By Jenny Stamos Kovacs
Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD
“When Americans think of a ‘diet,’ they tend to think deprivation,” says Eve Adamson, co-author (with chef Melissa Kelly) of Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too and The Mediterranean Diet (with Marissa Cloutier, RD).
“That is: no carbs, no fat, no sugar, no meat — diets are all about forbidding particular foods. The Mediterranean diet is different. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, it focuses on what you can have — the very best, freshest, healthiest foods.”
Basic Ingredients of the Mediterranean Diet:
Fresh, healthy food. The staples of the Mediterranean diet include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, seafood, yogurt, olive oil, and small amounts of wine, Adamson tells WebMD. Food should be eaten in season and locally grown, and Mediterrean dieters avoid processed food.
Portion control. The Mediterranean diet focuses on small portions of high-quality food. “When food tastes delicious, a little is enough because your senses have been satisfied,” Adamson points out. And healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, which are staples of the Mediterranean diet, keep you feeling fuller longer than diets that restrict fat or forbid it altogether.
Healthy fats. Unlike most diets, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t cut fat consumption across the board, according to Fred A. Stutman, MD, a Philadelphia-based physician and author of 100 Weight-Loss Tips That Really Work. Rather than limiting total fat intake, the Mediterranean diet makes wise choices about the type of fats that are used. On the menu are the monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados; and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, and trout); and fat from plant sources, like flaxseed. Limiting processed and packaged foods keeps the diet extremely low in unhealthy trans fats, which have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and strokes.
Olive oil. The Mediterranean people use olive oil in almost everything they eat, including pastas, breads, vegetables, salads, fish, and even cakes and pastries, Stutman tells WebMD. It’s the principal fat in the Mediterranean diet, replacing other fats and oils, including butter and margarine. What’s so healthy about olive oil? Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that oleocanthal, a compound in olive oil, may reduce inflammation, which could help prevent conditions like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases, as well as certain cancers.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Found in abundance in the Mediterranean diet, omega-3 fatty acids are bursting with health benefits, according to Stutman. Fatty acids have been shown to reduce the incidence of heart attacks, blood clots, hypertension, and strokes; and may prevent certain forms of cancer and lower the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
More vegetables, less meat. “A diet higher in plant foods and lower in animal products has been linked to decreased incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers,” Adamson says. The traditional Mediterranean diet is practically vegetarian, with lots of fish and very little meat. As for vegetables, Mediterranean people feast on tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, capers, spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, white beans, lentils, and chick peas, according to Stutman.