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They really seem to have it figured out in the Mediterranean: gorgeous weather, primo vino, and an iconically healthy eating style.
The Mediterranean diet—modeled after the Italians and the Greeks—has been around since the 1960s. And when it comes to food philosophies, this one just keeps getting buzzier. In fact, it just won best diet of 2019.
While trends like the South Beach and alkaline diet may come and go, what is it about this style of eating that makes it a perennial favorite among healthcare providers and the public alike?
The Mediterranean diet packs a lot of benefits
The Mediterranean diet’s biggest selling point is its health benefits. It’s been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, among other illness. Research shows that it may even slow aging.
But the real secret may be its flexibility.
“The wonderful thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it’s not really a ‘diet’ at all, but rather a style of eating,” says Cara Harbstreet, RD of Street Smart Nutrition. “The wide variety of foods that comprise the Mediterranean diet leaves plenty of room for taste preferences, seasonal or local eating, and can help you eat in a way that feels authentic to you.”
Harbstreet says that instead of focusing on weight loss, this approach supports the development of healthy habits, like eating more fruits and vegetables. “Because of its flexible nature, there is more opportunity to adapt it to fit your individual lifestyle,” she says.
The Mediterranean diet is pretty simple to follow
“The premise is avoiding over-processed, packaged foods and enjoying fresh, whole foods whenever possible,” says Emily Kyle, registered dietitian nutritionist. That means keeping processed meat (think: hot dogs), refined grains (white bread), refined oils (vegetable), and added sugars to a minimum. “This simple approach makes the Mediterranean diet a bit easier to understand and, ultimately, implement in real life.”
The best part is that there are a variety of cuisines and ingredients in the Mediterranean region, which means a ton of options. “The Mediterranean diet is a more flexible approach to eating than other diets,” says Harbstreet. “It even allows for moderate alcohol consumption, such as red wine.” Yes, please!
Use this Mediterranean Diet food list
If you’re interested in following a Mediterranean style of eating, here’s your cheat sheet of which foods to eat:
- Fruits: Any and all fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, pears, melon, grapes, berries, dates, figs, peaches, and grapefruit. (Kyle says it’s okay to include frozen fruit with no added ingredients, and canned fruit in water or light juice, too.)
- Vegetables: Any and all fresh vegetables like tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, kale, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, summer squash, and onions. Don’t forget about root vegetables like sweet potatoes, potatoes, turnips, and parsnips. (Frozen vegetables with no added ingredients and canned vegetables like tomatoes are okay, too.)
- Whole Grains: Whole grains, plus bread and pasta made with whole-grain ingredients. This includes whole wheat, oats, barley, rye, quinoa, and brown rice.
- Nuts and Seeds: Whole nuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, and pistachios. Seeds such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and flaxseeds.
- Legumes: Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and fava beans.
- Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, walnut oil, olives.
- Dairy: Moderate amounts of dairy items like Greek yogurt, cheese, and milk.
- Fish and Seafood: Wild-caught fish and shellfish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, tuna, trout, and clams.
- Other Animal Protein: Moderate amounts of poultry, pork, and other lean options. Save red meat for special occasions.
- Herbs and Spices: Garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, mint, sage, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg, and more.
As you can see there’s a LOT to choose from. So go forth, and make the Mediterranean diet your own.
Christine Yu is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and avid runner who regularly covers health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness for outlets like Well + Good, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, and Outside.
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