The Mediterranean region is home to a climate that harvests a vegetable-dominant diet. Heavily reliant on plant-based food like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole wheat, and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil, this diet is characterized by traditional and regional food.
Mediterranean cuisine is among the healthiest in the world, due to how the food is cooked and the way it is consumed: typically in small, shared plates called meze. Meals are treated like a social event: enjoying each other’s company while sipping on red wine and giving their bodies enough time to thoroughly digest food. Taking small bites of slowly digested carbs (beans and whole wheat grains), gives the feeling of being full and more satisfied.
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Studies show that this diet is proven to have incredible health benefits and reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. While adopting this type of diet is hugely beneficial if you start early in life, you can also benefit by starting this eating lifestyle in midlife.
Following the Mediterranean diet has been associated with lower oxidized levels of “bad” cholesterol that can block arteries and put you at risk for cardiovascular health concerns. A key component of the Mediterranean diet is its high consumption of olive oil and garlic which are anti-inflammatories and can help lower blood pressure. Mixed nuts and extra-virgin olive oil have been associated with reducing the risk of breast cancer.
The Annals of Internal Medicine conducted research that looked at the dietary habits of women in their 40s and compared their health to women who were 15-years their senior. The results were fairly clear: women who followed a healthy diet during middle age were more likely to live past the age of 70 than those who followed less healthy diets. Diets that consisted of more plant-based foods, fish, and grains, as opposed to a diet with more red meat, were the healthiest among the research participants.
Those eating patterns mirror the Mediterranean diet.
Components of the Mediterranean Diet
There are a few main things to remember when starting to implement the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle. It’s smart to start out slowly, rather than changing your diet overnight. Moderately begin incorporating these components into your daily eating habits:
- Base every meal on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, grains that are low in trans-fats, and an assortment of nuts that contain healthy fats
- Replace butter by sauteing food in olive oil
- Minimize sodium intake by using herbs and spices to flavor food, instead of salt
- Eat red meat sparingly, limiting yourself to small portions once or twice a month
- Eat fish and poultry regularly, at least once or twice a week
- Limit high-fat dairy by consuming 1% or skim milk and limiting cheese intake
- Enjoy mealtime with friends and family
- Drink red wine in moderation: one glass of red wine with dinner can help stave off heart conditions
Traditional Mediterranean Recipe
If there’s one dish that is commonly associated with the Mediterranean region, it’s Fattoush. This chopped salad has many variations depending on what fresh vegetables are available and even which country you are in! Arab chopped salads are known for their array of mixed vegetables and pita bread while others, like the kind you’d find in Jerusalem, are mostly tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, tossed with a lemon vinaigrette.
Replacing the fresh lemon vinaigrette, this recipe incorporates a tangy buttermilk and a plethora of fresh herbs that are common to the Mediterranean region. The Fattoush salad is vibrant, fresh, and has both chewy and crunchy textures, making it a perfect summer salad (not to mention it’s super easy to make!).
- scant 1 cup Greek yogurt and 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp whole milk, or 1 2/3 cups buttermilk
- 2 large stale Turkish flatbread or naan
- 3 large tomatoes, diced
- 3 radishes, thinly sliced
- 3 Lebanese or mini cucumbers peeled and chopped in small pieces
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint
- scant 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
- 2 tablespoons cider or white wine vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- If using yogurt and milk, begin at least 3 hours in advance. Place both in a bowl and whisk well. Leave in fridge until bubbles form on the surface. This makes a homemade buttermilk, but less tangy.
- Tear the bread into bite-size pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add homemade buttermilk mixture (or store-bought buttermilk), chopped vegetables, and herbs. Mix well. Let sit for 15 minutes for the flavors to combine thoroughly.
- Spoon into bowls and drizzle with olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet doesn’t have to be hard. It can be a very healthy and delicious diet to incorporate into your lifestyle. Perfect for summertime, use fresh vegetables and fresh herbs to brighten your meals and begin reaping the benefits that the Mediterranean diet has to offer!