The countries that border the Mediterranean Sea know a thing or two about the good life. Sardinia in Italy and Icaria in Greece are two of the five blue zones around the world known for the longevity of their residents. Here, the three main contributors to a high quality of life in old age are a habit of physical activity, social connection, and the Mediterranean diet.
There's nothing groundbreaking about these nutritious choices—you already know how good they are for you, but here are some tips and tricks to incorporate this breezy, coastal eating style into your life.
Plant-based foods are the heart of the Mediterranean diet. Fruits and veggies like grapes, figs, and cucumbers abound. If you want to shift to a more plant-based diet, don't forget about your macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein). You won't feel full and energized if you don't add protein to your meals. Pulses, legumes, and whole grains are your friends.
These days, you don't need to soak your legumes for hours; you can buy cans from the grocery store instead. Open, rinse the contents, and add to a seasoned salad bowl—it's that easy. Garbanzo beans are a fab addition to soups, and you can make garlic-infused butter bean dips for spreading on sourdough bread or as pasta sauce.
For some inexplicable reason, folks find it easier to chop veggies than to cook grains, although they take about the same effort. If you're one of these not-uncommon individuals who'd rather chiffonade spinach and dice aubergines than cook rice or quinoa, buy pre-cooked grains for lazy days.
Eating whole grains at every meal can become a reality if you snip a microwaveable pouch open and spoon out as much as you need for a wholesome, balanced dish.
Extra virgin olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, and you can eat up to four tablespoons daily. Use it for cooking and making herby or creamy yogurt-based dressings and marinades. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, is not associated with obesity, and is anti-inflammatory.
Following a vegan diet is environmentally friendly, but the Mediterranean diet isn't a vegan one. You can eat animal products in small amounts, so boil, scramble, or poach an egg daily. There's no need to deprive yourself of small amounts of your favorite cheese, either—spread cottage cheese on whole grain crackers or blitz parmesan in a food processor for sprinkling over various dishes.
Plain Greek yogurt with fruit segments, pomegranate arils, nuts, seeds, and a squeeze of pure honey is an underrated dessert or breakfast element. And grilled fish is an important source of fatty acids.
Use books like Yotam Ottolenghi's "Simple" for inspiration, and prioritize good food. That means using high-quality ingredients and ensuring meals taste amazing with the help of flavorsome herbs. Italian has no word for "foodie" because good food is considered an unquestionable a way of life.
Sometimes that means slow food prepared with expertise, but it doesn't always have to. Savor mealtimes and eat slowly, too, even if your meal contains only four stellar ingredients or came from the freezer aisle.
Cutting out too many foods you know and love too rapidly can result in cravings and guilt when you succumb. This is not a sustainable approach, and to see results from this eating style, you need to be able to stick with it.
You don't have to cut out all red meat or stop eating sweet treats altogether. Aim for smaller and less frequent servings, and with time and diligence, you won't crave as much sugar and you might even find some delicious alternatives to your favorite steak.
The main hack to sticking to a diet is taking the guesswork out of the equation. You can do this by planning a week of meals and buying groceries based on the dish requirements. Organize meals that are quick to put together for jam-packed days, and leave longer or more complicated cooking sessions for when you're relatively relaxed and less likely to abandon the mission.
On the weekends, you can prep veggies and meat, grate cheese, and make a tomato sauce for pizza, for example, before freezing to eliminate a step later on.
Making hummus is not tricky, but if you're short on time for meal-prepping, store-bought hummus is convenient and prevents you from reaching for less healthy snacks. A grazing bowl with tzatziki or pesto from the deli and pre-chopped veggies can save precious minutes on hectic days.
You can also compromise and make delicious dips on the weekends and buy more complex meal components like falafels and pitas.
You don't have to give up your cuisine and overhaul your pantry to reap the benefits of the flexible Mediterranean diet. A few tweaks can suit your palate and meet your body's needs. Try and cut back on highly-processed foods and red meat, for starters. Eat tropical fruits and opt for plantains and cassavas to meet your fiber and antioxidant needs.
Replace animal fats like ghee or butter with liquid oil. Check out Oldways food pyramids for more ideas.
Because the Mediterranean diet relies so much on plant-based food, your meat budget should decrease to accommodate any conveniences you've snuck in. If you're savvy about buying local foods that are in season, you'll save money too, and keep an eye out for promotions and sales on frozen foods that won't go bad.
Farmers' markets often have good deals that score you produce for half what you'd pay at grocery stores, and you can grow herbs in pots.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.