Often touted as one of the world’s most nutritious diets, the Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, and fish. Although it was first studied in the 1960s, it didn’t gain popularity until the 1990s. Why is it so popular? The Mediterranean diet can play a big role in preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing your risk of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure (source). Plus, it’s delicious and very accessible. If you’ve never given it a try, check out our simple guide: the Mediterranean diet for beginners.
Mediterranean Diet for Beginners
Because the Mediterranean region includes 22 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, the “Mediterranean diet” touted by American health experts actually incorporates a variety of different cuisines from coastal regions. So although most Americans associate it with Greece, Spain, and southern Italy, it also incorporates food traditions from countries like Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel.
What to Eat
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables and fruits: tomatoes, spinach, cucumber, onions, carrots, broccoli, kale, apples, dates, olives, etc. Fresh produce should make up the majority of your meals. If that sounds boring, remember that you can flavor your food with olive oil, herbs, and spices, and include tasty ingredients like Greek yogurt, feta cheese, eggs, and beans. Although there isn’t a single definition of the Mediterranean diet, those who enjoy its benefits typically follow these general guidelines:
- Daily Consumption: Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, healthy fats (like olive oil)
- Weekly Consumption: Eggs, fish, poultry, dairy products
- Limited Consumption: Red meat
In these regions, people often enjoy the company of friends and family at mealtimes and emphasize eating slowly – often over a small glass of red wine.
What to Limit
Any diet that forces you to give up foods that you love won’t be sustainable. Instead, try to limit your consumption of the items below and swap them for healthier alternatives when possible.
- Red meat (swap for fish, poultry, or beans)
- Processed foods (swap for fresh, unprocessed alternatives)
- Butter (swap for olive oil)
- Refined carbohydrates (swap for whole-grain alternatives)
- Fried foods (swap for grilled)
- Sweets (swap for fruit)
- Soda (swap for water flavored with lemon)
One of the best things about the Mediterranean diet? It is truly delicious and doesn’t feel restrictive or bland. If you need some help brainstorming recipe ideas, start with the list below. We have ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. For some recipes, consider combining two ideas into a meal (such as grilled salmon with Greek salad on the side).
- Greek salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and feta tossed with Greek dressing)
- Grilled fish
- Stuffed peppers
- Hummus with whole-grain pita
- Roasted chickpeas, tomato, cucumber, lettuce and hummus in a pita wrap
- Tabbouleh salad
- Lentil soup
- Risotto with roasted tomatoes and asparagus
- Tuscan white bean stew
- Chicken, tomato, pepper, and mushroom skewers
- Greek yogurt with fresh fruit
- Caprese salad (tomato, basil, and mozzarella with a drizzle of olive oil)
- Spinach and tomato omelette
- Fattoush salad
- Sliced veggies dipped in tzatziki
- Roasted potatoes seasoned with rosemary
- Frittata filled with veggies
- Grilled shrimp over fresh arugula salad
- Minestrone soup
If you’re trying to improve your heart health, you can’t go wrong with a Mediterranean diet and regular exercise. Our Mediterranean diet for beginners gives you a good jumping-off point. Once you’re familiar with the basic goals, you can figure out which recipes and ingredients you like most and build your meals around them. Consider consulting a nutritionist or talking to your doctor for more information.
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