It seems like anything with the word diet after it seems to be something that gets a lot of attention. However, we all know – deep down- that diets only “work” if you stay on them indefinably, which tends to be dang near impossible.
While companies may have cashed in on the “Mediterranean diet” buzz words – in the sense of a diet, it’s nothing more than a typical fad.
IF you approach it as a diet.
From this point forward, we will not look at this as some type of quick fix, after all, it’s backed by scientific research, but rather as a lifestyle – because that’s what it really is and that’s how it needs to be followed in order to see its life changing results!
We’ve made it super easy to follow with our new 100 recipe eCookBook: Cooking Like A Greek
Mediterranean Pyramid Overview
In the early 1960s, the Greek people living on the islands, specifically Crete, and people living in southern Italy we’re noticeably living longer and had less chronic issues than most of the world. This phenomena intrigued scientists, so they decided to look into it. What they discovered was that the two countries (and later a good portion of fellow Mediterranean countries) shared a similar lifestyle of exercise, in the form of walking, and food consumption – fresh and healthy.
Over time they constructed a food pyramid, and today we have the following thanks to Oldways:1
As you can see, the above pyramid is not limited to number of days, or any other typical diet schedule – it’s a forever kind of thing. You know, a “lifestyle.”
Let us break down this pyramid into more manageable sections and talk a little about them.
Mediterranean Food Pyramid Breakdown
Starting with the base, the Mediterranean food pyramid recommends something a bit different than others. Yes, the exercise is present (it’s suggested to be active for 30min a day), but what about the part that says “enjoy meals with others.”
Why is this?
It’s an “eating less” secret weapon! Have you ever noticed that while visiting a Mediterranean country (or Europe for that matter) eating isn’t looked at as something you do in a hurry?
Eat and run? Never!
Eating any meal is an event, and it’s one shared with family and friends. You talk, engage with others, take your time. A typical lunch can last 2-3hrs.
It’s known that there is a delay between the time you eat and when your brain registers that you’re full. I believe they say it’s around 15 minutes.
A lot of people will sit down to eat and clear their plate just to feel stuffed. However, by talking with people and enjoying the moment, you slow down your eating, and thus eat less – or rather, just the right amount.
This is the secret weapon. Eating slow and stopping as soon as you’re full. You give your body time to register what you’ve eaten and how much. Eating in a hurry disables your body’s ability to do this effectively.
Think about it next time you’re out with a group and engaging in a good discussion over lunch (or any meal)–do you end up eating less?
While I know we would all love our lunches to last that 3 hours, there are some ways you can mimic that. First, an easy fix – eat with coworkers/friends. Second, eat half of your food, have a full glass of water and then start on the other half. Third, overall just eat slow.
I am sure there are other ways to come up with slowing down, so get creative and as always, do what works best for you.
What To Eat When Living The Mediterranean Lifestyle?
To answer this, we move up to the second area of the pyramid.
To satisfy your quest to live the Mediterranean eating lifestyle, a good amount of your plate should consist of: fruits, vegetables, breads, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
There is no way around it. Processed food is bad for you.
A little trick Jane and I do is stay on the perimeter of the store. The more you move in, the more processed your food becomes. So stick to the outsides.
Now with respect to what types of fruits and vegetables to get, do what most Greeks do – eat what’s in season. This is done for two reasons. First, it’s going to be cheaper since it’s in stock. Second, eating in-season produce is said to enhance it’s health benefits!
You’ll also notice that in this section is a big jug of olive oil nestled nicely behind the carrots. This is where Greeks and other people following the Mediterranean lifestyle get most of their fats–from a healthy source.
So, feel free to put olive oil on everything – in moderation of course. Focus on getting your fats, which you’re body does need, from healthy sources.
Butter To Olive Oil Conversion
A big adjustment people find that they have to do is replace their use of butter, since it’s not used often in the Mediterranean lifestyle. As I’ve said before, olive oil is where it’s at. Pour out some on a plate and mix with oregano for bread dipping instead of butter. There are many ways to incorporate this wonderful “liquid gold” into your daily eating habits. To make this easier for cooking, follow the handy chart below:
2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon
Also, olive oil should replace salad dressings and well. Start replacing salad dressing with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a squeeze of a lemon.
Along with the previous section, this section should be your go to as well. Eating a lot of fish is vital for this overall lifestyle structure.
I can say without pause that when I’m in Greece, I eat fish at least 2-3 times per week like suggested. Fish is such an important factor in the Mediterranean lifestyle that it’s important that you start incorporating it into your diet if you don’t already.
While there are some fish they cook with more than others- it’s best to find what you like and start there. Whether its salmon or halibut – discover what works best. Also, don’t be afraid to talk with the people who work in the fish department at your local store and ask them what is in season, what’s good with what, etc. You can even go for crustaceans or shellfish as well. All very healthy!
So start eating fish a few times a week, and when you’re feeling adventurous – eat like a Greek and try some octopus.
Dairy And Poultry
The poultry, eggs, and yogurt category is an interesting one.
I personally can’t recall eating any egg dishes in Greece – only if it’s within the cooking (i.e. baking). Greeks don’t really eat breakfast, they normally indulge in coffee and mid morning eat a tiropita or a tiropitakia.
Greek yogurts and cheese I would eat daily. Yogurt is very popular for dessert (with some honey).Obviously do what works best for you, and like with everything in life – it’s all in moderation, so eating a block of cheese doesn’t fall within the guidelines :)
For some people, it may be interesting to see meat and sweets mixed together. However, it’s true. Remember, this lifestyle and all it’s scientific findings, which we will talk about soon, aren’t based off those Greek festival “gyos.” Side note- I love those however.
There is so much more to Greek food than those, and they aren’t really “Greek” per se, but that’s a topic for another day.
With that in mind, eating red meat is done about 2 to maybe 3 times a month- yes month. Sweets are eaten about the same. I am not saying people in the Mediterranean follow it this closely today/in general, but that’s where most of the good benefits of this lifestyle come from.
You can check our ever growing meat recipes for some Greek dishes: Greek Meat Recipes
We Get To Drink Wine?
Lastly, everyone’s favorite part: wine.
This is done daily in moderate consumption and could certainly be left out for various health reasons.
The standard measurement of wine consumption is the following:
2 glasses for males per day
1 glass for females per day
So if you’re going to include wine in your eating habits, remember, anything beyond this is not done for health benefits.
Since we’re talking about liquids:
Water: as much as you can per day. I think the standard 8 cups a day theory is perfect.
Mediterranean Food Pyramid Round Up
Now that we have broken down this pyramid, we can see that it’s heavy in: fresh products, breads, grains, nuts, olive oil, and fish and low in red meats and sweets. Pescetarians would probably find this a bit easier than others- but if you’re after a healthy lifestyle and would like to see the true benefits of the “Mediterranean Diet,” this is what needs to be done.
So what are all these “benefits” I keep taking about?
Let’s take a look.
Mediterranean Diet Benefits
The New England Journal of Medicine published a report in 2013 that was the result of a research team that followed two groups of people : one group was following the Mediterranean diet and another group following the ever popular, “low-fat diet.”
What they found was that people following a Mediterranean plan had 30% less cardiovascular issues vs those who were on the low-fat diet. The findings were so clear that they ended the study after only 5 years!
The research team concluded: “Among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events”
If you would like to see the charts, read the report, and get the full breakdown, click HERE to get the PDF article.
What About Overall Health Factors?
The Journal of American Medicine published a report known as the The HALE Project (The Healthy Aging: a Longitudinal study in Europe). They studied people who were late in life, to see if the Mediterranean diet could prolong or alter their life as they aged. What they found was, “Among individuals aged 70 to 90 years, adherence to a Mediterranean diet and healthful lifestyle is associated with a more than 50% lower rate of all-causes and cause-specific mortality.”
I will stress that this test included everything in the pyramid above, including wine–however, it didn’t factor in smoking, as the participants followed the diet and didn’t smoke. Thus, following the Mediterranean lifestyle may prolong life. To read the full article, Click HERE.
Since the Mediterranean lifestyle includes a lot of olive oil, this is very encouraging as well.
Olive Oil May Fight Alzheimer’s Disease
The ACS Chemical Neuroscience journal published a report in 2013 that stated: “Oleocanthal, a phenolic component of extra-virgin olive oil, has been recently linked to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
While this testing/theory is still in it’s early stages, it’s promising! Click HERE to read it.
Mediterranean Diet And Your Heart:
The American Diabetes Association Journal recently published a report that stated the Mediterranean diet has shown the possibility to reduce stroke risk and reverse generic risks for stroke: HERE
Also, the prestigious Mayo Click, calls the Mediterranean Diet a “heart healthy” plan. Moreover, they stated the following:
“Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. In fact, an analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.”
The source of the above quote and a full breakdown of how they view this lifestyle can be found here: Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan
Reducing Type 2 Diabetes
It also shows a reduction of developing type 2 diabetes. A recent study found:
“In this large prospective study, adherence to the MDP, as defined by rMED, was associated with a small reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in this European population.”
You can read the journal article HERE.
I know this post was a little long, but I hope you decide to follow a Mediterranean eating lifestyle and take advantage of some great health benefits. Follow along with us and you’ll be all set!
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Note and Disclaimer:
The pyramid above isn’t mine, it’s from a wonderful non-profit organization that does a lot of research and promotion of the Mediterranean lifestyle: Oldways I suggest you also check them out!
Disclaimer: Neither Jane nor myself are health professionals or dietitians. This is just a gathering of what WE have learned and read and is a result of our own research and our own personal understanding. Everyone is different, so please consult with your doctor before attempting to start any new eating plan or include new foods into your diet. For complete comprehension, we recommend that you read each scientific source cited here to better understand it for yourself.