Registered dietitian Amanda Kostro Miller provides a 7-day Mediterranean diet meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that includes meals like Pasta e Fagioli and a zucchini and tomato frittata.
Numerous studies found that the Mediterranean diet offers many potential health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and cognitive decline.
The Mediterranean diet is popular among nutritionists not only for its many health benefits but also for its flexibility and ease of use.
The diet emphasizes whole, plant-based foods, heart-healthy fats, and seafood, which comprise the majority of meals in Mediterranean regions like Greece and southern Italy.
Moreover, the Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle than a temporary way of eating. And it's been shown that people who follow it long-term exhibit lower rates of chronic disease and have a longer life expectancy.
If you're interested in trying out this healthy, popular diet, here's a meal plan to get you started as well as some more info on some of the benefits you may reap from following the Mediterranean diet long-term.
What to eat and drink on the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet does not explicitly prohibit any food groups or require calorie restriction. That said, there are certain guidelines to follow to maximize the potential health benefits.
For example, avoid processed foods, and instead center your meals around plant-based foods, including vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Fish, such as light tuna, salmon, cod, and other types of seafood that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, play a central role, particularly for Americans who adhere to this diet.
Aim to choose foods in their least processed form — for example, steel-cut oats or even quick oats — as opposed to instant packets of oatmeal which typically have added sugar.
According to registered dietician Amanda Kostro Miller, these are the foods you should consume regularly, occasionally, and rarely on the Mediterranean diet:
Whole grains (barley, bulgur, quinoa, millet, steel-cut oats, brown rice, amaranth, and rye)
Healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado)
Eat/drink in moderation:
7-day Mediterranean diet meal plan
Here's what a full week of healthy eating could look like on the Mediterranean diet, per Miller's recommendations:
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and walnuts
Lunch: Honey garlic salmon baked in foil
Dinner: Vegetable and chickpea stew
Breakfast: Whole-wheat toast with mashed avocado
Lunch: Greek salad topped with salmon or chicken skewers
Dinner: Lemon dill tilapia with sauteed greens
Breakfast: Egg scramble with spinach and tomato
Lunch: one-skillet chicken cooked in olive oil with artichokes, kalamata olives, garlic, and herbs
Dinner: Pasta e Fagioli with a garden salad
Breakfast: Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter
Lunch: Power bowl with quinoa, vegetables, hummus, and feta
Dinner: Garlic lemon herb chicken, roasted vegetables, and potatoes
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with banana and sliced almonds
Lunch: Seafood soup
Dinner: Vegetarian paella
Breakfast: Egg scramble with bell peppers and onion
Lunch: Greek grilled chicken pita with a cucumber-tomato salad
Dinner: Oven-baked tilapia with roasted vegetables
Breakfast: Zucchini tomato frittata
Lunch: Roasted chickpea gyro
Dinner: Polenta topped with roasted eggplant, mushroom, and red pepper ragout
Note that the Mediterranean diet isn't only for meat eaters. You can easily turn a meat-dish into an equally-satisfying vegetarian meal by substituting meat for protein-rich, plant-based foods such as lentils, quinoa, tofu, chickpeas, and hemp seeds.
Mediterranean diet benefits
Weight loss: Multiple studies over the last decade or so indicate that following a Mediterranean diet is associated with a smaller waist circumference, reduced risk of weight gain, and — along with caloric restriction — can aid in weight loss. This is likely due to the focus on whole foods that are high in satiating fiber and fat.
Diabetes management: The Mediterranean diet is considered by some experts to be one of the best ways to control blood sugar for people managing type 2 diabetes. Researchers who compared the Mediterranean diet with low-carb, low-glycemic index, and high-protein diets found that the Mediterranean diet improved blood sugar most for those with type 2 diabetes and — when paired with a low-carb diet — also led to greater weight loss.
Improved heart health: A host of studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet helps to support heart health because it emphasizes omega-3-rich seafood, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, pulses, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts.
A 2018 study of nearly 26,000 American women determined that those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 25% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease over 12 years.
Another 2007 study of individuals with a higher risk of heart disease, found that there was a much lower risk of heart attacks and strokes among people who followed the Mediterranean diet.
Lower risk for certain cancers: The Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer, as well as help prevent cancer-related death, according to a 2017 meta-analysis and review of 83 studies where the authors state:
"These observed beneficial effects are mainly driven by higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains."
A separate 2015 study found that women who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil had a 68% lower risk of breast cancer than those in the control group on a low-fat diet.
Reduced risk of cognitive decline: Elderly patients who followed a Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or experience other forms of cognitive decline with old age, according to one 2017 study.
Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was also associated with better performance in memory, language, and visuospatial perception. Specifically, eating fish was associated with a lower risk of dementia.
Improved gut health: Researchers found that adhering to the Mediterranean diet for a year boosts "good" gut bacteria by 7%, while also reducing the bacteria associated with harmful inflammation in elderly patients. Researchers attributed these positive changes to an increase in dietary fiber and associated vitamins and minerals.
Potential downsides of the Mediterranean diet
As for potential disadvantages, the Mediterranean diet is not associated with many risks, although you may want to keep an eye on mercury consumption if you're eating a lot of seafood. Low-mercury seafood options include salmon, shrimp, pollock, and canned light tuna.
Moreover, if you have dietary restrictions, such as gluten intolerance or IBS that require a low-FODMAP diet, consider consulting your nutritionist or doctor for their input before starting a new dietary plan. Lastly, to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, it's also advisable to be mindful of portion sizes.
The Mediterranean diet has many advantages. Since it's one of the less rigid diets, omnivores, pescetarians, and even vegetarians may find it easy to stick to.
Additionally, the Mediterranean diet may offer numerous potential health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and cognitive decline, as well as improved gut health. The Mediterranean diet may also promote healthier weight and body overall.
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