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Top 8 'Mediterranean Diet' Foods You Should be Eating

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
7/6/2009 6:00 AM   :  64 comments   :  22,528 Views

A European Mediterranean eating style is considered a healthy way to eat by many health professionals. One primary reason is because of its plant based focus as well as that it is low in refined sugar and preservatives. These are very different eating patterns compared to the typical American diet.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers and the University of Athens Medical School in Greece spent more than eight years investigating over 23,000 Greek men and women. The men and women were participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) which looked at overall health related to Mediterranean diet adherence. The researchers found that some food choice patterns provided more health benefit than others. Which foods were more beneficial?

Analysis found that certain foods were more predictive of lower mortality while others had little to do with improving health. While the study tended to identify specific foods from the participants diets that provided a health benefit, perhaps for most of us there is a larger take away. Instead of looking at specific foods that could provide benefit, identifying dietary patterns to include most often could provide the best health benefit of all.

Here are the top 8 food types that could benefit your health if you include them regularly in your diet.
  1. Olive Oil - Mediterranean cooking routinely includes olive oil which is rich in monounsaturated fat which is a healthy type of fat. Moderation with any fat is recommended even with healthier choices like olive oil and canola oil.
     
  2. Vegetables and fruits - The European Mediterranean eating style is rich in vegetables along with some fruits which may be key its health benefits. While both vegetables and fruits are lower calorie, low fat, and fiber rich foods, including more vegetables than fruits can be key since they are typically lower in natural sugar which would provide a lower glucose response in the body compared to fruits. Including a large number of vegetables in your eating pattern and a few fruits are healthy goals for any eating style.
     
  3. Fish and seafood - Fish provides some of the healthiest meat protein sources to any eating style and are traditional components of the Mediterranean style of eating. It is best to limit deep fried fish and seafood, even in olive oil, in favor of broiled or grilled to maximize benefit. If fish and seafood are not a part of your weekly meat choices, including them in place of a serving of red meat is a good way to begin to increase these healthy options in your diet.
     
  4. Nuts - Nuts are a key food choice in the Mediterranean eating style. Nuts provide unsaturated fats and protein as well as calcium, potassium and fiber to the diet while lacking sugar. As I mentioned in my Could You Have Metabolic Syndrome? blog, research shows that a Mediterranean style diet enriched with nuts can help with risks of metabolic syndrome. While most nuts are beneficial, walnuts and almonds are the best choices to include regularly in the diet. Including a quarter cup serving each day is not difficult since nuts can easily be eaten as a snack, included in a chicken salad or trail mix or as a salad topping.
     
  5. Beans or pulses - Along with nuts and vegetables, beans such as chick peas could be some of the richest contributors to the healthy nature of the Mediterranean eating style. A wide variety of beans, chick peas, peas and lentils provide rich sources of protein, fiber and iron which are also low in fat and easy to include in soups, salads and sauces for pastas. A small half cup serving can go a very long way to enrich the diet. Aim to include one half cup serving daily whenever possible.
     
  6. Alcohol or at least part of it - While it is strongly advised that alcohol be included in a healthy diet only in moderation, numerous studies do point to red wines from the Mediterranean eating style as showing some health benefit. When you look at the studies a little closer you find that the compound resveratrol is what is seen as the positive agent especially related to heart health benefit. This same compound can also be found in red grapes and pomegranates. Including these foods in your diet regularly can provide heart health benefits without the alcohol.
     
  7. Cereals - Whole grain sources provide a great fiber source to a Mediterranean eating style. This is in stark contrast to the numerous sugar filled and highly processed options in the American eating style. Whole grain cereals provide a great vehicle for a fat free milk and fresh fruit serving as well and can be a great way to include complex carbohydrates in your diet.
     
  8. Dairy - One of the more controversial aspects of the traditional Mediterranean eating style is the limited milk intake. However, Greece, Italy and France are all high cheese and yogurt consumers from both goat and sheep dairy sources. If your diet is not rich in calcium sources, perhaps giving some Mediterranean style cheese and yogurt choices a try would be a good way to increase your daily dairy intake.

There is one aspect of the European Mediterranean eating style that isn't talked about a great deal. I think it is worth noting that this eating style that is held up as having health benefits also is as high or higher in overall fat than our typical American diet. Many traditional European Mediterranean eating patterns contain 35-40% of their total calories from fats. While fat does supply more calories per gram than carbohydrates or proteins, they also supply many other aspects that could be beneficial to this health eating style. Fat supplies essential fatty acids the body needs, carries and transports fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K, and helps the body use protein and carbohydrates efficiently.

So if they don't limit their fat intake, why is it so healthy? The traditional European Mediterranean eating style includes healthy monounsaturated fats from olive oil and polyunsaturated fats and Omega 3 fatty acids from canola oil, fish and nuts, particularly walnuts. At the same time, this eating style is low in saturated fats and hydrogenated oils/trans fats.

The Bottom Line - The European Mediterranean eating style is a healthy model for healthful eating. Regularly including olive and canola oil as the prominent fat source while including many vegetables, some fruits, a handful of nuts and beans, some resveratrol containing foods and cheeses and yogurt could be a healthy eating style for you as well. Another suggestion would be to pay less attention to limiting your total fat intake and more attention to limiting your saturated and hydrogenated Trans fat intake while maximizing the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated choices when you do include fats in the diet.

How European Mediterranean is your eating style? What can you change to improve it?


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Comments

  • 64
    love it all. Problem is MODERATION!!! as with everything. I'm an A type and I love doing whatever I'm doing at the moment, including eating - 6/13/2010   9:54:48 AM
  • 63
    I do not like fish at at least the fishy taste or the fishy smell. I have tried to add more fish the last few years, talapia is one. I like snow crap leg or shrimp. Oily fish which are probably better for me like Salmon or white fish or tuna are hard for me to eat. I love beans, and humus. I cook or use olive oil almost exclusively.
    I have an alergy to tomatoes so I have to be careful with them, but I love tomoatoes. The 'Mediterranean Diet' uses a lot of tomatoes. - 6/10/2010   9:06:47 AM
  • 62
    I think it is not only important what you eat but how you eat.
    Having a meal with friends and family, celebrating life and starting up with some Meze (greek appetizers).
    Than you make jokes, relax and get into a nice mood to finally enjoy the meal.
    Very different to goobeling up the frozen pizza in front off your TV during the comercial break.... - 5/28/2010   5:00:21 AM
  • 61
    I eat all of these things. Combining them with American recipes is what got me in trouble. - 4/17/2010   11:34:36 PM
  • 60
    This is a great blog. I can pretty much follow along except for the fish. I never was a big fish or seafood. I can occasionally do tuna, crab or shrimp. I don't care for the fishy taste. - 2/1/2010   2:00:30 PM
  • 59
    I have ate most all of this ,especially the fish , vegetables and beans through out my life.Now have added so much more. I do feel a lot better and am losing weight.This is a great article.Thank you, - 1/31/2010   6:46:00 PM
  • NIBLITZ
    58
    It's funny that when I looked at that list, I thought for a minute, "Uh... what else is there to eat?" And then I remembered. - 1/29/2010   1:27:38 AM
  • 57
    I need to "go fish" more! - 1/28/2010   6:37:42 PM
  • 56
    I enjoy all these foods but for alcohol, for that I drink pomagranate juice. - 1/15/2010   11:21:36 AM
  • SJPAPMOM
    55
    i make a big bowl of pesto and freeze in small containers to use as sauce in pasta and over fish. when fresh basil is ot of season you can substitute spinach and parsley and almonds for the pine nuts. i also make hummus with chick peas and also black beans. add beans to your soups and to salads. yummy and very good.!! - 11/3/2009   3:14:13 PM
  • 54
    Will work on including the beans on a regular basis. Everything else is a piece of cake. - 10/12/2009   5:09:39 PM
  • 53
    I am enjoying everything on the list. I have walnuts for the nuts. Also fish 2-3 times per week now. - 8/9/2009   7:44:22 AM
  • 52
    Being from the mediterranean (I live near Barcelona) I was really interested in this article. Since I joined sparkpeople, I started to realise how different our lifestyles are. Some of the receipes people advise are things that I have to give up because they are the greatest intake of calorie and fat I have. So i supoppose, we do have a very healthy lifestyle, but you know what? the American pattern is taking over! It's such a paradox, Americans taking over the med diet and the mediterraneans taking over the American! - 7/28/2009   5:17:36 AM
  • BRATESMITH
    51
    Quite an agreeable post. Eating habits can matter to the health, especially to the heart. Isnít it natural for us to believe we are healthy and not suffering from any disease? I had a similar thought process until my physician asked me to get a heart scan done after he found that my basic cardiograms were not perfect. I discovered that there were calcium deposits in my coronary arteries and I was at a serious risk of a heart attack. I was shocked and went ahead with the Cardiologist's suggestion of an advanced diagnostic scan. Though itís always tough to undergo such experiences, I was not at any kind of discomfort at the Elite Health( www.elitehealth.com ) advanced heart scan facility. I am not an expert in medical appliance and machines but could feel that the equipment was world-class and I was in safe hands. That feeling is really very important for me and thatís how it actually went on. The facilities for Full Body Scan were as good as they can get. - 7/17/2009   2:14:16 AM
  • 50
    AHH AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE AND I AGREE WITH IT ALL, COURSE I HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING THE FLAT BELLY DIET WHICH IS HIGH IN MUFAS AND LOW IN THE OTHER FATS. I ONLY WISH WE COULD TRACK THEM BETTER ON THE FOOD TRACKER. THAT IS ONE AREA THAT THE FOOD TRACKER HERE ON SPARK FALLS DOWN. OLIVE ANYONE??? - 7/12/2009   11:36:04 AM
  • 49
    This is pretty much my permanent way of eating. I am not thin. The only meat I ever eat is fish and that is not very often. - 7/10/2009   10:23:19 PM
  • FOX2566
    48
    I have made progress making gradual changes toward the Med. diet. Using olive oil instead of butter. Fresh unprocessed food. More veggies and more veggie meals.Feeling better. Getting used to more garlic!!! - 7/9/2009   10:52:29 PM
  • 47
    Growing up in an Italian Household, my mother and her family are imigrants from the South of Italy, most of these things were always on the table. I remember always having a big bowl of natural mixed nuts brought out to the table after dinner--that was "dessert". and the little cruet of olive oil at my Nonna's place at the table that she poured over her entire meal! Naturally, upon leaving home, I quickly stopped utilizing all of these healthy habits I grew up with and like another poster said, succumbed to the hurry hurry/eat and run way of life. Now, I have gone back to my roots. One thing the article should have mentioned, that is important, if that your Olive Oil should be Extra Virgin (please don't committ sacriledge like Rachel Ray and refer to it as EVOO, its just weird)...Virgin or regular olive oil does not have nearly as many health benefits as Extra Virgin and also is more fatty (bad fat not good fat!). I actually don't keep anything but Extra Virgin in my cabinet... about 8 different kinds depending on what I am making and using it for:) Another thing that really should have been mentioned, it isn't JUST the diet. but the lifestyle. Mediterraneans (Italy, Greece, France) treat meals and food as much more than something we have to partake of every day in order to survive. It is a way of life. Cooking, sitting around the table with friends and family, relaxing and actually enjoying what you are eating, noticing what you are eating--its a huge part. If you relax while you eat, you won't rush through your meal, which means you are taking your time, not only to savor the food, but also, to allow your body to register that it is getting nourishment and it will tell you when it is full and needs no more, before you have over eaten. Eating in a rush, your body won't realize you have eaten too much until it is too late.

    So, next time you prepare a fabulous Mediterranean meal, invite your friends and family over. Spark the conversations, pour the vino rosso and eat, "alla famiglia" to not only enjoy the food, but the company as well:) - 7/9/2009   4:38:46 PM
  • 46
    Beans or pulses - Along with nuts and vegetables, beans such as chick peas could be some of the richest contributors to the healthy nature of the Mediterranean eating style. A wide variety of beans, chick peas, peas and lentils provide rich sources of protein, fiber and iron which are also low in fat and easy to include in soups, salads and sauces for pastas. A small half cup serving can go a very long way to enrich the diet. Aim to include one half cup serving daily whenever possible.
    ________________________________
    _________________________________

    This is great news I knew all along! My Fiance owns a business called, The Hummus Guy. He sells the most delicious hummus at the Northern California Farmers Markets. He makes over 11 different types of the hummus with some of the top favorites include artichoke, roasted red pepper, spicy black bean & chipotle, garlic & chives, and basil & sun dried tomatoes. You can find him on yelp, and several newspaper articles on the internet regarding his tantalizing natural health food. Hummus is made out of Chick Peas, which is listed in the article above about all it's health benefits. The other natural ingredients include ground sesame seeds, lemon juice, and spices. His hummus is made from a family recipe which is credited towards his mother and sister. Him and his family grew up in Tunisia, Tunis North Africa, right next to the Mediterranean sea. After moving to America, he went to college for a few years, met me :) and he decided to share this wonderful food with the world. Other natural medetarrian food he sells at the market is pita chips in light olive oil, pita bread, grape leaves (domas), and other Mediterranean dips and appetizers.
    We live in Northern California, and his kitchen is in Petaluma. If a Spark Member lives in the area and would love to buy his hummus, he would be happy to deliver you some. He also does catering plates and delivery (Within a 45 Mile radius from Petaluma, CA) .

    About Me:
    *Visit my Spark Page and request to be my friend. This is my second time around on SparkPeople. The first time I lost a total of 30 lbs!! Then I gained it all back due to school stress (only my excuses talking). I graduated last year with my degree and I am ready to get back on track, and I am ready to loose the weight again.
    - 7/9/2009   4:02:07 PM
  • 45
    This is an excellent diet.....which reminds me to pick some young grape leaves off the vines in my back yard and prepare them for dolmades - stuffed grape leaves - a great Mediterrean dish. - 7/9/2009   3:10:55 PM
  • 44
    I eat everything on the list (though admittedly nuts are like a once-or-twice a week thing) and LOVE it. We especially do a lot of beans - hubby and I both being mostly vegetarian, they end up being about half of our protein. In fact, we have a bean-based casserole in the oven right now! - 7/8/2009   5:57:36 PM
  • 43
    I love eating all the foods on the list!! I have a Mediterranean cookbook that is fantastic. I eat those good foods not only because it makes me feel so good from the inside out, but also because they are so yummy!!! People think eating healthy is like eating cardboard, but I think it is more of an excuse to keep eating fatty fried food and processed junk. Everything in moderation is a good rule to stick by. - 7/8/2009   11:54:26 AM
  • 42
    mediterranean foods are just the sort of foods I enjoy eating, I try to have as much of the good stuff as I can, I love olive oil dressings, fruit, veg and all those healthy beans. Olives are my favourite with feta cheese, sun dried tomatoes and seeded bread. - 7/8/2009   4:36:14 AM
  • 41
    I was raised on this style of eating, but I think the effect coming to the U.S. had a disasterous effect on many of my elders. My guess has always been the abundance of meats that were not nearly as plentiful in Italy. Still, had I never succumbed to the fast food/eat and run/hurried pace as my career took off & as I got older, I doubt I'd have ever ended up here, having been active & thin most of my life up until into my 50's. - 7/7/2009   11:44:05 PM
  • 40
    My Greek friend has gotten me eatting a lot more of this kind of things.. Great blog - 7/7/2009   11:34:35 PM
  • 39
    I love Italian and Greek foods, I eat humus, like chick peas and most all Mediterranean foods, I do have to be careful about bell peppers however-being deathly alergic to them. I like a glass of red wine with dinner few nights a week, or white wine if its fish or chicken. - 7/7/2009   5:41:31 PM
  • 38
    Perhaps part of the reason this diet is so healthy is that it is combined with a lower stress lifestyle. In addition to eating Mediterranean, try to work less, have more time for family, cultivate your spiritual life, sleep/nap more and walk more often than you drive. - 7/7/2009   4:33:46 PM
  • 37
    I just don't care for fish or sea food. Wild caught salmon I like (the farmed stuff is mushy and they feed the fish colorants) but even then not a great deal. If I can sub chicken and venison I'm OK. And I'm not willing to consider giving up my beef. Don't eat as much of it anymore however.
    It's definatley something to look into further - I think like other folks who have posted comments I'm sort getting there on my own anyway. - 7/7/2009   1:20:06 PM
  • 36
    Having lived in a Greek area of Queens, always loved Greek foods. Still do! Its awesome to find that this is the best diet. Mind you, my Greek friends and neighbors ate plenty of french fried potatoes ( home made) and pizza too! - 7/7/2009   11:15:17 AM
  • 35
    In March I started following the Flat Belly Diet, which is basically a Mediterranean diet. One of the things I love about it is how tasty everything is; I don't feel like I'm on a "diet". The one aspect that I struggle with is eating more fish as that requires more frequent trips to the store, which I detest. - 7/7/2009   10:40:57 AM
  • AIDELADE27
    34
    I love Mediterranean food, and especially since I keep kosher, this helps out tremendously. Israel is known for their dairy products and so much of their food is high in fiber (like chickpeas). - 7/7/2009   10:35:30 AM
  • 33
    I do well with all on the list except 5. Beans (I could definitely eat more), and 6. Red grapes and pomegranetes (I don't drink alcohol). It's good to know that a little change in one's diet can go a long way! I will look for more ways to add beans and red grapes into my diet. Thanks for the blog! - 7/7/2009   10:12:51 AM
  • 32
    Then a European Mediterranean eating style it is! I love everything mentioned in the article, minus alcohol, but I will try the pomegrantes juice! I also live kinda close to the Gulf Coast, and since my husband loves to fish, I think we'll start eating more fish, too! - 7/7/2009   10:00:56 AM
  • GIFFTIFF
    31
    I've been living in Italy for almost 10 years now and I LOVE the way we eat here! After the first year my cholesterol dropped 18 points! All the food is eaten fresh and in season only. I live by the sea so we eat mostly fish. Also for the Italians having a meal together is also a social event so it is never rushed, meals can take hours to consum e - it's fabulous! I really have a hard time going out to dinner when I visit back in the states - the food seems so processed, heavy and way too much. - 7/7/2009   8:14:15 AM
  • 30
    We alternate between Mediterranean and Chinese - homecooked and healthy, NOT the takeout stuff. Maleficent - I'm with you - fatphobes (and carbphobes!) make me nuts. It really is about moderation and increased activity. - 7/7/2009   7:01:04 AM
  • 29
    I guess I have been eating the European Mediterranean style without setting out to do so. When I joined SP I read all these great eye-opening articles like The Mega Benefits of Omega-3s, Translating Those Trans Fats, and The Seeds of a Healthy Diet and began to stay away from saturated and trans fats, and made it a priority to eat mono and poly-unsaturated fats; subsequently my cholesterol and LDL dropped pretty dramatically. So I could really see the benefit of eating this way, and will continue to do so. Plus it's very satisfying and filling!
    I eat a diet that includes olive oil, veg, fruits,fish,nuts,whole grains, fat-free dairy in milk and yogurt; the only thing left to incorporate would be lentils.

    If you haven't already tried Coach Nicole's Yummy Hummus recipe, it's really delicious, and one good way to eat chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans). - 7/6/2009   11:49:12 PM
  • 28
    Cut out the peanut M&Ms, and I am almost there. (My boss keeps a bottomless bowl of peanut M&Ms on his desk, and it's almost irresistible.) - 7/6/2009   11:39:23 PM
  • 27
    I'm a gluten-free vegan who also gave up alcohol to control arthritis. So, other than the meat, alcohol, and cheese, I think I do this already. It feels good to eat these things. - 7/6/2009   11:28:02 PM
  • 26
    I have been trying to add more of the good stuff to my diet but it is hard for me since I don't like to eat veggies much. Fish and seafood is mostly frozen in my area. I think I would do better with fresh items. - 7/6/2009   10:57:46 PM
  • 25
    Love the first four things on the list. We eat them all the time. The rest of them, well, lets say is not our cup of tea. - 7/6/2009   8:40:06 PM
  • 24
    I love the Mediterranean style of eating.
    And brown rice with beans and Tobasco is a staple in my house.
    Seafood at least twice a week. - 7/6/2009   7:44:14 PM
  • 23
    Can't say that I have ever had classic greek salad? I have had tried to introduce more darker leafy veggies & have more fish in my diet since I know its important not only to weight loss but overall health!
    - 7/6/2009   7:08:06 PM
  • 22
    I do most of these like the yogurt, nuts, veggies, fruit and some fish but not much. So my diet is close to this mediterrean diet. - 7/6/2009   5:44:29 PM
  • 21
    Great info. I'll need to incorporate more fish and seafood into my diet along with more olive oil. - 7/6/2009   4:59:00 PM
  • 1THING
    20
    I am doing okay, I do not care for almonds too much so I will have to do better. I need to print this out to keep myself aware. - 7/6/2009   3:46:20 PM
  • 19
    Vegetables are a large part of my diet. Even though I live in the Arizona desert, I am still able to maintain a small year round garden. Right now I am harvesting eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers. The Mediterranean Diet and my garden were the inspirations for my recently submitted recipe "Mediterranean Vegetables". I hope some vegetable lovers will try it. - 7/6/2009   3:40:58 PM
  • 18
    This is cool. When I eat at home, I tend to follow this routine pretty closely--I eat as many vegetables as possible, try to stick to lean meats, and will eat nuts and cook my food in olive oil. I worry less about fat and more about processed sugar. One thing my nutritionist told me is ''Fat doesn't make you fat. Sugar makes you fat.'' I've been reading a lot about the culture of food, and it's quite amazing how much sugar we actually eat. We don't think of ranch dressing, ketchup, a hamburger bun, cereal or a bagel as sugar, but that's basically what it is. And almost everything that exists nowadays contains some kind of saturated-fat containing oil. I usually cook with olive oil, but one thing I was surprised to learn is that cooking olive oil on high heat actually makes it become saturated fat, and defeats the point of cooking with olive oil. - 7/6/2009   2:47:57 PM
  • 17
    Its great to eat this way, now it would really be great if the stores stopped carrying everything with white flour, sugar, and those "bad" foods that I still have to buy on occasion. I pretty much eat this way, thought you would guess that by my obvious chubbiness. - 7/6/2009   2:06:10 PM
  • 16
    Great info. I'll need to incorporate more fish and seafood into my diet along with more olive oil. - 7/6/2009   1:14:38 PM
  • 15
    I was born and raise on the Mediterranean way of life and never had weight issues until I met my husband and moved to the US... I am trying to get back eating the way my Mom has taught me though. I know the "rules" but applying them is not always easy and it is so expensive to eat right in the US!

    I was a Vegetarian for two years, eating dairy and drinking milk from the farm - you cannot take the cheese out of the French! LOL - but I got back to eating fish and seafood recently because I noticed that my muscles were recovering faster after strenous workouts and also I needed to add variety to my routine of Tofu, Tempeh, Seitan and Beans - and to add protein while limiting the carbs... ;-P

    I am working on eating more nuts and in reasonable amounts, because I love them so much that when I get started I can hardly stop... ;-P - 7/6/2009   12:41:53 PM

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