Diet 101: The Mediterranean Diet

Salmon, olive oil, red wine and almonds top the list of preferred foods for this eating plan. They're all healthy picks, but read on to learn if the Mediterranean diet is the right choice for you.
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Many people focus on losing weight this time of year, and often that means going on a diet. To help, we wanted to start a series looking at some popular ones. As always, Healthy Eats is about eating well every day -- not encouraging crash diets or fad foods -- but we still want you to know these diet basics.

First up: the Mediterranean Diet. Salmon, olive oil, red wine and almonds top the list of must-eat foods in this diet plan. They're all healthy picks, but read on to learn if this diet is the right choice for you.

An Overview

Since much of the Mediterranean area is surrounded by water, fish is a main source of protein in this diet (which some might even call a type of "cuisine"). The focus is replacing high-fat meats with lower-fat plant proteins -- such as nuts, seeds and legumes -- and eliminate many processed foods. The diet gets its name from the style of cooking and foods common to the Mediterranean region. Dishes mainly feature whole grains, healthier fats (particularly omega-3 fats) and lots of fruits and fresh veggies. A glass of red wine is permitted occasionally. Check out the Mediterranean Food Guide Pyramid here.

Several scientific studies have associated this diet with extending life expectancy and lowering risks for heart disease and cancer.

More guidelines for this diet:
  • Use lots of fresh herbs and spices to flavor your meals instead of salt.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week.
  • Eat minimal red meat.
  • Get your omega-3 fats from walnuts, fatty fish and canola oil.
  • Exercise is a must!
  • Enjoy your meals with family and friends.
The Costs

With the Mediterranean Diet, you're turning to simple, fresh food choices -- not buying pricy pre-packaged meals or signing up to special diet programs. Note that because many of the foods recommended are fresh your grocery bill might be a bit pricier.

As with all diets (and especially the popular ones), you’ll find an array of diet books that offer advice, meal planners and recipes to follow -- many books vary according to the author's or expert's opinions or even the specific Mediterranean country referenced. While variations might have distinct guidelines and their own special dishes, the basic ideas above carry over to all. Browse the cooking section of your bookstore or online; there will be many choices.

Be wary of any diet books that eliminate many foods and are very restrictive. Another up and comer, the Sonoma Diet, is loosely based on the Mediterranean-style of eating; it has a delicious list of recipes but the guidelines warn you away from many foods.

If you want to follow a directed, online version of this diet, ediets.com offers individualized meal plans through their website for $17.96 for four weeks.

The Good
  • Many healthy foods recommended.
  • Lots of omega-3s added to your daily diet.
  • Wine is allowed.
  • Scientific evidence shows the benefits of following this eating plan.
  • Moderate exercise recommended.
  • Encourages time with family and friends.
The Not-So Good
  • Foods may get pricey.
  • Some versions of the diet are too restrictive and may be unhealthy to follow.
  • You need to make time to cook and pre-plan for grocery shopping.
The Bottom Line

The Mediterranean Diet offers primarily healthy, fresh and unprocessed foods. Many of the food choices, such as oil and nuts, are high in fat, but it’s the good fat (monounsaturated fats). which are healthy to consume in small amounts (more isn’t always better!).

Check out this this informative article for more on the Mediterranean Diet.

Recipe pictured above: Food Network Magazine's Bulgur Salad.

Other diets we've covered:
TELL US: Have you tried the Mediterranean Diet?
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