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Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is inscribed on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. What is the Mediterranean diet and why is it so highly valued?

What is the Mediterranean diet?

Let’s start by saying that the Mediterranean diet has nothing to do with weight loss – it’s more like a set of dietary guidelines that make us healthier and feel better. The Mediterranean diet has been defined by UNESCO as “The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food.“.

 

The word “diet“, which today has become synonymous with “weight loss“, comes from the ancient Greek δίαιτα (diaita), meaning a way of life or proper nutrition.

To meet modern canons of beauty and in pursuit of health and beauty, mankind invents and practices a variety of diets. 

Most of them, to put it mildly, are dangerous to health or even harmful, but the Mediterranean diet is an exception. The Mediterranean diet is a balanced, healthy diet that will provide your body with everything it needs – it has no contraindications and certainly will not harm your health.

But.

Again, the Mediterranean Diet is not just another weight loss diet, it should be seen as a guide to healthy eating. If you follow it and eat more than you need, you will still gain weight, and vice versa – if you are in a calorie deficit, your weight will go down.

 

So, what is so special about the Mediterranean diet?

It has been noted that Mediterranean populations are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and have different life expectancies – for example, Cretans had the highest life expectancy in the world in the 1950s, and 60s – an average of 80 years.

Diet and lifestyle were found to be the prerequisites for longevity.

The Mediterranean diet varies from country to country (Italy, Greece, Spain …), and from one region to another and therefore has different definitions.

But in general:

 

In other words – plenty of vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and seafood, unsaturated fats (olive oil), lean meat, wholemeal products, naturally low-fat dairy products, water and herbal teas.

 

How can I move my eating habits towards a Mediterranean diet?

Make changes gradually – if you change your eating habits immediately and drastically, the changes are unlikely to last.

Choose one thing each week and introduce it gradually. Start with the changes you think will be easiest to stick to in the long term (for the rest of your life).

Here are some small changes you can make:

  1. Switch from whatever fats you are currently using to extra virgin olive oil. Start by using olive oil in your cooking. Then try olive oil in new salad dressings. Finally, use olive oil instead of butter on wholemeal bread (try it – it’s delicious😊).
  2. Instead of factory snacks, eat fresh fruit or a small handful of nuts.
  3. Choose wholemeal bread or other wholemeal products. Choose dense, chewy, “country” bread without added sugar or butter. Experiment with bulgur, barley, farro, couscous and wholemeal pasta.
  4. Start or end each meal with a salad. Choose crisp, dark green seasonal greens and vegetables.
  5. Add an extra portion of vegetables to both lunch and dinner, aiming for three to four portions of vegetables a day. Try a new vegetable each week.
  6. Eat at least three portions of legumes a week (lentils, chickpeas, beans or peas).
  7. Choose lean poultry meat – 3 to 4 small portions a week. Red meat is not forbidden, but is better in stews and soups.
  8. Eat more fish – two to three portions a week. Salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines are best.
  9. Replace beer and other alcoholic drinks with wine, but no more than two glasses a day for men and one glass a day for women.
  10. Cut out sweetened drinks. Replace lemonades and juices with water or herbal tea.
  11. Eat fewer desserts high in fat and sugar. It is best to eat fresh fruit as a dessert (up to about three fruits a day). Leave cakes and pastries for special occasions.
  12. Try to eat locally grown, seasonal foods.
  13. Use herbs and spices to add variety to your meals – they not only improve taste but also reduce the need for salt.
  14. Try to cook for yourself as often as possible and at least have family dinners – family feeling and shared food experiences are an important part of the Mediterranean diet.
 

The Mediterranean diet is not just about the products, it is also about being physically active and sharing meals with loved ones – it is a family approach. Enjoy your meals!

 

Mediterranean diet meal plan for a week

Sample of a 7-day Mediterranean diet meal plan (portion sizes depend on your average daily energy/calorie expenditure).

Day 1

Breakfast

Vegetable and egg frittata with avocado and wholemeal toast.

Lunch

Green salad with grilled salmon fillet, red onion, feta cheese, quinoa and fresh tomatoes.

Dinner

Wholegrain pita with hummus.

Lentil soup with spinach.

Day 2

Breakfast

Shakshouka (egg dish) cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, onions and garlic, usually with cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper.

Lunch

Green salad with fresh vegetables, lentils, sunflower seeds and grilled prawns.

Dinner

Roast chicken with roasted root vegetables and Brussels sprouts.

Day 3

Breakfast

Oatmeal porridge with fresh fruit, almonds (or almond butter) and a drizzle of honey.

Lunch

Chickpea and farro salad.

Dinner

Mediterranean prawns with wholemeal pasta.

Day 4

Breakfast

Greek yoghurt parfait with walnuts, fresh berries and chia seeds.

Lunch

Cereals with olives, cucumbers and red onions. Hummus or avocado may be added.

Dinner

Baked cod with roasted potatoes in garlic and asparagus.

Day 5

Breakfast

Sweet potato breakfast hash with egg.

Lunch

Lentil and tuna salad.

Dinner

Roast chicken with roasted root vegetables and Brussels sprouts.

Day 6

Breakfast

Oatmeal porridge with nut butter and berries.

Lunch

Mediterranean Buddha bowl.

Dinner

Roast chicken with balsamic and vegetables.

Day 7

Breakfast

Chia pudding with fresh berries and almond butter.

Lunch

Mediterranean white bean soup and Greek salad.

Dinner

Roast fish with garlic and basil with caprese and quinoa salad.

 

Key takeaways

Nutrition is an interesting thing – most people don’t think much about what they put in their mouths because there is no immediate effect – health problems take years to appear. Most of the products on the menu today are industrially processed – they contain preservatives, emulsifiers, colourings … many of these additives are completely artificially synthesised, which our body does not recognise (or they form compounds in our body which our body does not recognise) – and if it does not recognise them, it cannot process them and eliminate the harmful ones. Years go by and we start visiting doctors, which in many cases would not be necessary if we had not polluted our bodies with all kinds of crap over the years.

75%-85% of chronic diseases are lifestyle-related (including eating habits) and cannot be explained by genetic predisposition alone.

The well-balanced Mediterranean diet, which uses almost exclusively fresh produce, is recommended above all to improve our health and well-being.

 

Eat a balanced diet, move and – be healthy!

Definition of the Mediterranean Diet: A Literature Review

Family Meals, Conviviality, and the Mediterranean Diet among Families with Adolescents

The Mediterranean Diet: From an Environment-Driven Food Culture to an Emerging Medical Prescription

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Atherosclerosis Progression in Coronary Heart Disease: An Analysis of the CORDIOPREV Randomized Controlled Trial

Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet, Five-Year Weight Change, and Risk of Overweight and Obesity: A Systematic Review and Dose–Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies

The Impact of the Mediterranean Diet on the Cognitive Functioning of Healthy Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Mediterranean Diet Nutrients to Turn the Tide against Insulin Resistance and Related Diseases

Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet and Inflammatory Markers

Mediterranean Diet as a Tool to Combat Inflammation and Chronic Diseases. An Overview

Effect of Capsaicin on Salt Taste Sensitivity in Humans

Systematic Review of the Mediterranean Diet for Long-Term Weight Loss

Exploring the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and weight loss maintenance: the MedWeight study

Associations between the mediterranean diet and sleep in older adults: Results from the hellenic longitudinal investigation of aging and diet study

The Effect of the Mediterranean Diet on Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Metabolic and Molecular Mechanisms

Mediterranean Diet as a Tool to Combat Inflammation and Chronic Diseases. An Overview

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