Year after year, experts tell us to look to the Mediterranean lifestyle and way of eating.
What is the best diet for overall health? Studies show it is the Mediterranean diet
More a style of eating than an official diet, the Mediterranean diet features locally-sourced plant foods as mainstays: nuts, olives, legumes, fruits, greens and vegetables, and herbs and spices. Dairy foods, fish, and lamb are included in small amounts. Sugary desserts are uncommon in the diet, although honey is used as a sweetener.
Why adopt this diet? The Mediterranean diet is the most studied one out there. Research consistently links this style of eating to a lower risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, as well as easier weight management. In fact, the Mediterranean diet was ranked # 1 in 2020 by U.S. News' team of experts in five categories: Best Overall Diet, Best Plant-based Diet, Best Diabetes Diet, Best Diet for Healthy Eating, and Easiest Diet to Follow. Because the Mediterranean diet avoids calorie counting and a high-structure format, it ranked lower at 15th place for Best Weight-Loss Diets. However, why not use it as the foundation for your eating style and simply plug in the calorie tracking? In my expert opinion, it clearly checks all the boxes for overall health and fitness! Not to mention that many people, including myself, consider it the most enjoyable style of eating. You can't beat that!
The Mediterranean diet allows for a more liberal fat intake than low-fat diets, including the American Heart Association diet. The principal sources of fat are olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, fish oil, and olives, rather than processed meats, fatty meats, trans fats, and butter.
Foods to emphasize
Herbs and spices
Foods to eat in limited portions
Poultry and lean meat
Foods to enjoy occasionally
Animal fats like butter
The Mediterranean diet also suggests wine in moderation. It's a traditional beverage throughout the Mediterranean region, where wine production and consumption are widespread. Of course, water is also highly recommended.
Don't assume that the term "Mediterranean diet" means your foods and recipes must be from the Mediterranean region. In fact, you could create a similar plant-based diet using foods from Central America or Asia.
Lunch: Arugula White Bean Salad and Barley Lentil Soup
Snack: Citrus Marinated Olives and Crispy Zucchini Chips
Dinner: Pan-seared Scallops with Spinach, Simple Greek Island Salad, crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Pros of the Mediterranean diet
Filling with whole-plant foods leaving little room for empty-calorie foods or big servings. This keeps you satisfied.
Enjoyable because of the endless, delicious possibilities, considering the wealth of foods available. The Mediterranean diet has a higher fat content, which makes it more satisfying.
Adaptable to many regional food preferences - you need not eat only foods from the Mediterranean region. You could put together a Mediterranean-style diet using foods from Southeast Asia.
Highly nutritious and plentiful plant foods means loads of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This type of diet is friendly to healthy gut bacteria.
Health benefits associated with a lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer; lower risk of Alzheimer's; improved gut health; improved brain health; healthier vitamin D levels; and better lung function are all part of the package. Wow!
Cons of the Mediterranean diet
Lack of clear rules. People who prefer strict dieting rules might find this diet too open-ended.
Missing favorite foods? Large meat portions are not part of this diet, so if you are a red-and-processed-meat lover, it may not be easy. Also, if you have a sweet tooth, you may find it challenging to have desserts only occasionally.
You don't like olive oil. Not necessarily a deal-killer, because you could use canola, walnut or avocado oils. Simply emphasize plant-sourced oils rather than fats from meats or dairy.
You can also make your favorite recipes more Mediterranean by increasing the vegetables, switching to olive oil, or adding beans or other plant-based protein sources. MyNetDiary will provide an updated analysis of your new recipe.
Oldways Preservation Trust promotes the Mediterranean diet, has a Mediterranean diet food pyramid, and is a great source of information on foods, recipes, and menus.
The Olive Tomato website Greek dietitian Elena Paravantes promotes the Mediterranean diet with recipes and useful resources.
Enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle long-term for lifelong benefits
Now that you know what the best diet for overall health is, you can see if the Mediterranean diet fits your plan if you desire to make long-term diet changes to improve health and weight. The Mediterranean diet isn't something you go on for a few weeks and then abandon. It's a diet for life and a lifestyle and undoubtedly weight-loss friendly when blended with calorie tracking! It's been the long-term diet for millions of people living around the Mediterranean region. Variations on the plant-based theme are certainly viable long-term eating plans anywhere in the world.