The Healthiest Diet in the World
As we welcome a new year, consider adopting a new lifestyle rather than a diet. A diet means that you are changing your food habits over a period of time to reach a goal, before ultimately going back to old, less-healthy ways. Whereas a lifestyle involves slowing changing your diet, exercise, and mental habits in favor of healthier ones.
The Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle
The Mediterranean Diet was just ranked the best way to eat in 2019, announced by US News, but it actually should be called the Mediterranean Lifestyle. This lifestyle promotes a mindset of eating nutritious foods, enjoying life, being active each day, and nurturing social connections -- including savoring meals with friends and family. It’s as simple as that.
What’s great about the Mediterranean Lifestyle is that it’s not a diet full of restrictions. It’s not about counting calories, counting macros, putting in two hours at the gym, or cutting out an entire food group. Instead the focus is to incorporate a variety of different foods for overall health, feeling physically and mentally great, and striving for longevity.
What foods can I eat?
The food aspect of the Mediterranean Lifestyle is plant-based, consisting of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, seeds and nuts. The aim of the lifestyle is to start increasing your intake of these foods into your diet naturally, which lessens how many not-so-good-for-us foods you eat. In addition, the Mediterranean eating pattern also allows you to eat moderate amounts of fish, some dairy (mostly yogurt and cheese) and meat on occasion, with the primary source of fat being olive oil. Whole grains are also an important component of the Mediterranean diet.
What are the benefits?
The Mediterranean Diet has many health benefits including weight loss, lower food intake, reduced systemic inflammation, and ultimate reduced disease risk, including heart disease, certain types of cancers, hypertension (high blood pressure), and type 2 diabetes. Eating whole wheat breads as part of the lifestyle also brings benefits of added nutrients including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Much of the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet are attributed to a higher fiber intake and construction of a healthy gut microbiome.
Here are some ideas on how to integrate more whole grains while following a Mediterranean Lifestyle:
Replace refined grains with whole grains, including cereals and breads
Air popped popcorn (add some nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor and olive oil)
Incorporate bulgar, oats, quinoa -- for example, a veggie burger
Replace some or all all-purpose flour in baked goods with whole wheat flour
Make a quick pizza on whole grain English muffins, pitas, or flatbreads
Fill tacos with farro or brown rice instead of white rice
Serve whole grains topped with veggies and a lean protein, fish, beans, or lentils
Top rye crackers with cheese or hummus for a quick snack
Hot oatmeal or overnight oats with Greek yogurt or your choice of milk (or non-dairy “milk” beverages) are a great way to add whole grains at breakfast
Whole grains pancakes
Whole grain toast topped with avocado, sliced tomatoes, or even roasted vegetables
If you aren’t accustomed to whole grains, start slowly and build to “at least half of your grains as whole” per day, or 1 serving at every meal. This will make the goal of 25-30 grams of fiber a day achievable.
The Mediterranean Lifestyle is successful and sustainable because it adds flavor and enjoyment while focusing on health and longevity. The Mediterranean Lifestyle is primarily plant-based, and justifiably called the healthiest diet in the world. It not only optimally nourishes the body, but also the mind and heart, and for this I am a major proponent of the Mediterranean Lifestyle.
Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information. Learn more about her nutrition philosophy at www.lelailiopoulos.com.