Reed Vawter, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LD
Health Education Consultant
The Mediterranean Diet is consistently ranked as one of the healthiest eating patterns. Research has shown that it can improve heart health, reduce the risk of stroke, help control diabetes, reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and more! And with all these health benefits, it might be something you want to try.
But where should you start? Some people will try switching their eating all at once – but this can be overwhelming and just set you up for failure. Instead, a better strategy might be to start with small, concrete changes you can fit in your existing diet that moves you in the right direction.
Here are four steps to help you start following the Mediterranean Diet.
Change your oil
Olive oil is a central part of the Mediterranean Diet. It provides monounsaturated fats that help improve cholesterol. It also adds tons of flavor and fullness that might otherwise be lacking in low-fat meals. The first step is to replace your other vegetable oils with olive oil. Use it to sauté Swiss chard (or any other greens), drizzle it on fish when making grilled tilapia with smoked paprika, or create a simple vinaigrette dressing to use on your favorite salad. And it doesn’t just have to be the oil – whole olives count, too. Try making tapenade to spread on your favorite whole wheat bread.
Boost veggies by making a Greek salad every week
The Mediterranean Diet is a plant-based eating pattern that emphasizes fruits and vegetables over animal products. There are many familiar salad recipes that you’ll find on Mediterranean eating sites. But I find the easiest place to start is with a simple Greek salad made of tomato, cucumber, and red onion. It’s a salad you can put together in minutes – it tastes excellent, and lasts for several days. Make this every week, and you’ll always have some vegetables to add to your meal.
Switch low-fat dairy and include cheese in moderation
You don’t have to give up dairy to follow the Mediterranean Diet. In fact, low-fat yogurt and cheese are an important part of the plan. Choosing low-fat milk, Greek yogurt, or kefir are perfect swaps. And continue eating cheese if you enjoy it – think of it as a garnish or flavor-enhancer instead of being a primary part of the meal. For example, try a pizza with feta, spinach, and olives instead of a typical cheese-heavy pizza.
Include legumes several times per week
A core part of the Mediterranean Diet is to choose leaner proteins. The first step is often to choose poultry and seafood more frequently than red meat. But it’s also important to include plant-based proteins such as beans and lentils. These foods are great sources of fiber, so they are excellent at creating fullness. Plus, they reduce cancer risk and improve blood sugar control. Enjoy a pasta, kale, and white bean soup or this Greek Mediterranean lentil salad.
Try one or more of these steps to move your eating closer to the Mediterranean Diet. But also realize that healthy eating is not all-or-nothing. You can get a lot of the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet without going to it 100%. Every positive change will make a difference in your health, so just go one step at a time.