Last Updated: 11th October 2016
The Mediterranean diet is one of those diets that means a complete lifestyle change, rather than just focusing on the food you eat. While it can seem like a shock to the system, it is a diet that offers many health benefits and is something you want to consider following for the rest of your life. One of the biggest benefits is improving brain power, as well as many other physical and emotional benefits.
Before you just make the switch, you need to know more about the diet and what it will mean for you. Just how will you benefit and what do you need to do to follow it?
Here’s your ultimate guide to following and benefitting from the Mediterranean diet and why you need to follow it right now.
What’s Allowed or Not Allowed on the Mediterranean Diet?
One of the greatest things about the diet is that it’s not too restrictive. Think about the foods that people in Italy, Greece and Spain enjoy. These are all foods that you can have, so there’s no need to give up alcohol, healthy fats, meats and sweet treats. It’s all about moderation and focusing on the healthiest options for the long term.
Wait! Is alcohol allowed on the diet?
This is a point that will shock some people. The benefit is in drinking wine, especially red wine. However, there are limitations. Remember, this is all about following a healthy and balanced diet; there’s the element of moderation. The wine offers numerous benefits to the health, which we’ll look at later in this guide. You will only get those benefits when you stick to a glass or two a day and drink it with your meals rather than before or afterwards.
The main focus of your diet is vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grains. These are all the foods that give you the nutrients that your body really needs, whether you’re focusing on vitamins and minerals or want to make sure you get enough protein, fibre, and healthy carbs.
While you increase those foods, you want to keep the red meat intake to a minimum. Fish or poultry are better for the health. You’ll find many Mediterranean diet recipes will be fish based because it is so much easier to get access to the food when over there.
It’s also important to reduce the amount of refined or ready-made food. The keyword here is “reduce.” There’s no need to cut it out completely, but you want to cook from fresh as much as possible. You’ll know what goes into all your food to limit your sugar and salt intake on a daily basis. That being said, one fast food meal every two to three weeks isn’t going to do you that much harm. As you get into the lifestyle and feel the benefits, you’ll find that you want to eat the fatty and readymade foods much less than you do right now.
What can you have for snacks if you can’t enjoy the refined options? Well, ditch the cakes and opt for dried or fresh fruit and focus on nuts and seeds. These are full of the nutrients that your body desperately needs. The fruits are sweet enough, especially some of the Mediterranean options, to counter those sweet cravings when you start the diet.
Getting some fat is important, but you want to get the healthy fats. Switch out the lard and butter and focus on the olive, rapeseed or even almond oils. Look for ones that are monounsaturated, as they won’t cling to the arteries as much and cause problems with the growth of visceral fats. They’ll give the body the energy and protection it needs.
What about dairy products? Do you need to cut them out completely? This isn’t necessarily something that you must do, but it is worth limiting them. Cheeses tend to be the most favoured in the diet, but you can still enjoy some yoghurts and milk. Eat all of these in moderation, and don’t worry about your calcium intake; you’ll get enough from your vegetables.
As for drinking, you can enjoy some tea and coffee. There are some health benefits, but you still want to enjoy them in moderation. Opt for water instead, especially lemon water. This is a great way to enjoy more health benefits on a daily basis and get them with too much hassle. You may find it difficult at risk, but you’ll soon get used to the refreshing feeling of drinking water.
What Else Is Involved With the Diet?
As mentioned, this isn’t just about focusing on a healthier diet. This will involve a change to your lifestyle, and one of those changes is to do more activity. Whether it is a trip to the gym or a 30-minute walk a day, getting some more exercise in your life will help you gain all the benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
It’s best to do 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week. You don’t need to do it all at once! You can split the time up however you want, whether you want to do 30 minutes a day or 15 minutes on two days and then 30 minutes on the other days. There’s more to come about how to fit exercise into your daily lifestyle to really take advantage of all the benefits.
Another part of the diet is to focus on getting enough sleep. You’ll be surprised by the way that sleeps benefits you. Start easing up on the stress and focus on the positives in life. You’ll find that it is easier to sleep.
This is a healthy way of life, and that means cutting out the unhealthy elements that you’ve added in yourself. If you smoke, now is the time to give it up. The benefits you get from the diet will be things you can take advantage of much more when you’re not risking your health through smoking—and this includes vaping, as the jury is still out on the pros and cons of this.
Visit your doctor regularly to keep on top of your health. This is especially the case with your blood pressure, which you should see is more manageable on the diet.
How to Make the Changes in Your Lifestyle
With all this in mind, you may be worried about even getting started. How do you go about making all these changes and taking advantage of the health benefits?
The first thing to know is that you don’t need to do it all at once. Set mini goals for when you make some changes, such as cutting down on your alcohol consumption or reducing the red meat that you eat. While doing that, you’ll naturally increase your water, fruit and vegetable intakes. Make it a goal to try out new Mediterranean diet recipes while making these changes, so you find it easier to get through this period.
When it comes to snacking, start looking for alternatives. You don’t need to miss completely out, but you want to limit the sweet treats to every now and then. Switch your crisps for vegetable sticks and the ranch dip to salsa or homemade hummus. Get rid of the white rice and pasta and enjoy quinoa and other grains instead. You can still have some sauces to help you get used to the new texture and taste. Opt for tortillas instead of bread for sandwiches and use milk for your puddings instead of using ice cream (of course, this you can enjoy in moderation, especially if you make your own).
If you do want pasta or rice, it’s okay to add them in. The trick is to switch for whole wheat options. In fact, as you start, it may be worth focusing on the starchy carbs first and build your meal around them. Just don’t forget your vegetables, fruits, and poultry or fish.
When it comes to margarine and butter, opt for healthy oils instead. These are also good to replace traditional cooking oil, which can be full of saturated fats.
Have plenty of snacking foods in the house that is healthy for you. This will stop you reaching out for the bad options. Nuts, dried fruits, seeds and vegetable sticks are all great options. The best thing about these is you can put them in bags or tubs that you can seal to take your snacks to work. When there are refined sugary snacks in the office, you’ll find it easier to fight the cravings.
Don’t instantly tell yourself no. Stopping yourself from eating some things will not help you stick to the lifestyle. You’ll start to crave the food you’ve banned, and then run the risk of binging later on. While saying “not right now,” you’ll look forward to the food when you do have it, and the cravings will be easier to handle.
Tips to Increase Your Exercise
Exercise is an important part of the lifestyle, so now you need to find a way to increase the amount that you get. There is one simple way to do this: make sure you do something that you enjoy.
If you do an exercise that you think you should do but don’t enjoy, you’ll only end up wasting money and time. You won’t want to keep going with it, and you’ll get a negative view of exercise as a whole. The chances of sticking to a plan are very slim so you won’t be able to take advantage of all the benefits that plan could offer. When you do an exercise you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick with it and will want to push yourself more.
It’s best to build your exercise up. If you don’t currently do any activity, start with a couple of days a week, fitting 30 minutes in. You can then go to three, four and five days. If you already do some, add an extra day or so.
There’s no need to do all 30 minutes at once. Split up your time in a way that is manageable for you and your current daily routine. It could be 10 minutes on a morning, 10 minutes at lunch time and then 10 minutes on an evening. You may find that two blocks of 15 minutes are better for your day. However you fit it all in, you will still benefit considerably.
Now that you know more about the diet and how to get it into your life, it’s time to check out all the health benefits you’ll be able to take full advantage of.
Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
One of the biggest benefits of the Mediterranean diet is to your heart. You’ll lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by 30%, according to some studies. This is due to numerous elements of the diet, including the moderate amounts of wine and the nutrients from the fruit and vegetables.
Levels of bad cholesterol will be lowered, while levels of good cholesterol are increased. You’ll find that your arteries are less likely to be clogged by fatty elements, and your blood will flow properly, keeping your heart working and getting to all of your organs.
The reduction in red meat and hard liquor has also been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, along with the reduction in refined sugars. All of these are limited to the diet, boosting your health.
The extra activity that you do will also help reduce your risk of heart disease. Exercise keeps your heart pumping, so the muscle gets stronger.
Reduce Your Diabetes Risk
Have you started to worry about your risk of type 2 diabetes? If you’ve been diagnosed as a pre-diabetic or had your doctor say something about the disease to you, it is common to start thinking about diets that will lower your risk of developing it. This is something that the Mediterranean diet can offer.
When you follow the diet, you reduce the refined sugars you eat. The sugars you do end up consuming are natural from ingredients like fruit, and they will be mixed in with large amounts of fibre. They break down in the body much slower, leading to lower levels of glucose and less need for insulin. The body isn’t as likely to create the resistance to insulin, causing diabetes.
You may find that if you currently suffer from diabetes that you can reverse it. This is something to monitor with your doctor to see whether you can reduce or stop taking your medication.
Promote Weight Loss
When you’re looking for a diet to lose weight, the Mediterranean diet is one to consider. There are many myths surrounding the diet, and one of those is that you’ll eat a lot of bread and pasta. The truth is the diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. There are some carbs, but they are complex, starchy options to help with weight loss.
You can create a calorie deficit much easier with the Mediterranean lifestyle. This is especially the case when you add in some exercise and get a good night’s sleep. Your body’s chemicals and hormones are back in balance to help you take all the benefits of the healthy diet.
Prevent Muscle Loss
There are some worries that diets will create muscle loss. This is definitely not the case with this diet because it’s more of a lifestyle. There is the promotion of exercise, as well as eating foods that are high in protein and fibre. The protein will help to build and tone muscle, while you create a calorie deficit to burn the fat.
Some signs of aging are fought against, including the likes of osteoporosis. Not only will you boost the muscle, but also the bone strength. While dairy is consumed at a smaller amount, there is plenty of calcium in many other foods that you will consume in large amounts.
Reduce the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease and Cancer
There are some diseases that you may think there is nothing you can do about. Parkinson’s disease or cancer are just two of them, but the Mediterranean can help to reduce the risks. The benefit is in all the antioxidants that you will get from the foods.
Remember that this diet is all about the fruit and vegetables. These are full of antioxidants, which will fight against free radicals that cause the cells to grow back or develop abnormally. Some studies have shown that the antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet can help to fight against breast cancer in women and liver cancer in both sexes.
The nutrients also help to protect against oxidative stress, which is one of the reasons Parkinson’s disease is created, according to researchers.
Boost Your Brain Health
One of the first things mentioned in this guide is the benefit to your brain health. The Mediterranean diet is one of the best lifestyles out there for the brain health, and that is linked to all the healthy fats that you will consume.
There is a focus on getting more monounsaturated fats from olive oils and rapeseed oils. You’ll also get omega 3 fatty acids from the fish that you eat. These oils and fatty acids feed the brain and help to keep the arteries unblocked.
Your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease will be reduced considerably. You may also find that your mood swings are kept under control. The release of the good chemicals from the brain will be promoted, while the bad chemicals are kept to a minimum.
Exercise also helps with the brain health, along with getting enough sleep on a night. The exercise will release more serotonin and endorphins from the brain, keeping the cortisol under control.
Your body also gets all the nutrients that it needs. Elements aren’t taken from other processes to help keep the necessary parts working at one time.
Myths About the Mediterranean Diet
While there are many facts and benefits shared about this lifestyle, there are also many myths. It’s so important to separate the myths from the facts, so you know what you can believe and trust. This will help you make the most of your new healthy lifestyle.
One of the myths is that the diet is the most expensive to follow. While fruit and veggies always seem more expensive than refined products, it won’t cost you a fortune. There are also plenty of ways to get the nutritious foods at a lower price, whether you go to a local source or grow your own. Fish can be expensive, but chicken and turkey are affordable. You can also rely more on the legumes and beans for your protein on a daily basis, and enjoy fish once or twice a week. It’s best to limit your fish intake, anyway, as some do contain high amounts of mercury.
Pasta and bread aren’t the way of life in the Mediterranean, as much as this myth is used in TV shows and movies. The Americans tend to bring in more pizza, pasta, and bread. The truth is the Mediterranean people will focus more on the fish, salads, fruits and legumes. Pizza is enjoyed now and then, and you can still have some pasta, but they’re not the core focus of the diet.
A third myth is that it’s all about the food. As already proven above, this isn’t a diet that’s just about the things you eat or drink. It’s about creating a healthy lifestyle, and that includes following an exercise plan and creating a good night routine so you get enough sleep. When you’re in a good mindset, you’ll find it much easier to stick to a diet.
Drinking more wine won’t benefit you more. Wine is only good for you in moderation, and it’s best to stick to it with a meal. Over consuming alcohol has been linked to numerous health risks. You only need one glass a day to see all the benefits.
Be aware of the myths out there to help you make the most of the Mediterranean diet. Don’t believe everything you read!
When Should You Make the Switch?
Now that you’ve decided the Mediterranean lifestyle is for you, it’s time to look at when to make the switch. The truth is that there is no wrong or right time. Whether you have a holiday coming up or a big event, making healthy changes to your lifestyle is something you can do at any time.
The best thing to do is pick a date and stick to it. Find the best time to make that switch for you, and commit to working towards that goal. Don’t say “someday” or generally, say “next week,” actually sit down there and plan out your change. Make a list of all the things you need and circle a date on the calendar to start. With that date set, you’re more likely to stick to it.
This is one of the best diets you can follow. It is full of nutrients, and will help to protect your heart and brain health. There’s no time like now to get started, and remember it’s not all about the food! Enjoy your new lifestyle and boost your overall health.
Always keep in mind that getting used to this diet can be beneficial to your health especially if you stick with it. Couple it with exercise and you’re sure to get the best results that would last for a long time.