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Mediterranean Diet - What is it really?

Feb 20, 2023
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What is a Mediterranean Diet really? Everyone talks about it as being the way Italians and people from Greece eat, but what and how much do they eat? Read on to find out!

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet seemingly makes the list for best diets to lose weight, improve heart health, and increase longevity, but can anyone really define what it actually means? Really, the Mediterranean Diet in Italy may be very different from Greece, Lebanon, or Lybia?

In essence it comes down to a style of eating that is focused on vegetables, legumes, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds, with limited red meat and much more fish than the typical Western diet. Its main source of fats are olive oil, and limited amounts of dairy, however on the up side alcohol is considered part of daily life!

Much of the research around a Mediterranean Diet is observational in nature, which relies largely on self-reporting or population based statistics. But the general definition would include the following amounts of various foods on a daily basis:

  • Vegetables = 8.8 ounces per day
  • Fruits and Nuts – 10.5 ounces per day
  • Legumes (beans and lentils) – 5 ounces per week
  • Cereals (whole grains) – 7 ounces per day
  • Fish – 8.8 ounces per week
  • Red Meat – 2.8 ounces per day (which is roughly equivalent to a deck of cards)
  • Dairy – 6.4 ounces per day
  • Alcohol - .85 ounces per day, and mind you that is the alcohol content so a little good news here that a standard drink (no heavy pours out there), 4oz wine, one 12-ounce beer with 5% alcohol satisfies this criterion (whew!)

So what does all that mean? Here is roughly what it all breaks down to:

Vegetables – 8.8 ounces is roughly three cups (depending upon glycemic index) which is the recommended daily amount, but for Cauliflower cooked from fresh that is 6.5 ounces pre-cooked weight, or about 7.25 ounces of Broccoli cooked from fresh, or about 9.5 ounces cooked from fresh zucchini (leave the skin on!).

Fruit and Nuts: Two pieces of fruit will typically meet this target, but do try and diversify with including nuts in your diet, for example 20 or so almonds make a great snack and are very gut friendly in that they are loaded with the fiber your good gut bacteria crave. For those who have trouble sleeping at night, pistachios (about 30) have as much melatonin as in a standard over-the-counter supplement, and they too are great for some added fiber!

Legumes: 140 grams per week is roughly the equivalent of one can of black beans or chickpeas so you can knock this out for the week in one meal!

Cereals (Grains): You can meet the 7oz target with one cup of cooked brown rice or 4 oz of whole grain pasta, just beware the sauce, the food companies add a ton of sugar (I use Rao’s!)

Fish: While two quarter-pound servings per week are recommended, you can do more, however if you are attempting to lose weight while on the Mediterranean Diet these calories count…

Meat: 2.8 ounces per day, unlike fish, is considered a maximum so perhaps a meat-free day per week to keep your average down would be wise.

Diary: a six ounce yoghurt (caution the sweetened variety) will satisfy this dietary habit, or maybe you add some mozzarella or feta to a salad.

Alcohol: a glass of wine with dinner is fine, just be careful of serving size and second rounds!

You’re probably thinking, “yeah that’s great, but where do I start?” First, don’t think of it as a diet (why is a word associated with food start with “die”?), because we all have been on one of those and it is something we can fall off of. Think style of eating, and you don’t have to transform yourself in one day, start with replacing the oils you’re probably using with healthy fats like Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, etc. Replace sugary snacks with fruits, and your late-night popcorn with almonds, pistachios, walnuts, etc. (avoid the salt on this though!). Then start incorporating a fresh take on your breakfast, lunch and dinner, but with a whole lot more vegetables!

We will be adding recipes regularly on our website so choose the follow button, but there are many recipes available on-line through such sites as Oldways or OliveTomato who have suggested shopping lists and meal plans to get you started. Changing your eating habits is neither a race nor does it require perfection right away. Taking a bag of almonds, and counting them out into small snack bags so that you grab something and go is a great start. Add a piece of fruit instead of something sugary to your mid-morning routine and you will come to crave the natural sweetness as opposed to the over-processed foods pushed by big food companies. A little planning plus a little patience goes a long way here!

Dr. Anthony Pollard - DO
Dr. Anthony Pollard - DO