When we think of Mediterranean food, we think of Greek cafes overlooking the ocean with little tables full of people eating and laughing and drinking wine. We picture Italian marketplaces with stalls erupting with olives and peppers and endless varieties of fresh fish laid out for purchase. We see colorful barrels of spices and hanging herbs in a Moroccan kasbah. We can picture it all because the Mediterranean "diet" has been around for centuries. In fact, it is not so much a diet to the region as it is a lifestyle. Not only that, but experts often tout it as one of the healthiest diets out there.
This way of eating focuses on primarily plant-based foods; fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts are what nutritionist Amy Giustino-Talbot most recommends for her clients and her own family. She joked with POPSUGAR that while her Italian roots enjoy the olive oil and red wine, her training celebrates the Mediterranean "all things in moderation" approach. For Giustino-Talbot, the Mediterranean method of eating has many benefits because it is focused not just on weight loss but also on improving overall health, particularly heart health, and is one of the most sustainable food lifestyles out there.
So what is on the Mediterranean menu? Let's take a look at the major food sources and get excited about adding more fresh, healthy, and tasty food into our everyday lives. Andiamo (let's go)!
- First stop, fresh, low-starch vegetables and fruits. Look for locally sourced, seasonal varieties to keep the true cultural approach to eating. Think big, colorful salads with a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon, green beans sautéed in olive oil and garlic, and grilled eggplant with red pepper flakes.
- Healthy fats revolve around olives and olive oil but can include things like canola oil and avocado. Butter is rarely found in a Mediterranean diet. Use healthy fats for cooking and as flavor enhancers, and dip ingredients with fresh herbs and spices.
- Seeds, nuts, and legumes (e.g. chickpeas) supply fiber and protein. Most Mediterranean dieters consume a small serving of nuts daily and enjoy things like hummus or lentil soup a few times a week.
- Fish is a mainstay for this way of eating, with a recommended two to three servings per week. Fish is preferable to red meat, which Mediterranean cultures limit to once or twice a month.
- Lean meat and poultry are consumed in moderation, with servings typically the size of an average palm of the hand.
- Dairy is present in limited amounts, with a focus on cultured milk products that are easier to digest (such as kefir or ricotta cheese) and lower-fat options of milk, ice cream, and other cheese products.
- Whole grains (including bread, pasta, and rice) are more readily available in the Mediterranean areas. Bread is a frequent companion to many meals, though it is often eaten with olive oil or nothing at all.
- Garlic, aromatic herbs, and spices are a huge component in Mediterranean cooking and eating as they provide substantial flavor without having to add additional fat or salt.
- Sweets and red meats are limited to a few times a month with fruit (and sometimes cheese) being more popular dessert options.
- Wine is an important part of the cultural and culinary experience in the Mediterranean, and many studies have shown that one glass of red wine daily can provide heart heath benefits.