Why the Mediterranean Diet is the Ultimate Choice for a Healthy Lifestyle
Author: Samantha Huson
If you’re looking for a meal guide that promotes family time, healthy eating, and a heart healthy diet, the Mediterranean diet might be the ideal plan for you. Based on the fundamentals of eating in the Mediterranean, this diet focuses not only on eating food for a healthy body, but on spending time with family, having your fair share of wine (finally!), and staying balanced with the incorporation of physical activity. The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle first and foremost, not a weight loss plan, but the benefits to this way of living are almost endless. If it all sounds too good to be true, it isn’t. Experts like those at the Mayo Clinic and the World Health Organization (www.mayoclinic.org) agree that this diet has plenty of positives and few drawbacks (besides curbing some of those pesky junk food cravings). So, take a look for yourself and see why this plan is one of the best and most sustainable diets around.
WHAT IS IT?
In short, the Mediterranean diet combines the basics of healthy eating with the flavours of the Mediterranean. This diet encourages healthy food choices in the form of plant-based meals, and while meat is still allowed, it often takes the form of lean poultries like chicken, and protein high in Omega 3 fatty acids such as fish. A staple of this diet is the incorporation of legumes, which add protein and nutrients that would otherwise be lacking in a typical vegetarian diet. This plan is all about balance; increasing plant food consumption, decreasing bleached bread products and pastas, all while encouraging time with your loved ones through meals served in the traditional family style. Countries like Greece and Italy have long experienced low rates of cardiovascular disease and have an overall improved health over their North American counterparts, and there’s no surprise as to why that is. The Mediterranean lifestyle encourages health for your body, mind and spirit, and is easy to incorporate into your daily routines. It is highly flexible, so making healthy meals a part of your every day has never been simpler.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Though this diet is very customizable to your family’s wants and needs, there are a few guidelines to help you get started.
- Increase your fruits and veggies: these are the mainstays of the Mediterranean diet. Unlike most North American meals, in the Mediterranean fruits and vegetables are the stars; they take the place of meat as the most attractive part on your plate. You should aim for around 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, but with such a wide variety of choices out there it isn’t hard to mix it up and keep things interesting.
- Switch to whole grains: this is an easy swap to make, and your family will hardly notice the difference, but the benefits to making this change are substantial. Trading in your highly processed, bleached breads and pastas for whole grain options, and adding unconventional grains like bulgur, can revolutionize your standard pantry and help you get creative in the kitchen.
- Eat more fish: increasing your fish intake to twice a week can have a significant impact on your health. Fish like Salmon, Mackerel and Tuna are high in healthy fats and can help decrease levels of bad cholesterol. Use seafood as a substitute for more common red meats and allow their delicate flavours to shine alongside a plate heaping with veggies.
- Eat less red meat: on the flip side, decreasing your amount of red meat intake to once every few weeks can also be highly beneficial. Red meat consumption has been linked to increases in saturated and trans fats (aka the bad fats), that increase cholesterol and can impact your likelihood of developing cardiovascular problems. Decreasing the number of times in a month that you eat red meat means you leave room for healthier proteins like chicken, fish and plant protein, and increase your overall wellness by using these as part of your healthy meals.
- Rock those good fats: Olive oil is a staple in most Mediterranean countries, and it is easy to see why. Benefits abound with this healthy fat, and its versatility in cooking proves its value. You can also find these good fats in plants such as avocados and in nuts and seeds.
- Bump up the beans: adding beans and a variety of other legumes to your diet can help supply protein and fiber, both key elements in maintaining a healthy diet. Some examples are beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils and peanuts. There are plenty of recipes with legumes as the base, so feel free to take inspiration from them and create your own winning dishes that star these nutrient packed dynamos.
Other important aspects of this diet include a decrease in dairy consumption, as well as incorporating more nuts and seeds. These guidelines illustrate the fundamentals of the Mediterranean diet, but remember: there is no one way to stick it. If your plate is popping with colour and fresh flavours, then you’re on the right track. So, mix it up, experiment, and see what wondrous creations you can make.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Though the Mediterranean diet has been around for ages, it is only now gaining in popularity. That’s thanks to the multitude of health benefits that one can obtain from this diet. The short list of benefits includes heart and brain health, weight loss, diabetes prevention and control, as well as potential cancer prevention (www.helpguide.org). The nature of this diet incorporates healthy eating with exercise, two of the most influential aspects of overall health, but the best benefit is that it helps keep the whole family healthy. The Mediterranean diet is easy to sustain, and a quick Google search will provide you with hundreds of delicious recipes to help keep you on track. With how easy it is to stick to, and the numerous health benefits you can achieve, it’s obvious why the Mediterranean diet is gaining steam and consistently ranks among the best diet plans for overall wellbeing.
CAN IT HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS?
While the Mediterranean diet was not designed as a weight loss plan, there is a good chance that making the switch to this heart healthy diet can help you lose weight and keep it off. The basics of this diet are rooted in healthy food choices, opting for foods that contain little or no processing, thus they maintain their nutritional value. There are no preservatives, no added sugars or fats; just good food, plain and simple. Since much of our diets consist of processed elements and have high sugar and fat contents -even when we try not to- sticking to the Mediterranean way of eating can facilitate weight loss and help stop those pounds from coming back. Plus, with such a heavy emphasis on fruits and veggies, snacking throughout the day has never been easier! Even the kiddos will love the fresh, healthy food choices available to them. A simple snack of apples and almond butter, or veggies and hummus, sticks to the plan and fills you up between mealtimes, and lets kids explore the nature of good food and how to make good food choices.
So, what are you waiting for? The Mediterranean diet is packed full of delicious, nutritious foods that the whole family will love. It’s easy to stick to, has plenty of health benefits, and may be just the thing you’ve been looking for to help you get active, stay healthy, and most of all spend time with your family. So, grab a glass of wine (it’s diet recommended) and start combing through some recipes. You’re sure to find something both you and the kids will love.
About the author:
Originally from a small town in Ontario, as a child I was captivated by all things strange and magical. I was encouraged to read from a young age, and it led to a lifelong love affair with the written word. Now I spend my days helping others to communicate through my writing, and focus on everything from sales copy to creative writing and more. If you’re looking to see more of my work, or you’re interested in connecting with me, check out my profile at www.facebook.com/samanthahusoncopywriter. I’m always available to discuss a project or a new idea!