9 Ways to Eat the Mediterranean Way

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
1/28/2009 6:46 AM   :  80 comments

Maybe it's the olive oil, maybe it's the varied and healthful foods in their diet, or maybe it's the spectacular views of the ocean, but the Mediterranean region is known for good health and longevity.

Harvard Women's Health Watch shared these ideas with us.

1. Pile on the vegetables: The key is variety, so eat many different and different-colored ones (especially bright yellow, orange, deep green, and red). Vary your cooking method. Make your salad a main course by adding nuts, diced chicken, and cheese. Pressed for time? Buy pre-packaged salads and pre-cut vegetables.

2. Eat lots of whole fruit: Again, variety is the key. Add pear or apple slices to garden salads. For breakfast, have whole-grain cereals with fruit and yogurt or top toasted whole-grain bread with peanut butter and sliced banana. Whirl frozen fruit into a smoothie made with low-fat yogurt and half a banana.

3. Go a little nuts: Nuts contain many antioxidants and other nutrients.
Unlike snacks made from refined grains or sugar, nuts have a low glycemic index, which has a steadying effect on blood sugar. But they're calorie-dense, so restrict yourself to small amounts. Sprinkle chopped nuts on salads, fruit, or yogurt. Top cooked vegetables with almonds.

4. Go for the grain, the whole grain: Whole grains contain more vitamins, minerals, and protein than refined grains, and they have a stabilizing influence on blood sugar levels. Try pasta and breads (including wraps) made with whole-grain flours instead of refined white flour. Have brown rice instead of white rice, or try amaranth, farro, or quinoa.

5. Eat good fats: Thirty to forty percent of calories in the traditional Mediterranean diet come from fat, half or more of it from olive oil. This healthy monounsaturated fat lowers both total and LDL cholesterol when it's used to replace unhealthy saturated fats. Canola oil and nuts are also rich in monounsaturated fat. Another source of good fat is fish rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

6. Spice it up: Mediterranean cuisines benefit from a climate ideal for growing spices and herbs, which impart flavor, add nutrients, and can substitute for salt. So spice up your meals, especially if it encourages you to enjoy a greater variety of good foods.

7. Love those legumes: Legumes are an excellent low-fat source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and are a good substitute for meat. Add legumes to soups and salads. Use beans instead of meat in stews or casseroles.

8. Toast to your good health: Wine (particularly red wine) with meals is a feature of the Mediterranean diet. Alcohol of any kind increases HDL (good) cholesterol, improves insulin sensitivity, and reduces inflammation. Wine in particular contains small amounts of plant substances called flavonoids that have demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anticancer activity in lab experiments.

9. Slow down: Diet plays a primary role in the health benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle, but the leisurely pace of life also matters. Eating on the run and under stress can cause heartburn and less efficient absorption of nutrients. Eating fast also makes it more difficult to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Do you incorporate any of these healthy habits into your lifestyle? Did you find any of these tips helpful?

Photo: the island of Ischia in Italy, March 2006


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Comments

  • 80
    I am happy that more eateries are recognizing the mediteranian method of preparation - high in colorful veggies and flavor and -- low in salt and meat. - 3/5/2012   12:20:58 PM
  • 79
    Thanks Stepfanie for a great read. One of the best!!
    Loved the ideas and printed them out.
    It's a subject I was just thinking about too!
    Perfect timing...have a wonderful Summer. - 8/16/2010   1:55:44 PM
  • 78
    the only thing better than the Mediterranean diet is eating it in the Mediterranean.

    :) - 6/30/2010   6:30:54 PM
  • 77
    These are great habits to get into. The slowing down part is the hardest for me, but I'm working on it daily. - 2/24/2010   5:05:52 PM
  • FOUNDAGAIN
    76
    I could eat Greek food seven days a week and still have enough variety not to be bored. It is so good. Who knew it was good for you?
    Erin - 11/4/2009   12:24:26 AM
  • MANDYCOOT
    75
    As vegans, we tend to prepare a lot of Mediterranean food! A lot of Mediterranean recipes are already vegan or can be made vegan with the tiniest of tweaking. A wonderful cookbook for those interested is "The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen" by Donna Klein. There are recipes in there to die for that are astoundingly healthy. :) - 10/15/2009   9:36:52 AM
  • 74
    Wow, great information in this article. I already incorporate the majority of them ... whole grains only, fresh veggies and fruits as often as possible, lot of fish and other omega-w rich foods, olive, canola or grape seed oil in my cooking and of course red wine with dinner.

    What I didn't know was the effect of red wine on HDL. I've had my cholesterol monitored several times. Besides a good LDL number doctors have often remarked that my HDL is more than 3 times the number they would like to see, thus I have no cholesterol risk. Now I know what I might be able to attribute that to. :D - 9/10/2009   9:31:00 AM
  • 73
    I think this is definately the diet for me. I'm going to try the wine, and only fish, removing red meat completely. Really it makes my body feel sluggish and heavy afterward. No wonder apparently! Thanks for this great post. - 9/8/2009   6:06:04 PM
  • 72
    I've lived in Southern Spain my whole life. I would add fish to this list, we eat it in soups, stewed, pan fried and deep-fried, in salads, sandwiches and pies. There is a huge variety of seafood available there that you just can't find in other countries, but I recommend learning to prepare the same types of seafood in different ways. Variety is key, and eating foods that are in season are also a big part of the diet there.
    Also, the olive oil thing is really big. Everything is cooked in olive oil (sometimes other vegetable oil is used): a typical breakfast is olive oil on toast and salads are mostly dressed with olive oil so we really have it at every meal. In fact, it is difficult to find good quality butter in Southern Spain, and if you ask for butter at a restaurant you will only get margarine. As dessert we mostly have fruit or yogurt, and sometimes something sweet after that, or even as an afternoon treat.
    It's important to take time to enjoy meals and rest afterward while all the blood goes to your stomach to digest it. In Spain most people have a mid morning breakfast (as late as 12pm) take off 2-3 hours from work for lunch (the main meal of the day, at about 3pm), or work only in the morning and enjoy a late lunch and a nap after. Sometimes we have coffee and maybe a sweet at around 6 or 7pm. Supper is served very late (9pm at the earliest) and is a very small meal. - 9/8/2009   3:37:28 PM
  • WISTFULVISTA
    71
    I'm late in commenting, but you're definitely my go-to SparkPeep when it comes to food, Stepfanie! I've been eating Mediterranean-ish, but it just now occurred to me how delicious some fresh fruit would be in a garden salad with some lite Raspberry Walnut dressing! Every time I read one of your articles, I get new food ideas...and we can't have too many of THOSE! - 9/5/2009   11:52:22 AM
  • 70
    As I eat more healthy choices i get closer to the mediterranean diet naturally. I find I prefer these choices more often (not always). - 9/5/2009   9:36:24 AM
  • 69
    Except for the cheeses, the Mediterranean diet is very close to what I eat as a vegan. I've felt a lot better since I decided to stop eating meats, cheese, eggs, etc. - 8/20/2009   3:16:56 PM
  • 68
    Apparently, my body knew what it wanted - this! I've switched my eating habits and they are getting very close to what this suggests. My favorite salad is spinach greens and/or mixed greens, english cucumber, tomatoes, onions, red, yellow, and orange peppers (purple, too, if I can find them), and radishes. I use a little salt and pepper (fresh ground) and a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil and 1 - 2 fresh lemons squeezed for their juice. It depends on the size of my salad!

    I've got a student helper that comes to my house a couple hours a week to help me out and he always requests this salad! LOL! Sometimes, I'll add some smoked salmon on top. I've been eating healthier and have noticed that I am enforcing the habit on my student helper. In fact, his dad was telling me he is surprised at how much michael has been making them eat healthier.

    I have a few more changes to make, but for me, this style of eating suits me. That is the key. Finding a healthy life change that you feel comfortable with. Too bad I can't be in the Mediterranean! LOL! - 5/5/2009   3:22:20 PM
  • 67
    Very good and helpful article. Thanks for all the useful comments as well. - 3/19/2009   8:22:11 PM
  • HAMOULHADJ
    66
    My family is from this beautiful island, Ischia. - 3/17/2009   9:09:40 AM
  • 65
    Since starting my healthy lifestyle I find that this is a natural way to eat! I avoid processed foods and eat whole grains & fruits and veggies! Lean proteins including legumes & beans and voila - the Mediterranean diet :) - 3/17/2009   7:17:48 AM
  • 64
    I looked up the Flatbelly diet and found that this particular diet uses the Mediterranean way of eating. I have found some great thinks to eat and add to my diet. Now, if I can get on the fruit and vege thing I would be in great shape. - 3/17/2009   6:12:56 AM
  • 63
    Unfortunately, it is less and less true. You can name all the excuses: laziness, claiming not having time because of work, the freaking growth of fast-food and some processed food, 30 minutes break for the blue-collar workers or those working too far to commute during their lunch break and live on sandwiches, the cost of living (the recession won't help), the new "king child" attitude who rules what the whole family will eat...

    My generation (I'm nearly 40) eat like that -minus the wine, a tad cliché I must say-. We were educated like that, by our family and also school -in schools, we had two classes one on some kind of "Home Economics and Shop" where we learnt, among other things, the value of produces and how to cook, and one biology course to learn about calories, digestion, etc.

    My husband and I cook each meal, only with fresh products -we're not afraid of good fats, and we cook with olive oil, we spend more time at the table (it's an important factor) than a US family.

    What do we eat?
    Starter: raw veggetables with real homemade dressing that is to say for the whole family 1 tbps of olive oil, 2 tbps of vinager, 1/2 tbps of real Dijon mustard without any additives!! (sometimes a small plate of cold, mixed meats; not at my home, I belong to the less 2% of French vegetarians),
    Main Dish: fish/meat/eggs with various veggetables (potato is not a vegetable is a starchy!) or rice or pasta with veggies and real tomato sauce (Ketchup is not a veggie!)
    Then come the cheese, salad and bread or yoghurt (mostly for kids)
    Dessert: fresh fruit (cake is for birthday or special occasions)
    We don't prepare each other's plate, all the dishes are on the table, and you help yourself according your appetite. We don't snack after diner.

    Peanut butter doesn't really exist (you can only buy it in organic supermarkets) and eating cereals for breakfast is very new (there are pros and cons), I never ate cereals when I was a kid, only had cacao with hot milk.
    We eat bread with butter, and jam or cheese for me, or a plain yoghurt, real homemade orange juice. Croissants are a Sunday very occasional treat.

    PS: I'm French. - 2/8/2009   7:18:44 AM
  • 62
    This food is so good I feel like I'm cheating!! I love mediterranean food! - 2/2/2009   9:49:57 AM
  • 61
    I actually live on the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France and it is true, we have the nicest fresh fruit and veggies locally you can imagine. Olive oil is everywhere, you can't be afraid of eating fat if you want to follow this kind of diet. And fresh fish too. This am I'm planning to go to the fishmonger who sells only what is caught locally, hoping for some octopus to make a tielle, a kind of octopus calzone, but I also have to make the pizza sauce for it. That is one of the best parts about living in France, if I want something like pizza crust, or pizza sauce, or even a cake, it all has to be made from scratch. And in my pizza sauce goes a neighbor's olive oil from his own olive trees. Can't beat that! - 2/2/2009   4:23:01 AM
  • 60
    Thank God I was raised on a Mediterranean diet! It has given my "insides" a fighting chance in life. Now, I just have to get back to it and drastically cut down on all the red meat and look for good fresh sea fish. Not easy living in Arkansas! - 2/1/2009   8:38:44 AM
  • LEEANNE54
    59
    When my son came back from a trip to the Mediterranean with his high school class he encouraged us to adopt Mediterranean cooking. That was 8 years ago and we continue to put these healthy choices into our diet. Its great! Right down to the red wine! - 1/31/2009   6:02:42 PM
  • 58
    I've been eating this way and really enjoy the variety it provides but have avoided wine because of the calories. I may have to rethink this and add a glass of vino.
    Salute! - 1/31/2009   5:48:55 PM
  • ANNIEMARIE6
    57
    This sounds like a really good diet. I think I will try it. - 1/31/2009   5:03:38 PM
  • 56
    I do all except the wine. Although I hear reservatrol (?) the main antioxidant of wine is a good alternative. Fairly inexpensive and can even get at Wal-Mart. I'll be trying that out. - 1/31/2009   4:07:47 PM
  • 55
    I'm happy to say I now eat like this most of the time. Over the past two years I have lost almost 50 lbs., become a vegetarian, and exercise *hard* almost daily. I love the photo and yearn to visit the Mediterranean; perhaps for my 25th wedding anniversary. Oh and thanks for the recipe JerseyGirl, looks good! I already have everything on hand and think I'll make it today. - 1/30/2009   1:24:56 PM
  • 54
    You just have to make sure and keep everything in moderation and be calorie conscious as you do eat foods that are healthier you can still go way over on calories if you do not pay attention. - 1/30/2009   12:41:15 PM
  • 53
    I have mentioned this to my parents because I live with them. We all eat together especially at dinner time. And my Mom has said that it's as natural as you can get. I use to hate fish, mostly because I use to live in Brazil and they would put out salted fish once a year. That smell alone would make me barfy. I couldn't go into the store during that time because I would literally feel nauseous. But after coming home and just recently getting over that mini complex I've started to enjoy Fresh Fish, especially Salmon. And I have never cared for salting my foods. So adding spices and herbs to a meal has been a big plus. I love spicy foods anyway and sometimes the hotter the better ;)
    Take care and bless you! - 1/30/2009   11:19:47 AM
  • 52
    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE olives! They are one of my favorite things to snack on. - 1/30/2009   10:08:42 AM
  • 51
    My dd spent last summer in SPAIN and she was happy to come home to America and get fresh fruit and vegetables. She said they were much to expensive to buy over there. - 1/30/2009   12:04:47 AM
  • 50
    Yes! My favorite breakfast is a Thomas Light Multi-Grain muffin with 1 T reduced-fat peanut butter and a banana. How great to see that on the healthy list! - 1/29/2009   11:43:05 PM
  • 49
    I loved the article!! Thank you for all the good info. I almost always use olive oil over anything else and I tend to be a very slow eater - I was always told is good for your digestion :) - 1/29/2009   7:46:08 PM
  • 48
    I live in Portugal and TRICOTINE said it all. I would like to add that school canteens don't serve junk food or fast food, or even sandwiches. they have soup as an appetizer, main dish (usually meat/fish with rice/pasta/potatoes), side salad (lettuce, onions, carrots) and usually fruit for dessert (sometimes jello, chocolate mousse or creme brulee, but it is really rare.), all this for a little over 1.50 euros for students. - 1/29/2009   2:46:02 PM
  • 47
    Mu husband and I were stationed on Crete the first two years of our marriage, and we fell in love with the food! I still fix some of the food that we learned to like while we were there, that's been 25 years ago! However, the fried cheese probably isn't the healthiest of all, but it sure does taste good! - 1/29/2009   12:59:27 PM
  • JERSEYGIRL726
    46
    I have a wonderful Mediterranean recipe to share with you. It's the vegetarian version of a sauce that was popular at Mamma Leone's Restaurant in New York years ago: For Sausage and Eggplant Sauce, saute' 1 chopped onion and 3 cloves chopped garlic in about 2 TBSP of good olive oil till onions are translucent. Add 1 medium eggplant, cut into small chunks. Leave the skin on! Saute' the eggplant chunks in the olive oil, mixing several times, so that the flavored olive oil gets into the eggplant. Add a 28-oz. can of plum tomatoes (after first mashing them), salt to taste, and about 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. Add some fresh oregano and basil. Bring to boil; lower heat and cover. Allow to simmer 30 minutes. Then, add a bag of Morningstar Farms vegetarian sausage crumbles (it's about 12 oz., you'll find it in the frozen food section), mix well, and allow to simmer 15 more minutes. Serve over whole grain or whole wheat pasta. Even people who thought they hate eggplant love this! - 1/29/2009   12:54:02 PM
  • CASSIEK66
    45
    very nice artical the bariatric program i work with gave me the mediterranean diet lots of great info here - 1/29/2009   11:40:32 AM
  • EEVANS77
    44
    Good article! I have been trying "clean eating" for about a year and this falls in line with it. - 1/29/2009   9:36:27 AM
  • 43
    Love Mediterranean food, it's fantastic! - 1/29/2009   8:10:24 AM
  • LLVONN
    42
    Enjoyed reading this post. I love mediterranean food as well. I remember going on holiday (in NZ) a few years ago where we ate like that - Of course on holiday we could afford 1 1/2 hours for lunch and go real cruisey. The funny thing was that we were hanging around some young guys and one of them looked at our food and said "It's healthy, but it looks so good" Go figure - he went out and got Chinese takeaways. He just could not get his head around great food looking and tasting great. I was lucky I was with friends who appreciate great food. LLVONN - 1/29/2009   4:39:44 AM
  • 41
    I totally love fresh olives, fresh bread, nuts, cheese and a red wine. Slowly eaten, while looking at the bay. Improves digestion! Improves the mood! Spices the meal.
    Oh, yeah. Don't forget--- while sitting on the sail boat.
    Yup, no wonder I'm losing weight.
    Sue me. - 1/29/2009   1:52:47 AM
  • 40
    all good stuff...except that I dont/wont do wine due to my seizures i started getting last year...i like fruits, thats a helpful thing to enjoy... - 1/28/2009   11:08:31 PM
  • 39
    My Doctor actually suggested that I stick to a Mediterranean diet due to my Cholesterol and Blood Pressure. Within the first month, my good cholesterol had increased, so there is alot to be said for eating the Mediterranean way. :0) - 1/28/2009   9:14:33 PM
  • 38
    We do most of these except the beans part. My husband doesn't do legumes and it's extremely difficult to add them into our diet. Fortunately, we eat enough vegetables, fruits, protein and fibers to make up the missing beans. LOL - 1/28/2009   5:02:53 PM
  • NETADARLING
    37
    Knew all this, but great to be reminded of all the benefits. - 1/28/2009   4:22:52 PM
  • NO-41_RAZZYS_PL
    36
    Oh, yeah... this is going in my favs... THANKS, Stepf!! - 1/28/2009   3:15:56 PM
  • COSETTEWORLD
    35
    By the way I know you asked for a professional to answer but a resounding NO to the previous post. Your diabetic husband should follow his doctor's orders, this article says nothing about diabetic diets and does not in any way imply wine is all of the sudden ok for diabetics!!! It would never imply that, because it's not! - 1/28/2009   2:45:31 PM
  • COSETTEWORLD
    34
    You know I was raised by an Italian mom, then married into a Japanese family. One component of both of these healthy diets (actually not mentioned in this article) is FISH. So sad because of pollution I have to worry about my fish consumption. I learned when I was pregnant SOOO MANY of the fish that made up most of my diet were loaded with mercury and off limits. I have been eating less fish since I'm still breast feeding. Now, for the first time in my life I have trouble with my weight. I have always eaten very well, being in the restaurant business. I never once in my 30 years went on a diet, counted a calorie, restricted myself in any way and I never struggled with my weight. I am 5'8'' and have always been 115 lbs- never had a fat roll or bulge at all. I know having a baby has a lot to do with it, but now that I am eating less fish and more meat and tofu, for the first time in my life I'm struggling with weight loss. I wonder if this isn't a factor. Stupid pollution!!!! - 1/28/2009   2:42:27 PM
  • 33
    Interesting..especially the alcohol statement..now my hubby is diabetic and I worry about his sugars when he drinks..however If I am taking this the right way the alcohol should LEVEL his sugars? Would love an answer to that? (from the writer or consultant from sparks)

    I have been eating this way now for 2 years and still can NOT lose weight.....??? I eat more fruits and veggies than anyone I know..??? - 1/28/2009   1:51:32 PM
  • 32
    Thanks!! Its like the way I eat now!!Have been for 7 years!! - 1/28/2009   1:26:15 PM
  • 31
    Yes to all those suggestions. It's pretty much what a vegan and/or vegetarian would eat and are pretty easy changes to implement. What's not to like? - 1/28/2009   12:35:44 PM

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