Why the Mediterranean Diet Is Always In StyleWhy the Mediterranean Diet Is Always In Style

Diet fads come and go. But decades of research—and centuries of healthy living around the Mediterranean Sea—support the idea that a diet rich in fish, fresh fruit, and vegetables and light on red meat and dairy can help prevent or reduce heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance, and physical shrinkage of the brain. Here are some tips to help you get started on this healthy and delicious approach to eating.

Plan your plate around plant foods

One reason cuisines from the Mediterranean region are healthy across the board, even though they’re very diverse, is because they include lots of fresh produce, whole grains, and nuts (in moderation). Salads, cucumber and mint dressings, whole-wheat pastas and flatbreads, almonds, and fruit-based desserts form the bulk of the menu. To truly go Mediterranean, the Mayo Clinic recommends basing “every meal” on plant items.

Reel in some fish

Any Mediterranean meal plan includes at least 2 servings of fish every week. The American Diabetes Association suggests varieties that are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, and herring.

Less butter, more olive oil

For many people, the biggest change is cutting back or eliminating butter in favor of olive oil when cooking. This is an important step, because olive oil’s monounsaturated fatty acids may improve your cholesterol levels, blood clotting factors, and blood sugar levels over time, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Dairy in moderation, meat and desserts even more so

Poultry, yogurt and kefir (a liquid yogurt drink), goat cheese and eggs are the main dairy items on the Mediterranean menu, and they’re used sparingly. Red meats such as lamb and beef are used even more sparingly, which reduces your intake of saturated fat. That low saturated-fat level is what makes Mediterranean eating such a helpful tool to fight heart disease, according to US News & World Report.

Drink wisely

You’ve probably heard that a daily glass of red wine is part of the Mediterranean lifestyle, and in many countries in the region, that’s true. But the most popular drink, apart from coffee and tea, is plain old water, according to LiveScience. It’s hard to beat something that’s healthy and free, especially because it can stave off dehydration, for which older adults are at higher risk.

Make mealtime social

There’s one feature of Mediterranean eating that has nothing to do with what’s on your plate: the social aspect of mealtime. To be genuinely “Mediterranean,” plan meals with friends and family, make time to slow down and savor your food, and reap the mental-health and stress reduction benefits that come from spending time with people you care about.

Explore new recipes

The Mediterranean region gives you a delicious buffet of cuisines from southern Spain and France, Greece and Italy, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Morocco, and more. Search the non-profit group Oldways’ healthy-eating site for Mediterranean dishes and you’ll turn up 48 pages of free recipes to explore.

Maltese fish soup, Istanbul-style artichokes, Spanish gazpacho, and a beet-based variation on Greek tzatziki are among the tempting choices. Drink a glass of water, chill a bottle of red wine, try out a new dish, and invite a friend over to help you dine healthier and live better.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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