Holy cow – have you seen how many diet fads and weight loss programs there are out there? I admit that I am testing the ketogenic waters right now (but I do refuse to follow the original version as it’s full of pro-inflammatory, allergenic foods) but I feel like I’ll fall back to the Mediterranean way of eating pretty fast. I’ve tried ‘fad’ diets in the past and it’s hard for me to do anything too restrictive or time-consuming for very long. I love to eat but I hate to spend hours in the kitchen! So, the majority of my meals are quick, tossed-together concoctions (and rarely are they the same twice). I’m starting to wonder if I should call myself ‘the Queen of Hashes’!
The Mediterranean Diet is really quite easy to follow without complex recipes, expensive and exotic ingredients or time-consuming prep. Once you figure out the main staples, it’s super easy to stick to this diet (which, in essence, is the true meaning of ‘diet’ – it’s a way of life).
What’s the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is based on the way people from Italy and Greece ate in the 1950s and 1960s. Curious about why people in these countries had lower cardiovascular health problems than those in North America and other countries, researchers discovered that the foods eaten and the attitudes toward food in Italy and Greece were so much different.
Food staples include fresh fish, abundant olive oil, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, 1-2 glass of red wine a day (yes!), and minimally processed foods or red meat. Poultry, eggs and other animal-based foods are eaten in moderation.
Why Do I Love This Diet?
Obviously, its proven health benefits are one reason to love this diet but mostly I love it because it’s sustainable. You can easily find the foods and it involves whole foods, not a bunch of expensive supplements and add-ons. The diet is very balanced, containing anti-inflammatory foods as its staples.
I take a slightly different take on the original Mediterranean Diet in order to keep food sensitivities and inflammation to a minimum. As someone who is very sensitive to pro-inflammatory foods, I don’t enjoy the way I feel after eating dairy or grains so I prefer to avoid these in my diet.
But, on a side note…in June 2012, my (then) boyfriend and I went to Italy for 3 weeks. It was one of my dream destinations and I did a LOT of planning to make sure we saw as much as possible while we were there. I know pizza and pasta are staples in Italy but I kind of neglected to find out if they used whole wheat flour (which was how I managed my stomach ailments back then). No, they do not. To my dismay, I took one look at my pasta dish and came to terms that I’d feel crappy during the trip for eating ‘white’ pasta. Much to my surprise, none of the stomach and digestive issues – gas, cramping, pain so agonizing I’d end up bedridden for hours, constipation – I typically experienced happened! Why? Italians do NOT process the sh*t out of their flour and it remains relatively ‘whole’ despite being ‘white’. This is something I must share with people – European food is not as harsh as North American food because they seem to have much higher standards over there for health and food quality. Plus, they relish their meals while we scarf ours down while driving to work and putting on mascara at the same time!
How to Eat Mediterranean (According to Me):
If you can’t relocate to Italy or Greece, here are some holistic nutrition suggestions to help you get the benefits of their notoriously health-promoting diet in North America.
Fish: Choose wild-caught fatty fish (like salmon or mackerel) most often, but other fish is healthy too. Keep your tuna consumption to just once or twice a week as it can contain high amounts of mercury.
Healthy Oils: Of course, eat lots of extra virgin olive oil (use this in place of store-bought salad dressings) but also include cold-pressed flaxseed oil, avocado oil and coconut oil.
Nuts and Seeds: Always choose ‘raw’* nuts and seeds, like pumpkin, chia, hemp, sesame, flaxseed, almonds, sunflower, macadamia nuts, and Brazil nuts. Two to three tablespoons per day is a good amount.
Vegetables and Fruits: Take your pick – choose fresh, raw vegetables and fruits often because they contain wonderful enzymes that your body needs to break down food. If you’re prone to inflammatory health issues like arthritis, fibromyalgia or brain fog, avoid nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers).
Whole Grains: As I noted above from my trip to Italy, our grains are super-processed so I highly recommend avoiding wheat and all gluten-containing grains as much as possible. Choose quinoa, gluten-free oatmeal or millet instead.
Animal Protein: Opt for organic, naturally raised eggs, chicken and turkey; eat grass-fed red meat only 1-2 times per week.
Red Wine: If possible, choose the less sweet wines and always drink them with your meal.
What About Lifestyle?
The other half of the Mediterranean Diet is how people eat. They eat their largest meal at lunch, they almost always eat while relaxed and with family or friends (never at their computer, which I am SO guilty of), and they walk a lot. Italians are known for their post-dinner passeggiata, which is a great habit to get into, especially now that the days are longer and the temperatures are warmer!
If you’re struggling with health ailments or weight issues but you’re not into a crazy, restrictive, complicated diet, start by following a Mediterranean Diet. It’s easy and the health benefits are so wide.
*Not sure what ‘raw’ nuts are? They’re just nuts that haven’t been roasted, salted or otherwise treated. They’re also called ‘natural’ or ‘unsalted’ and available readily in most bulk sections. Superstore has a great selection! And, to reap their benefits even more, soak your nuts for 4-8 hours before you eat them. This brings out the enzymes that your body needs.