Whenever scientists notice a demographic of people experiencing a seemingly mysterious reduction of aging, and improved health – all without some very obvious practices to ensure such, they take note. Once in a while, in small enough groups, it turns out to be genetics, but more often than not, it’s some environmental variable – notably diet especially.
This was the case in the 1960s when doctors noticed Mediterranean peoples seemed to be on average much healthier than Americans and seemed to suffer from far less risk of common diseases, especially ones that set in in later adulthood. To this day, this still tends to be true, despite the international nature of trade bringing unhealthy American foods to these locations via fast food chains and cultural exchange.
Needless to say, many nutritionists and dietitians, to this day, have a keen interest in the Mediterranean diet as a way to possibly help promote weight loss, prevent common problems such as strokes and diabetes, and even heart attacks. Of course, it’s always a good idea to be somewhat skeptical of diets that are brought to your attention – some new miracle diet comes around on a nearly annual basis.
However, unlike many of these formulated dietary plans, this is a natural, organically-evolved diet that came of cultures, with no specific scientific nutritional nor biological concerns in mind. That’s something different because it comes from people eating what’s available in their region, and what they like.
With this Mediterranean diet, there’s no one right way to go – much of the cuisine from the region is just naturally healthy, low in sodium and cholesterol, as well as saturated fats. That said, we’re going to make some simple suggestions for a weekly dietary plan, based on this Mediterranean cuisine.
Before we get into this, let’s point out one big one – the oils used to cook things in these cultures tend to be olive or sesame, which are far, far healthier than vegetable oils, lard, or canola. They taste much better, too. And that’s an important thing – a diet only really works if the food you eat is enjoyable. If you dislike the foods prescribed by a diet, you will suffer from appetite loss, or you’ll simply drop the diet before you get very far. I myself have been guilty of this, as diets I’ve tried in the past had me eating certain vegetables I just can’t stand (carrots, cauliflower, squash).
Basic Science Behind This
First, let’s look at the do’s and don’ts of basic food groups and classifications, so we understand why we’re building this dietary plan the way we are.
- Avoid red meats, eating them only in moderation. This one’s hard for me, I love beef. But, it’s a high-cholesterol food.
- Eat poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation. These are actually good for you, but only in certain amounts, beyond which they become fattening. This one’s a little tricky for me too, because I love cheese.
- Eat lots of vegetables, nuts, legumes, potatoes, grains, bread, spices, olive oil, fruit, seeds, fish and seafood. You can get away with increasing your poultry intake if you’re like me, and are allergic to fish and seafood.
Now that we know the things to eat, and in what balance, let’s talk about a few things to avoid eating if at all possible.
- Refined oils such as soy, canola, cottonseed, and others. These are unhealthy, and they kind of taste like garbage anyhow.
- Processed meat, which has a lot of additives and added saturated fats. These include sausages, hot dogs, etc.
- Added sugar from things like soda, candy, baked goods, etc. This one’s hard for me, I love soda.
- Refined grains such as white bread and pasta.
- Trans fats, like margarine or processed dairy.
The Mediterranean is one of those places famous for their wines. When you think of Greek or Italian foods, you think about delightful wine pairings. Well, while alcohol in large amounts is terrible for you (liver damage, alcohol converting to sugars), there is something to be said for one glass of red wine daily. Red wine is full of antioxidants and other compounds which reduce the risk of heart disease and can reduce plaques and cholesterol buildups in your circulatory system.
Moderation is key with something like this. One glass a day doesn’t produce enough alcohol over time to do much damage to your liver or your kidneys. However, if you already have kidney disease or liver problems, it’s obviously a bad idea, and you should opt for grapeseed oil extracts or other ways to get these compounds, that are available if less fun.
Our One-Week Sample Menu
This is just an example of a single week’s three-meal menu. This is all authentic Mediterranean cuisine, quite satisfying and delicious, but very healthy. You can mix up the meals, the days, what have you, for variety.
Note, if you’re allergic to seafood, you can substitute tuna and other fish with white meat chicken.
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and oats. This is basically the original cereal.
- Lunch: Whole grain sandwich and vegetables. You can cheat and use white bread for a single sandwich once a week if you can’t stand whole grain bread.
- Dinner: Tuna salad with olive oil, and fruit for dessert.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins (or other fruit if you hate raisins).
- Lunch: Leftover tuna salad. Try putting it on pita.
- Dinner: Greek salad with tomatoes, olives, feta and a drizzle of olive oil or vinaigrette.
- Breakfast: Vegetable omelet with tomatoes and onions, and some fruit on the side. Sorry, no cheese.
- Lunch: Pita sandwich with cheese and vegetables.
- Dinner: Mediterranean lasagna.
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit. It’s delicious.
- Lunch: Leftover lasagna, or a grilled chicken salad.
- Dinner: Boiled salmon on rice with vegetables. Substitute chicken if you can’t eat fish.
- Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables. Fry them in olive oil, not butter.
- Lunch: Greek yogurt. Tired of it yet?
- Dinner: Mediterranean pizza (olives, cheese, vegetables).
- Breakfast: Oatmeal once more with your choice of fruit.
- Lunch: Leftover pizza if there is any or pita with cheese.
- Dinner: Grilled lamb (you can substitute lean beef if lamb is too expensive in your area), and a baked potato.
- Breakfast: Omelet with vegetables.
- Lunch: Sandwich with vegetables.
- Dinner: Grilled chicken and mashed potatoes. Yeah, this one’s cheating a little on the Mediterranean theme.
Some people have high metabolisms and may find that three meals a day, in this moderation, leaves them lacking some energy at some point in the day. Snacking, in moderation, isn’t a bad thing, it’s all about what you snack on.
Mediterranean’s snack on berries, fresh vegetables, nuts, fruit, yogurt, and low-fat cheeses. You can enjoy these in small portions once or twice in the day, between meals, for a burst of energy and to quell your appetite, with no guilt.
This is just a suggested menu, and we’ve given you some leeway for things you may be unable to eat, or simply don’t like. Whole-grain bread, raisins, and seafood/fish are very polarizing foods, being loved or hated, and as we said before, you shouldn’t hate the foods in your diet.
You can look online for many more delightful, healthy Mediterranean recipes that match the nutritional profile of the menu we’re demonstrating here. You can eat well, and be well.
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