetes. You can simply add them to a salad, serve them as a side dish or use chickpeas to make hummus – a Mediterranean staple!
You can keep it as simple as sliced tomatoes or go with broccoli rabe or eggplant.
- Broccoli rabe is your ace in the hole for greens, imparting potassium, calcium, fiber, and Vitamin C. It also has carotenoids and cellular superheroes known to lower your risk of cancer.
- Eggplant provides a hearty kick to any meal that can only be described as “meaty without the meat”. It contributes fiber and potassium and has been linked to the production of antibodies and reduces your chances of getting cancer.
- Green beans, carrots, and squash are great dipped in hummus. When it comes to vegetables, the list is endless.
Nuts and Seeds
These are a great source of protein and fiber and also provide healthy fats and antioxidants. If you are busy or find you lack energy before or after lunch, nuts are fantastic for boosting your energy. 12 almonds or walnut halves a day will do the trick.
Any fresh fruit works! Think about oranges, pomegranates, grapes and apples. Keep dried figs around for a quick snack. And when you think “dessert”, think fresh fruit instead. Try adding strawberries, blueberries or blackberries to fat-free Greek yogurt. Delicious!
Whole Wheat Bread
Refined carbs lack nutrients so sticking with whole grain bread is best. It’s very important you review the ingredient list on the bread you purchase.
Some whole grain breads contain harmful oils, starches, and sugars, which should be avoided.
We saved the best for last. Olive oil is the main source of dietary fat in the Mediterranean Diet and is one of the main reasons people indigenous to the Mediterranean region have such a low rate of cardiovascular issues.
Individuals who regularly consume olive oil are less likely to develop cardiovascular illnesses, including high blood pressure and stroke. And folks who fry with olive oil can rest assured that they’re not increasing their chances of heart disease. In fact, Mediterranean countries have a long history of using both olive and sunflower oils as a base for deep-frying foods.
The well-known health benefits of olive oil have resulted in a wide variety of olive oils on the grocery shelves. Some are infused with flavors such as basil, lemon and garlic. Extra virgin olive oil is the very best you can buy. Think about pouring a little in a bowl and adding fresh ground pepper and some red pepper flakes and then dipping with a whole grain bread. Or dribble olive oil over your freshly sliced tomatoes or sauté fresh vegetables with garlic infused olive oil.
When you don’t want olive oil, go to the source and enjoy a bowl of assorted Greek olives for a tasty and different snack.
Add the above foods to your daily menu and you’ll be well on the way to improving your health and that of your family. And if you’re looking to dine out, there are several restaurants in Northern Virginia that offer Mediterranean food and provide a great selection of healthy, flavorful Mediterranean dishes that will allow you to eat out yet maintain a healthy diet.
Stay tuned for future articles on the Mediterranean diet – we’ll help you work your way up the pyramid and try to offer some healthy recipes along the way!
For more helpful tips and ideas on how to follow the Mediterranean Diet here, check out our handy infographic here.