Do you like Italian pizza, Greek yogurt, and Spanish paella? These are iconic foods from the Mediterranean region, which is featured in the Mediterranean Diet. Fun Fact: Spain is projected to have the world’s highest life expectancy by the year 2040. It’s already ranked in the Top 5 countries. Italy is a few spots behind Portugal’s neighbor. On the Iberian Peninsula. Food isn’t the only factor that determines life expectancy but it’s one of the main ones. Foods on the Mediterranean diet shopping list include items like fish and seafood, whole grains, fruits/veggies, and dairy. If you want you can also enjoy a glass of wine on the Mediterranean Diet.
Is there proof the Mediterranean Diet is healthy? In 2005 National Geographic reported 5 “Blue Zones” that included areas in the world with the longest life expectancies. Two of the regions were in Mediterranean countries: Italy and Greece. For example, in Sardinia, some of the healthy foods eaten include grass-fed cheese, fruits/veggies, very dark wine, and maggot cheese. Some other high-nutrient foods in the region include fatty fish, whole grain bread, and Greek yogurt. Besides being healthy this region’s food is full of flavor and color. So, you won’t be eating saltine crackers for dinner.
What’s the Mediterranean Diet?
This diet is based on traditional foods eaten in countries located in the region including Spain, Italy, Greece, and France. The diet was first defined in “A Book of Mediterranean Food” published in 1960. The book focused on French food but the region’s cooking is now defined by several countries.
One reason this region’s food has become popular in Western food like the Standard American Diet (SAD) has resulted in high rates of serious diseases like heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer.
In addition to making up 40% of the Blue Zones, studies show that the Mediterranean diet can provide several health benefits. They include weight loss, lower risks of serious diseases, and even longer lifespans. The average lifespan in both countries is nearly 83 years based on 2015 reports by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).
It’s important to note that Mediterranean cuisine varies greatly just as there are several countries in the region. They include ones in Southern Europe and Northern Europe.
However, there are some basics about the general Mediterranean Diet. For example, it’s mostly plant-based and up to 95% in some countries. This includes different foods like:
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
How about meat protein? It makes up a small percentage of the Mediterranean Diet. Fish or chicken is generally is eaten a few times per week and red meat is consumed even less. Dairy and eggs are consumed in the Mediterranean diet but in small quantities.
Besides the items that are included in the Mediterranean Diet, it’s also worth noting various foods that are excluded/minimized. They include:
- Refined grains (white rice, white bread)
- Refined oils (canola oil, soybean oil)
- Processed meat (hot dogs, Vienna sausages)
- Sugar (table sugar, candies, soda)
- High-processed foods (diet, low-fat foods)
- Trans fat (margarine, lard)
It’s important to minimize these foods as much as possible for the best results.
Mediterranean Diet Shopping List
When you’re on the Mediterranean Diet what should your shopping list look like? Here are some items you should include on your list:
Make sure to include some regional ones like dates, figs, and grapes. Other options include standards like apples, oranges, pears, melons, and berries. Fun Fact: About 7,500 apple varieties are grown around the world.
One of the findings of the Blue Zone research was the importance of legumes. This includes lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, and peanuts. Legumes are also a good option if you’re vegetarian/vegan since they’re high-protein.
They include rosemary, basil, garlic, sage, pepper, and cinnamon. These are small plants yet loaded with many nutrients that can boost your overall health.
Make sure to pick up fresh/natural/organic veggies. The best sources are ones like farmer’s markets. If you want the most authentic dishes then research which veggies are region-specific. This will make your dishes more authentic since you’ll be eating the same veggies as those countries.
These are eaten sparingly in the Mediterranean diet. Look for options like grass-fed cheese and Greek yogurt for dairy.
Meat like beef and pork are usually minimized in the Mediterranean Diet. More common options include fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and trout, and sardines, and poultry like chicken and turkey. Shellfish options include clams, oysters, shrimp, and crab.
These foods are often overlooked but are outstanding sources of nutrients like vitamins and minerals. This includes nuts like walnuts, almonds, macadamias, cashews, and hazelnuts. Meanwhile, seeds include pumpkin flaxseed, sunflower, and others.
8. Whole grains
Make sure to pick whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, corn, and barley. When buying bread and pasta look for whole-grain varieties since this provides high nutrients like Vitamin Bs, fiber, etc.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Here are some of the main benefits you can enjoy from this diet
1. Healthy Fat
We often think of fat as being a bad thing. However, there’s “good” and “bad” fat. One of the good ones is omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in foods like fatty fish and olive oil. These are some of the main ingredients in the Mediterranean Diet and can help improve heart health.
When picking olive oil make sure to look for extra-virgin olive oil. This is the healthiest type and least processed. The cost is higher than more processed types but is certainly worthwhile in terms of quality and nutrition.
2. Whole Grains
When diets talk about “carbs” they’re often referring to refined grains. Whole/multi-grain bread is very healthy and a staple in this diet. Try to eat bread from different grains.
The Mediterranean Diet isn’t 100% vegetarian/vegan. However, it’s much more plant-based than traditional Western cuisine. This provides you with plant nutrients called “polyphenols.”
There are some meat and animal products in this diet but it’s limited. You can even make tweaks to follow a vegan version of the Mediterranean Diet.
If you want to enjoy some red or white wine you can get some with the Mediterranean Diet. Keep in mind it’s a moderate amount and only about one glass of fermented grapes per day. Studies show that wine has many health benefits including many antioxidants that can help your body fight illness and disease.
In the Blue Zone research a dark wine was discovered in Italy that’s the highest in the world in antioxidants. It’s even named ‘vino negro’ due to the dark color. You can find this wine in many wine shops and it’s an excellent option for overall health so it’s worth adding to your Mediterranean diet shopping list.