Healthy Living

Mediterranean Diet – Named “Best Diet Overall”

The Mediterranean Diet, which was just named BestDiet Overall by U.S. News & World Report, helps prevent diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and certain cancers, and increases longevity. Since May is Mediterranean Diet Month, there’s never been a better time to adopt this healthy eating pattern.

But here’s the problem: Making lasting change can be hard, and diets are no exception.

The Mediterranean-style eating pattern is more than a diet. It’s a lifestyle. People in the region are constantly adjusting their schedules, personal habits, and customs to make sure they stay healthy. Author, Amy Riolo, says you can emulate them. By embracing a series of smaller shifts, you can make the Mediterranean diet—and the healthy lifestyle that goes along with it—a permanent part of your life.

Read on for nine mind shifts that will help you get the most from the Mediterranean-style eating pattern.

Stop thinking “diet.” Instead, think “way of life.” More than just an eating pattern, theMediterranean diet incorporates a lifestyle that further promotes health and wellness. For example, every country and culture in the Mediterranean has its own way of encouraging people to eat together, focus on family life, and stay active. People enjoy shared meals and spend time with loved ones. They also prioritize exercise to stay healthy.

“Try to incorporate these activities into your own life,” says Riolo. “Take time to prepare healthy homecooked meals. Eat alongside friends, coworkers, or family members. And make time to go for walks, go to the gym, or get active in other ways.”

Start thinking of food as medicine (and so much more). In the Mediterranean region, people don’t exclusively view food as a source of fuel. Instead, they think of it as a culinary medicine, as well as an art form, a reason to socialize, and one of life’s greatest pleasures. This perspective can be empowering and can totally change your outlook on the meals you choose.

“Thinking of food as a culinary ally changes your relationship to your daily meals,” says Riolo. “Most Americans today have been conditioned to believe that they ‘get in trouble’ when they eat. But when you start to prioritize nutritious homemade food, you can actually enjoy your meals and begin to reap the many health benefits.”

Choose simple, fresh, homecooked meals over fast food and junk food. In the standard American Diet, processed “junk” foods and fast food are common; however, they are full of artificial ingredients that don’t benefit your health. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean diet is all about fresh, minimally processed meals prepared at home. Better yet, Mediterranean-inspired dishes aren’t complicated. They contain just a handful of ingredients and are quick and easy to prepare. NOTE: Please see the attached sidebar for a sample recipe from The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook, 2nd Edition.

“If you think cooking meals at home requires loads of time and effort, think again,” says Riolo. “Once you’ve got the right ingredients—and the right mindset—a healthy and truly delicious meal is only minutes away.”

Stop thinking of cooking as a chore…and start thinking of it as a labor of love. When you think of cooking as yet another task in your busy day, you’re far more likely to dread it, resent it, or maybe even give up and send for takeout. Instead, Riolo says to start thinking of cooking as a labor of love. Be present and enjoy the ritual of chopping up ingredients and transforming them into delicious meals for yourself and your loved ones. Make it a family affair by inviting your spouse or kids to help out while you catch up on each other’s day.

Rethink your relationship with meat… Many of us eat meat every day—often in larger quantities than we should! Even if you’re an avowed meat lover, it’s a good idea to eat it less often (remember, moderation is key!). In the Mediterranean diet, meat is used sparingly, and is often used mainly to flavor a dish rather than being the “main event.”

“You don’t have to give up your beloved burgers, chops, or steaks entirely,” says Riolo. “Just remember that moderation is key where meat is concerned. And when you do eat it, be sure to enjoy it with plenty of plant-based foods like veggies, legumes, and whole grains—so you don’t fill up on meat alone.”

…and fall in love with seafood instead. Fish and seafood sometimes seem to take a backseat in our meat-centric culture. However, consuming fish even as little as one time a week promotes total body wellness and can have positive health benefits, such as reducing your risk for heart disease. The Mediterranean eating pattern recommends that you eat fish or seafood two to three times a week. Enjoy salmon, cod, tuna, shrimp, calamari, and more!

Stop seeing plants as a “side dish” and think of them as the main attraction. Reducing your meat consumption also means you have more room for plant-based meals. (Remember that fruits and vegetables, grains, olive oil, beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet pyramid.) So, a few days a week, try avoiding meat altogether. You’ll find it’s easier than you think! In place of meat-centric meals, you can enjoy hearty salads with lots of seasonal veggies and whole grains, fresh veggie stir-fries with rice, or rich and filling soups loaded with beans and fresh veggies.

Say “hello” to EVOO (and say goodbye to other cooking fats). Extra-virgin olive oil is the fat of choice in the Mediterranean diet. It is said that people in the region get 25 to 40 percent of their daily caloric intake from olive oil, a healthy fat with powerful antioxidant properties that helps reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and various cancers. In most cases, you can use olive oil in place of butter or animal fat. Drizzle it over bread and use it to sauté veggies. You can even use EVOO in desserts like cake, banana bread, and ice cream!

Ditch sugary desserts and enjoy fruit or occasional healthy treats instead. TheMediterranean-style eating pattern still allows for the occasional dessert, but the best choice for satisfying a craving is to reach for a piece of fruit. Instead of frequently indulging in sugary snacks like cupcakes or candy bars, enjoy a handful of grapes, orange slices, or a few ripe strawberries whenever you want something sweet. And remember that in the Mediterranean region, most homemade desserts contain fresh, seasonal ingredients and aren’t loaded down with sugar. By adopting a Mediterranean philosophy in your own kitchen, you can make desserts that are simple, tasty, and satisfying.

“Remember that you can pivot and change your life any time you want,” concludes Riolo. “Even if you’re unhealthy and dissatisfied with your diet today, you can start a journey of transformation at any time. But first, you must change your mind. Once you’ve shifted your perspective and truly believe in your new habits, a healthier and happier you will follow close behind.”

“We often wrestle with the same challenges over and over and struggle to break through,” says Riolo, author of the American Diabetes Association’s The MediterraneanDiabetes Cookbook, 2nd Edition: A Flavorful, Heart-Healthy Approach to Cooking(American Diabetes Association “Moving to a healthier way of eating can be that way too.”

Photo Credit: Casey Lee

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