What Is the Mediterranean Diet, and How Can It Help You?

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What Is the Mediterranean Diet, and How Can It Help You?

If you're looking for a healthy way to eat that has stood the test of time, the Mediterranean diet may be your best bet.

"There are many health benefits to the Mediterranean diet," said Rahaf Al Bochi, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "The Mediterranean diet has been associated with lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and cognitive decline. It is also associated with improved fertility and pregnancy outcomes."

1. What is the Mediterranean diet?

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"The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, herbs and spices," Al Bochi said. "Dairy, fish and poultry are consumed a few times a week, whereas red meat and processed meat is enjoyed less frequently."

It also emphasizes mindfulness and enjoyment of food. "Part of that is to be mindful of your body’s hunger and fullness cues, to guide you on the amount of food to be consumed, and that would help you reach your health goals," she said.

2. How to begin the Mediterranean diet

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"To get started, focus on one food you can add to your meals and build on that starting point," Al Bochi said.

The American Heart Association says that the Mediterranean diet is a term that describes traditional eating habits in the 16 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. While it focuses on healthy eating, it allows for moderate amounts of wine with meals and dessert is OK, though it is usually fruit rather than sweets.

3. Mediterranean diet health benefits

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All that healthy eating translates into better health, experts say.

Some evidence exists that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may help the body remove excess cholesterol and keep blood vessels open, the AHA says.

4. A Mediterranean diet food list

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  • Have a handful of raw nuts every day as a replacement for processed snacks.

  • Add whole-grain bread or other whole grains to your meals. Use dense, chewy, country-style loaves without added sugar or butter. Try bulgur, barley, farro, couscous and whole-grain pasta.

  • Begin or end each meal with a salad. Choose crisp, dark greens and seasonal vegetables.

  • Add more and different vegetables to the menu, at least three to four servings a day.

  • Eat at least three servings a week of legumes like lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas.

  • Eat less meat, consuming it only occasionally or use it accompanied by lots of vegetables, as in stews, stir-fries and soups. Eat two to three servings of fish and poultry a week.

  • Drink a moderate amount of wine instead of other alcoholic beverages. Replace beer or liquors with wine. (Two 5-ounce glasses per day for men, and one glass per day for women.)

  • Cut out sugary drinks. Replace soda and juices with water.

  • Eat fewer high-fat, high-sugar desserts, and instead enjoy poached or fresh fruit. Save cakes and pastries for special occasions.

  • Get the best quality food available.

5. Source and more information

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Source: Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, LD, Olive Tree Nutrition, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

For more information on nutrition, check out these additional resources:

What Is the Heart-Healthy DASH Diet?

Plant-Based Diets: What Are They, and How Do You Start?

Do You Need an Insulin-Resistance Diet?

The B Vitamins: The Benefits of Vitamins B6 and B12

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