The Mediterranean diet is more a lifestyle driven style of eating than a traditional diet. What we consider to be the Mediterranean diet comes from the area of Europe situated along the Mediterranean, primarily Italy and Greece. The proximity to the water provides inexpensive and abundant fresh seafood, and the long mild summers are perfect for growing all different manner of produce. One of the most important aspects of the Mediterranean diet is the reverence for communal dining in an unhurried fashion, this stands in stark contrast to the fast food, eat at your desk or in your car culture that predominates in the United States.
The primary focus of this diet is on plant based foods; fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. The major vegetables in the region are tomatoes, artichokes, onions, broccoli, kale, spinach, eggplant, cucumbers and potatoes. Grapes, dates, fig, apples, bananas, melons, strawberries, peaches and pears are all fruits that are readily available across the area. This is only a partial list, one of the best parts of the Mediterranean diet is the sheer variety of foods that are available.
An important part of the diet is using primarily healthy, plant based oils and fats instead of saturated fats. Olive oil is widely consumed, while the use of butter is limited. Olive oil has many positive benefits, including containing a large amount of antioxidants and having anti-inflammatory properties, protecting against heart disease and not being associated with obesity or weight gain. There is also evidence that olive oil may help to protect against strokes. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed version and should be sought out over others.
Another component of the Mediterranean diet that contributes to heart health is the use of herbs and spices to flavor foods over the use of salt. High sodium foods are the most common foods available in the current American diet and lead to all kinds of health problems. Excess salt causes stiffening of the blood vessels which can lead to increased blood pressure and a higher risk of heart attack. Some herbs that prevalent in the Mediterranean are basil, sage, parsley, oregano, coriander, saffron, thyme and rosemary. Many of these herbs have their own additional health bonuses so that using them instead of excess salt leads to a win-win scenario.
Fish and poultry are the staple proteins of this style of eating and should be consumed several times a week. These should be baked, grilled or broiled to enjoy the health benefits. Red meat should be consumed no more than a few times per month when following the Mediterranean diet.
Bread is an important staple across the Mediterranean and is generally eaten every day. Fresh bread with no preservatives will not hinder any diet goals when eaten in small to moderate amounts. Use of butter should eschewed for extra virgin olive oil.
The regular consumption of dry red wine is the last major component of the Mediterranean diet. When consumed in moderation red wine aids in heart health and is helpful in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. It also promotes healthy blood vessels which can lead to the lowering of blood pressure. Red wine also contains anthocyanins which have antioxidant properties and fight free radicals in the body. The negative effects of red wine consumption start to outweigh the positives after two glasses, so be sure to enjoy in moderation.