by Will Clower, PhD, Founder and CEO of Mediterranean Wellness
The Mediterranean diet is one of the very healthiest diets on Earth. Those who adopt it into their meal patterns not only get to enjoy delicious foods, but also have lower weight, healthier hearts, and longer lives. A total win-win.
But the challenge for us is that most of us don’t happen to live there. How are we supposed to get their healthy results when we don’t have two and a half hours to finish our lunch, fresh markets on every corner, and a lifestyle with far less stress in it?
Our knee-jerk reaction is to look for a meal plan, like a plug-and-play prescription for instant health. However, the idea of a Mediterranean meal plan with a dictation of foods that you have to eat at certain times of the day is so contradictory that it’s an oxymoron. That said, we still need a little direction just to get started applying the healthy habits of the Mediterranean lifestyle in our everyday lives. And the good news is that, to meet this balance between our need for prescription and their more intuitive approach, we will provide some general rules for you to follow, along with guidance on acceptable choices for drinks, snacks, meals, and sides.
From this baseline level of understanding, you can build your Mediterranean dietary plan and start creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself.
Mediterranean Diet Rule #1: Mediterranean foods are simple foods.
You may have seen fancy chefs produce fancy foods with fancy ingredients that totally intimidate you from ever trying to make Mediterranean meals, but this isn’t what happens in the real world of the Mediterranean diet. Foods are made by moms who got their recipes by watching their moms make everyday foods … every day!
Mediterranean Diet Rule #2: Go fresh and go local.
When shopping, go fresh and go local whenever you can. Find farmers markets because the produce that has just been pulled out of the dirt will necessarily be fresher, tastier, and healthier than the stuff that has been shipped in.
Mediterranean Diet Rule #3: Everything is on the table.
Carbs? Sure! Italians eat pasta, French eat baguettes, Spanish eat saffron rice in their paella, and cous cous is a staple grain. Fats? You bet. Their diet consists of daily dairy (full fat, otherwise known as “normal”) in the form of yogurt and cheese, extra virgin olive oil is the main oil, and butter is used to sauté veggies. Protein? Yes again. Lean on fish and chicken the most, followed by pork, game, and then beef the least frequently.
Mediterranean Diet Rule #4: Eat small, be small.
The only way you can eat the rich, delicious, “make-you-moan-out-loud” foods of the Mediterranean region healthfully is to do that in control. And the way they eat them in control is to eat small by the bite and take their time doing it. The beautiful upside of this cultural eating behavior is that you end up tasting your food more, consuming it less, getting all its ample health properties without eating so much that it becomes bad for you.
Mediterranean Diet Rule #5: Eat at meal times.
In healthy cultures, they eat at meal times and do other things between meals. If you have a hard time making it from one meal the next, it may indicate that you need a bit more healthy fats or protein. These lower the glycemic index of any carbs you have so you’ll be less likely to be hungry between meals.
- Wine (red or white, but lean toward dryer varieties always)
- Unsweetened tea
- LIMIT: all soda, drinks with additive sugars, coffees with syrups/caramel etc.
- Nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds)
- Roasted red peppers
- LIMIT: All candies or “candied” items
- Fruit with whole milk yogurt and granola
- Oatmeal with butter
- LIMIT: boxed cereals, powdered packet oatmeal
- Baked white fish with salsa topping of chopped tomato, onion, & caper (salsa marinated in olive oil/lemon juice +salt/pepper)
- Smoked salmon (flaked) cut into orzo pasta/olive oil/salt/pepper + capers + sun dried tomatoes
- Grilled salmon, seared and painted over with olive oil + thyme + salt/pepper
- Chicken thighs, seared in a pan, cooked through in a mélange of tomatoes + onions + olives. Serve over the top of grilled eggplant
- LIMIT: red meats to once per month, all processed meat, nitrate-preserved pork, and “meat products”
- Grilled veggies (eggplant, summer squash, zucchini)
- Mushroom/onion sauté
- Fresh-cut sweet bell peppers
- Sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, basil with olive oil/balsamic
- Pasta + olive oil + parmesan + any fresh veg (chopped)
- Risotto base, with lemon + sun dried tomatoes (diced) + parmesan
- Cous cous + butter/Salt/Pepper + any veg addition (diced) + parsley
- White beans + diced tomatoes/olive oil, finished w squeeze of lemon
- Plain dark chocolate
- Cut fruit
- Small bites of rich wonderful cheese
- LIMIT: all desserts high in sugar, large volumes of any dessert, all candy