The Mediterranean diet, perhaps the healthiest in the world, is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil. Fish and poultry -sources of protein- prevail over red meat. Red wine is consumed regularly but in moderate amounts.
Research suggests that the benefits of following an eating pattern like the Mediterranean diet can be many: increased weight loss, better control of blood glucose (sugar) levels, and reduced risk of depression, to name a few. Eating like a Mediterranean has also been associated with reduced levels of inflammation, a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease.
Here are the steps you can take to move toward a more Mediterranean diet. Pick one of these strategies and make it a habit. When you're ready, move on to the next strategy and find out that the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are said to be contagious according to a study.
Regardless of where you decide to start, these eight tips for starting a Mediterranean diet can help you change your plate so you can reap the health benefits.
If you have been cooking with vegetable or coconut oil, switch to extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which can improve HDL cholesterol, the "good" type of cholesterol. HDL cholesterol carries "bad" LDL particles out of your arteries, according to a 2017 study in Circulation.
Use olive oil in homemade salad dressings and vinaigrettes. Sprinkle it on finished dishes such as fish or chicken to enhance its flavor. Swap butter for olive oil in mashed potatoes, pasta, and other dishes.
The main protein in the Mediterranean diet is fish. In particular, this diet emphasizes fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel. These fish are rich in heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Even leaner, lower-fat fish (such as cod or tilapia) is still worth a try, as they provide a good source of protein.
If you don't currently eat much fish in your diet, an easy entry point is to designate one day a week as fish night. Cooking fish in parchment paper or foil packets is a simple and hassle-free way to get dinner on the table. Or, try incorporating it into some of your favorite foods, like tacos, stir-fries, and soups.
If you look at your diet and are concerned that there is hardly any green insight, this is the perfect opportunity to incorporate more vegetables. A great way to do this is to have one serving at snack time, like crunching bell pepper strips or tossing a handful of spinach into a smoothie, and another at dinner, like these quick and easy side dishes. Try to take at least two servings a day.
Experiment with "real" whole grains that are still in their "whole" form and have not been refined. Quinoa cooks in just 20 minutes, making it a great side dish for weeknight meals. Barley is full of fiber and fills the stomach: combine it with mushrooms for a hot and satisfying soup. A bowl of hot oatmeal is perfect for breakfast on a cold winter morning.
Nuts are another staple of the Mediterranean diet. Grabbing a handful of either almonds, cashews, or pistachios can be a satisfying snack on the go.
A study published in the Nutrition Journal found that if people substituted almonds for their usual snack foods (cookies, chips, crackers, snack mix, granola bars), their diets would be lower in empty calories, added sugars, and sodium. Also, nuts contain more fiber and minerals, such as potassium, than processed snacks.
Often a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants, fresh fruit is a healthy way to treat yourself. If it helps you eat more, add a little sugar: drizzle pear slices with honey, or sprinkle some brown sugar over grapefruit.
Keep fresh fruit on display at home and stash a piece or two at work for a healthy snack when your stomach starts growling. In many grocery stores there are exotic fruits; choose a new one to try each week and broaden your fruit horizons.
The people who live in the Mediterranean - Spanish, Italian, French, Greek, and others - are not known to shy away from wine, but that doesn't mean you should serve it as you please. The dietitians and experts who developed the Mediterranean diet for the New England Journal of Medicine study advised women to limit themselves to a 3-ounce serving, and men to a 5-ounce serving, per day.
When you do sip, try to do it with a meal, and even better if you share it with loved ones. If you are a teetotaler, you should not start drinking just for this diet.
Eating like the Mediterranean is as much a lifestyle as it is a diet. Instead of gobbling up food in front of the TV, slow down and sit down at the table with your family and friends to savor what you're eating. Not only will you enjoy the company and the food, but eating slowly will allow you to tune in to your body's hunger and fullness signals. You are more likely to eat until you feel satisfied than until you feel full.
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