The Mediterranean diet, a traditional way of eating for countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, is known as one of the best ways of eating to maintain heart and brain health.
Because this diet includes mostly whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and healthy oils, it is low in sodium and rich in fibre, antioxidants and good fats. Mediterannean countries are also known for a lifestyle that encourages physical activity, appropriate portion sizes, and enjoying meals with family and friends.
Here are a few simple ways to ‘Mediterranean-ize’ your habits:
1. Be plant-centric.
Choose a variety of fresh vegetables, fruit and legumes every day: grapes, figs, tomatoes, broccoli, olives, spinach, chickpeas, and lentils. Focus on colourful, in-season, locally grown, minimally processed foods for maximum antioxidant and micronutrient benefits. Try a vegetarian meal a few times per week and incorporate vegetables at every meal and snack.
2. Go whole-grain.
Cook extra to keep on hand in the fridge or freezer: oats, barley, brown rice, whole-grain pastas and breads, buckwheat, farro, millet, cornmeal, amaranth. For baking, experiment with whole grain flours like spelt, kamut, rye or oat.
3. Get your fill of healthy fats.
The Mediterranean diet gets 35-40% of its calories from unsaturated fats from olive oil, fish, avocado, nuts and seeds. Eat fish at least twice a week: fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, or sardines give you essential omega-3 fatty acids. Avocados, nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, pecans, flax seeds, and chia are essential for plant-based eaters to consume daily.
Mediterranean cooking involves using plenty of garlic and fresh or dried herbs, infusing food with antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory nutrients and an amazing depth of flavour.
4. Meat and dairy take a backseat.
Dairy products can be enjoyed in small servings daily, whether it’s milk, plain yogurt, kefir or cheese, but don’t kowtow to the cow. Try out goat and sheep’s cheeses, coconut milk and other alternatives regularly. Transition into making meat a garnish or a side dish. Limit lean, red meat to a few times a month in small amounts, and poultry and eggs every second day to weekly.
5. Enjoy meals with family and friends!
Celebrate food by sharing and appreciating it. Make sugary desserts count – enjoy them in moderate portions during celebrations. Red wine can go great with a meal to unwind and even have a heart-protective effect: one glass a day for women, or two for men, is a very safe amount.
6. Limit sodium.
Sodium is present especially in processed foods but also in natural foods like vegetables, dairy, meats, and seafood. Our bodies need 1500 mg of sodium to maintain vital functions, but the typical North American diet contains much higher amounts (3-5 g!) from the processed foods we consume. This can lead to high blood pressure — the number one cause of death worldwide.
A versatile way to flavour your food is to switch your salt up with spices and herbs. Mediterranean cooking involves using plenty of garlic and fresh or dried herbs, infusing food with antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory nutrients and an amazing depth of flavour. Try thyme, sage, basil and rosemary for an authentic Italian feel, but many other countries and food cultures surround the Mediterranean. Turkish spices such as cinnamon, allspice and fennel, or Morrocan ones like cardamom, saffron and ginger, can all be easy to use once you experiment with your favourite flavour combinations.
For some tasty inspiration, pop by Caffè Perugia for house-made signature Mediterranean dishes!