Here at Elevated, the eating plan that is probably closest to our hearts – quite literally given its affect on cardiovascular function – is the Mediterranean diet.
The traditional Mediterranean diet refers to the dietary pattern in the Mediterranean olive grove areas at the beginning of the 1960s, during the post-World War II recovery period but before these areas were influenced by fast-food culture.
It’s traditionally characterised by high consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish and olive oil, low consumption of milk and meat and moderate intake of alcohol (1).
Some of you will love the latter, which is perfect as a key facet of the Mediterranean diet is not only what you eat but how you eat it. Traditionally, those communities excelled in taking time to sit and enjoy a meal with family and friends as a social, communal event, rather than the means to an end that food has become for many of us as we cram a sandwich into our mouths while staring at a computer screen.
The Mediterranean diet is also one of the most studied by scientists over the years, proving beneficial at combatting many of the illnesses and diseases seen today, from the aforementioned heart health, to type-II diabetes and even some cancers.
It’s one of the reasons why two of the World’s famed Blue Zones, where people have the longest life expectancy, are in the Mediterranean: Ikaria in Greece and Sardinia in Italy.
What Do Mediterranean Diet Meals Include?
There is no one right way to follow the Mediterranean diet, as there are many countries around the Mediterranean Sea and people in different areas may have eaten different foods – but here are some general guidelines that largely match our thoughts on healthy eating here at Elevated.
The beauty of the Mediterranean diet lies in its abundance and variety, focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients and offering endless possibilities for mealtime creativity.
- Vegetables: Take centre stage, bursting with colour and flavour. Think of vibrant salads tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, cucumber, and olives; roasted eggplant drizzled with balsamic glaze; or steamed artichokes dipped in garlicky tahini sauce.
- Fruits: Fresh and seasonal fruits add sweetness and essential vitamins. Imagine juicy watermelon in the summer, tangy oranges for breakfast, or a refreshing pear and fig salad.
- Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, and beans provide protein and fibre, starring in stews, soups, and dips like hummus. Falafel patties and lentil bolognese offer delicious vegetarian alternatives.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts add a satisfying crunch and healthy fats. Sprinkle them on salads, yogurt parfaits, or homemade pesto.
- Whole Grains: Brown rice, quinoa, barley, and whole-wheat bread or pasta form the base of many meals. Whole-wheat couscous with roasted vegetables or a hearty chickpea and barley soup are just a few examples.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This liquid gold of the Mediterranean Diet and adds depth of flavour and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Drizzle it on salads, vegetables, dips, or bread for a touch of magic.
Seafood & Poultry:
- Fish and Shellfish: Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, enjoyed 2-3 times per week. Grilled sardines, baked cod with lemon and thyme, or shellfish paella are classic choices.
- Poultry: Lean chicken and turkey provide protein and can be enjoyed roasted, grilled, or stewed in aromatic herbs.
- Cheese and Yogurt: Sheep and goat milk cheeses like feta, halloumi, and ricotta add a creamy touch, enjoyed in moderation. Greek yogurt with honey and berries makes a healthy and satisfying breakfast.
Wine in Moderation:
- For those who choose to imbibe, a glass of red wine, particularly rich in antioxidants, can be enjoyed with meals.
Beyond the Plate:
- Fresh Herbs and Spices: Mint, rosemary, oregano, basil, and garlic infuse dishes with fragrant Mediterranean flavours.
- Seasonal Inspiration: Embrace the rhythm of the seasons, incorporating local, fresh produce at its peak for maximum flavour and nutritional value.
- Shared Meals: Savouring meals with loved ones, with time for conversation and slow enjoyment, is fundamental to the Mediterranean way of life.
Mediterranean Foods to eat
- Most of the time: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.
- In moderation: Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.
- Eat rarely: Red meat.
Mediterranean Foods to avoid
- Added sugar: Pop/soda, sweets/candies, ice cream and table sugar
- Refined grains: White bread, pasta made with refined wheat, white rice
- Trans fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods.
- Refined oils: Soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and others.
- Processed meat: Processed sausages, hot dogs, hams
- Highly processed foods: Anything labeled “low-fat” or “diet” or which looks like it was made in a factory.
Scientists are so enamoured with the Mediterranean diet that they use a Mediterranean Diet Score to assess how close people get to it. Want to find out if you’re a Greek God of eating? Take our quiz below.
Mediterranean Diet Benefits
The Mediterranean diet offers a sustainable, delicious way to eat your way to better health. Think sun-drenched vegetables, fresh seafood, and heart-healthy olive oil, all woven together in a lifestyle that nourishes your body and soul.
This isn’t just about weight loss, though it can help you shed unwanted pounds naturally. It’s about protecting your heart, boosting your brainpower, and even lowering your risk of diabetes and inflammation. Studies show the Mediterranean diet can:
- Slash your risk of heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Sharpen your memory and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Keep your blood sugar in check and manage type 2 diabetes.
- Fight off chronic inflammation linked to various diseases.
There are so many delicious Mediterranean dishes that are packed with nutrients and flavour for every occasion. Here are a few Mediterranean meals you can try:
Mediterranean Breakfast Meals
- Greek Yogurt Parfait with Honey and Berries: A quick and healthy way to start your day, packed with protein, probiotics, and antioxidants.
- Shakshuka: Poached eggs nestled in a vibrant tomato sauce with spices and crusty bread for dipping – a Mediterranean brunch classic.
Mediterranean Lunchtime Meals
- Mediterranean Chopped Salad: A rainbow of vegetables, olives, feta cheese, and a tangy vinaigrette – perfect for a light and refreshing lunch.
- Lentil Falafel Pitas: Crispy falafel made with protein-packed lentils, nestled in warm pita bread with hummus, veggies, and tahini sauce – a flavourful and satisfying vegetarian option.
Mediterranean Dinner Dishes
- One-Pan Mediterranean Chicken with Roasted Vegetables: Herbs, olive oil, and juicy vegetables dance alongside your choice of chicken in this easy and flavourful sheet pan meal.
- Greek Shrimp Saganaki: Shrimp sizzling in a garlicky tomato sauce with feta cheese and a touch of ouzo – a taste of the Aegean brought to your table.
- Greek Honey Yogurt Cake: Spiced with cinnamon and drizzled with honey, this moist and flavourful cake is a healthy and satisfying way to end your meal.
- Fresh Fruit with Honey and Mint: Simple yet elegant, let the natural sweetness of seasonal fruits shine with a touch of honey and refreshing mint.
Our Mediterranean Recipe: Watermelon & Feta Salad
This simple summer salad is packed with goodness and bursting with Mediterranean-inspired flavours. Tangy barrel-aged feta cheese from goats and ewe’s milk offers calcium without reverting to cow’s milk and is packed with gut-friendly bacteria. It marries well with crisp, sweet watermelon, great for hydration and soaked with vitamins A, B6 and C, antioxidants and amino acids (the building blocks of proteins).
Watermelon is high in lycopene – an antioxidant that has been linked to benefits ranging from heart health to protection against sunburn and certain types of cancer. Watermelon also contains citrulline, a valuable amino acid that can be converted to another amino acide arginine that helps promote improved circulation and has been dubbed ‘nature’s Viagra’.
Elsewhere in the dish, using local honey could help micro-dose against pollen allergies, and mint contains vitamin A, manganese and folate – the natural version of folic acid.
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Mediterranean Diet & Mediterranean Meal FAQs
Can I follow the Mediterranean diet if I’m vegetarian?
Absolutely! While the traditional Mediterranean diet includes some fish and poultry, it heavily emphasises plant-based foods, making it easily adaptable to a vegetarian lifestyle. Here are some tips for embracing the Med diet as a vegetarian:
- Embrace legumes: lentils, chickpeas, and beans are protein powerhouses, offering versatile options for stews, salads, dips, and falafel.
- Get creative with nuts and seeds: incorporate them into salads, dips, pestos, or sprinkle them on roasted vegetables for added texture and nutrition.
- Explore vegetarian protein sources: tofu, tempeh, seitan, and mycoprotein offer delicious and sustainable alternatives to animal protein.
- Focus on colourful vegetables: prioritise a rainbow of vegetables in your meals, each offering unique antioxidants and health benefits.
- Don’t neglect whole grains: opt for quinoa, brown rice, farro, or whole-wheat bread and pasta as your primary carbohydrate sources.
What about dairy in Mediterranean meals?
Dairy in the Mediterranean diet is enjoyed in moderation, primarily focusing on cheese and yogurt made from sheep or goat milk. If you choose to avoid dairy, plenty of plant-based alternatives like soy yogurt, nut milks, and fortified cheeses are available.
Can I still drink alcohol on a Mediterranean diet?
Moderate consumption of red wine, particularly rich in beneficial antioxidants, is a traditional component of the Mediterranean diet. However, remember that alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation and is not essential for the diet’s health benefits. If you choose not to drink alcohol, substitute with water, herbal teas, or unsweetened iced tea.
How can I adapt the Mediterranean diet to my specific needs?
The beauty of the Mediterranean diet lies in its flexibility. It can be customised to accommodate various dietary restrictions, cultural preferences, and health conditions. Consult a registered dietitian or healthcare professional for personalised guidance on adapting the diet to your specific needs.