With the Mediterranean diet, you won't be counting calories or cutting out major food groups. Instead, you'll be swapping out bad fats for heart-healthy ones (olive oil instead of butter; fish or poultry instead of red meat); enjoying fresh fruit instead of sugary, fancy desserts; and eating your fill of flavorful veggies and beans. Nuts are a mainstay, too, but keep them to no more than a handful a day. And you can have whole-grain bread and wine in moderation.
When you eat like Mediterranean people do, you're not roaming the frozen food aisle or hitting a fast-food drive-thru. The focus is on fresh, seasonal food prepared in simple, mouth-watering ways. Build a yummy salad from spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, and classic Greek ingredients like black olives and feta cheese with a Quick Light Greek Salad recipe, or whip up a colorful, veggie-filled batch of Grilled Tomato Gazpacho.
Choose whole grains, a Mediterranean diet staple. Bread (and pasta) made with whole grains has more protein and minerals and is generally healthier than the white flour kind, which means it won't give you a sugar rush and then a crash. Try whole-grain pita bread dipped in olive oil, hummus, or tahini (a protein-rich paste made from ground sesame seeds).
Fat -- the kind that's good for your heart -- is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. What is good fat? You'll find it in nuts, olives, and olive oil. These fats (not the saturated and trans fat hidden in processed foods) not only add flavor, they also help fight diseases from diabetes to cancer. Basic Basil Pesto is a tasty way to get good-fat walnuts and olive oil into your diet.
The Mediterranean diet doesn't limit you to Greek and Italian. The region also includes France, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, and other countries. Choose foods that stick to the basics: light on red meat and whole-fat dairy, with lots of fresh fruits and veggies, olive oil, and whole grains. This Moroccan recipe with chickpeas, okra, and spices fits the healthy Mediterranean profile.
Mediterranean herbs and spices -- including bay leaves, cilantro and coriander, rosemary, garlic, pepper, and cinnamon -- add so much flavor you won't need to reach for the salt shaker. Some have health benefits, too. Coriander and rosemary, for example, have disease-fighting antioxidants and nutrients. This recipe for Greek-Style Mushrooms uses cilantro and coriander and has a lemony kick.
Greek meals are often small, easily assembled plates called mezzes. For your own serve-it-cold casual meal, you could put out plates of cheese, olives, nuts, plus these Basil Quinoa With Red Bell Pepper and Eight Layered Greek Dip recipes. Both contain heart-friendly ingredients including olive oil, beans, whole grains, and spices.
Drinking wine with meals is common in many Mediterranean countries, where dining is often leisurely and social. And some studies suggest that for some people, up to one glass a day for women and two for men may be good for your heart. Red is the Mediterranean choice and may be healthier than white wine. Check with your doctor to see if sipping wine is right for you.
The Mediterranean diet lets you eat rich-tasting foods such as roasted sweet potatoes, hummus, and even this Lima Bean Spread. You digest these slowly so that you feel full longer. Hunger's not a problem when you can munch on nuts, olives, or bites of low-fat cheese when a craving strikes. Feta and halloumi are lower in fat than cheddar but still rich and tasty.
You'd think it would take a miracle to lose weight eating nuts, cheese, and oils. But those Mediterranean basics (and the slower eating style) leave you feeling full and satisfied. And that helps you stick to a diet. Regular physical activity to keep a healthy weight is also an important part of the lifestyle.
Almost everything in the Mediterranean diet is good for your heart. Olive oil and nuts help lower "bad" cholesterol. Fruits, veggies, and beans help keep arteries clear. Fish helps lower triglycerides and blood pressure. Even a daily glass of wine may be good for your heart! If you've never fallen in love with fish, try this Mediterranean-inspired recipe for Grilled Whole Trout With Lemon-Tarragon Bean Salad.
The same goodness that protects your heart is also good for your brain. You're not eating bad fats and processed foods, which can cause inflammation. In their place, the Mediterranean diet's antioxidant-rich foods make this eating style a brain-friendly choice.
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