Diet fads tend to come and go: One day we're eating low-fat, low-calorie and low-sugar foods; the next we're eating like cavemen, or giving up meat, or eating only cabbage and grapefruit. But while many diets have had their moment in the spotlight, there's one diet that has endured — the Mediterranean diet.
Research proves over and over again that people who put an emphasis on produce, fish, whole grains and healthy fats not only weigh less, but also have a decreased risk for heart disease, depression and dementia. So what are you waiting for? Here are the basics: Shop the market perimeter, eat seasonally and break (whole-grain) bread with people who make you smile. Now for the nitty-gritty.
Pile on fruit and vegetables.
Fresh, nonstarchy produce is the star of this diet. Eat 5 to 10 servings a day (1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw equals one serving).
Choose healthy fats.
Olives and their oil are cornerstones; go for 4 to 6 servings per day (a serving could be 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 5 olives or 1/8 of an avocado). Olive oil delivers healthy monounsaturated fats and plant compounds called polyphenols.
Pick seeds, nuts and legumes.
These are a great source of fiber and protein; nuts and seeds also provide healthy fats and antioxidants. Eat a serving of legumes (1/2 cup, cooked) — found in hummus or lentil soup — at least twice a week, and a small portion of nuts daily (about 1 tablespoon, or 10 to 12 almonds or walnut halves).
Focus on fish and eggs.
Aim to eat a 4-ounce serving of fish (about the size of a checkbook) two to three times a week. Eggs are also on the menu: whip them into a vegetable frittata. Lean meat and poultry are OK, too, in moderation.
Do have (some) dairy.
Work in some dairy from cultured milk (kefir, yogurt, fresh curd cheeses like ricotta); it's easier to digest and supplies beneficial bacteria that contribute to digestive health. Enjoy one to three servings daily (a serving is 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1 ounce of cheese).
Refined carbs lack nutrients and can wreak havoc on your blood sugar. Whole grains are best; have four small daily portions of whole-wheat bread, or try a pasta made from quinoa. And always eat grains with healthy fats and protein. Incorporate sprouted or fermented grains (hello, sourdough!) for easier digestion and better nutrient absorption. Or look for creative ways to swap out grains, such as using spaghetti squash in place of noodles.
Add herbs and spices.
They're full of plant compounds with antioxidant and inflammation-fighting effects — and you can often use less salt when your food has more flavor.
Rethink what you drink.
Make water a go-to. Many Mediterraneans sip espresso after meals to aid digestion. In North Africa, they choose antioxidant-rich green tea combined with mint for the same reason.
By following the seasons, you'll broaden the range of nutrients you take in over the year.
Make it social.
Relaxed meals with family and friends are a core part of life in this region. This positive attitude toward eating helps improve digestion, and can lower stress too.
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