With the Mediterranean diet, you won't be counting calories or cutting out major food groups. Instead, the focus is on swapping bad fats for good ones -- olive oil instead of butter, fish or poultry instead of red meat, fresh fruit instead of sugary, fancy desserts -- and eating your fill of flavorful basics: veggies and beans. Nuts are a mainstay, too, but you should still limit yourself to no more than a handful a day. And you can have whole-grain bread and wine in moderation.
2. The Food Is Really Fresh.
When you eat like the Mediterraneans 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 using WebMD's Quick Light Greek Salad recipe, or whip up a colorful, veggie-filled batch of Grilled Tomato Gazpacho.
3. You Can Have Bread.
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).
4. Fat Isn't Forbidden.
Fat -- the good kind -- is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. What is good fat? You'll find it in nuts, olives, and olive oil (not the saturated and trans fat hidden in processed foods). These not only add flavor, they help fight diseases, from diabetes to cancer. WebMD's Basic Basil Pesto is a tasty way to get good-fat walnuts and olive oil into your diet.
5. The Menu Is Huge.
The Mediterranean diet doesn't limit you to Greek or Italian. The region also includes France, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, and other countries. Just choose foods that stick to the healthy 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 right into the healthy Mediterranean profile.
6. The Spices Are Delicious.
Mediterranean herbs and spices -- including bay leaves, cilantro and coriander, rosemary, garlic, pepper, and cinnamon -- add so much flavor you won’t reach for the salt shaker. Some have health benefits, too. Coriander and rosemary, for example, contain disease-fighting antioxidants and nutrients. WebMD's Greek-Style Mushrooms use cilantro and coriander and have a lemony kick.
7. It's Easy to Make.
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 this Basil Quinoa with Red Bell Pepper and Eight Layered Greek Dip from WebMD recipes. Both contain healthy ingredients like olive oil, beans or whole grains, and spices.
8. You Can Have Wine.
Drinking wine with meals is standard in many Mediterranean countries, where dining is often more leisurely and social. Not only will wine help you unwind at dinner, one glass a day for women and two for men may offer heart health and longevity benefits. Red is the Mediterranean choice and may be healthier, but white is fine. (Unsweetened grape juice is OK, too.)
9. You Won't be Hungry.
The Mediterranean diet lets you eat rich-tasting foods like roasted sweet potatoes and hummus (you can try a Lima Bean Spread). You digest both slowly so that you feel full longer. Hunger's not a problem when you can munch on nuts, olives, or cubes of low-fat cheese when a craving strikes. Feta and halloumi are lower in fat than cheddar but rich and tasty.
10. You Can Lose Weight.
You'd think it would take a miracle to lose weight eating nuts, cheese, and oils. But those exact 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.
11. Your Heart Will Thank You.
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 your daily glass of wine is 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.
12. You'll Stay Sharper Longer.
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 eating Mediterranean a brain-friendly choice.
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.