As stated above, healthy fats are essential to the Mediterranean diet. Again, the menu focuses on monounsaturated fats, a more robust choice over saturated and trans fats, which are both known to cause heart disease. Olive oil is the primary source of fat found in the Mediterranean diet. The fat source found in olive oil is known to reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Nuts and seeds, which are also consumed in large amounts in this diet, are also high in the suitable type of fat.
Fish are also an essential source of fat in the Mediterranean diet. Fish you want to fall in love with are mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, and lake trout; they are all excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. While this type of fat is slightly different (it is polyunsaturated fat and not a monounsaturated fat), it still has its own health benefits: omega-3 fatty acids tend to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This is not the only health benefit of omega-3 fatty acids: they also decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and decrease the risk of stroke and heart failure.
When participating in this diet, there are certain foods you will want to stay away from. Added sugar in the form of soda, candy, ice cream, and table sugar should all be avoided once on the Mediterranean diet. While whole grains are admissible, refined grains are not, which include white bread and pasta made with refined wheat. Though we just spent an entire section discussing healthy fats, this point is important enough to bring up again: bad fats are the only ones that need to be limited in this diet. Bad fats include trans fat, which can be found in items such as margarine.
While olive oil is a good source of fat, refined oils should not be used while adhering to the Mediterranean diet. Do not use soybean oil, canola oil, or cottonseed oil in your cooking during the duration of the diet. You will also want to avoid all processed meats such as processed sausages and hot dogs. Since you are to limit your red and white meat intake anyway, avoiding these foods should not pose much of a problem. Another food item to avoid is highly processed foods. This can include cereal, cheese, bread, and convenience food (most things you throw into the microwave).
Now that we have talked quite a bit about the diet, I think it would be beneficial to lay out what a day on a diet would look like. Let us start with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Some options here include one pan-fried egg, a few pieces of whole-wheat toast, and a side of grilled tomatoes. If you want to increase your calorie count, try adding another egg or some avocado spread to your toast. Lunch is a meal often forgotten, but it is essential to remember to eat three meals a day on the Mediterranean diet.
Lunch could look something like this: two cups of mixed salad greens topped with cherry tomatoes and olives with a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar. Nobody wants to eat just a salad for lunch; try adding a few pieces of pita bread and hummus to the mix. Do not skip out on dinner: after such a light breakfast and lunch, you’ll be starved by evening. Try making yourself a whole-grain pizza topped with tomato sauce, grilled vegetables, and low-fat cheese. Again, for extra calories, try adding shredded chicken, ham, tuna, or pine nuts to the pizza.
This topic has been brought up a few times within this article, so I figured it was time to tackle it head-on. While weight loss is not a goal of either the DASH or Mediterranean diets, it can still be the ultimate goal of your diet. This seems almost counter-intuitive since the Mediterranean diet is so high in fats, but remember, these are good fats you are ingesting. The amount of weight you lose depends on three things: which aspects of the Mediterranean diet you choose to follow, how different your new diet is from your regular diet, and your activity level.
It comes down to this: if you are taking in fewer calories with the new diet over your old habits or you choose to keep the same amount of calories but choose to work off some of them through exercise, then losing weight will not be an issue. Studies do support the assertion that the Mediterranean diet can help you lose weight: one study, in particular, showed that this diet is associated with lower levels of weight gain and less increase in waist circumference.
While we have spent an excruciating amount of time going over the food you can safely consume while sticking to this diet, we have not really touched upon what beverages are approved for ingestion. The most apparent acceptable drink is water. It is suitable for everyone and keeps you hydrated the best. What was previously mentioned was the fact that some amount of red wine is allowed but how much exactly? The recommended amount is one glass a day for women and two glasses a day for men unless there is some underlying health reason why you should not be consuming alcohol.
Other beverages that are safe to have while on the Mediterranean diet are coffee and tea. While high amounts of caffeine are never suitable for anyone, consuming moderate amounts of it causes little to no damage. Remember, you will want to stay away from any drinks that have been sweetened with sugar and also try to avoid fruit juices as they are usually full of sugar. This may seem almost impossible in today’s day and age, but there are plenty of sugar-free options on the shelves.
While exercise may not be a considerable component of the DASH diet, it is positively encouraged in the Mediterranean diet. Well, it is a significant component of the diet. Walking is an excellent place to start if you are not the most active person. In the Mediterranean area, people make walking a part of their everyday life. You will want to increase your activity level as your body sees fit gradually. As long as you are getting up, moving, and working up a sweat (albeit a small sweat), you are effectively burning calories and helping your body get healthy. Some examples of increased exercise activities include Jazzercise and Pilates.
Now that we know exercise is required to stay fit on the Mediterranean diet, it might be a good idea to discuss how much exercise you will need to engage. The end goal is to engage in moderate-intensity activity for two and a half hours each week. Some weeks may be more hectic than others, so try your best to reach this goal, even if you have to take baby steps. You will also want to participate in muscle-strengthening activities at least a few days out of the week. You will want to work out your major muscle groups, including your legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.