The internet is filled to the brim with diet choices—the newest plans, apps, and fads all claiming to help you lose weight and cut your risk of conditions like heart disease and diabetes. But none are ever so popular as the Mediterranean diet. Research has proven that people living around the Mediterranean Sea weigh less, have fewer chronic health conditions, and live longer than people in other parts of the world. Many point to a diet high in fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and a moderate amount of protein from fish and less red meat as the reason. Today, countless healthcare professionals recommend the diet to their patients.
But is it right for you? Certainly a diet high in whole foods and less fat, salt and sugar won’t hurt anything. But if you want to know for sure what would work best for you, it’s wise to start your journey with a genetic nutrition test that can tell you—based on your unique genetics—what type of diet your body will respond to most efficiently. Once you’re armed with that information, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist to build a Mediterranean-based diet plan and follow these basic principles:
–Eat 5 to 10 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. That may seem like a lot compared to the American way, but don’t be afraid to dive in. Snack on fresh fruits, enjoy salads, or cook them. ½ cup of cooked or 1 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables is a serving. Avoid starchy vegetables and fried versions—that means no fries—if you want the full benefit.
-Get 4 to 6 servings of healthy fats every day. What’s a healthy fat? Well it’s not the pile of mayo on your sandwich, that’s for sure. Healthy fats include olives (and olive oil), or 1/8 of an avocado. You can also find healthy fats in nuts—an ounce of walnuts or almonds is a good choice. Avoid saturated fats like those found in butter or red meat or at the very least limit how much you have to an occasional event.
-Eat a little fish, a few times a week. It may seem totally foreign not to eat meat at every meal, but the Mediterranean diet recommends eating 4 ounces of fish 3 to 4 times a week. That’s a serving about the size of a checkbook and it should be baked, not breaded and fried.
One to three servings a day of dairy is fine, but remember a serving of cheese is just 1 ounce—about the size of a game dice and for milk and yogurt you’re aiming for one cup (8 ounces).
-Grains are okay if you know what to choose. Highly processed, sugar-loaded white bread is far from the grains you should be choosing. Small portions of whole wheat bread, pasta or other grains like quinoa are perfectly fine. Just stay away from the donuts and regular white breads and pastas.
-Beans may really be good for your heart. ½ cup of cooked beans like lentils or even some hummus a couple of times a week adds fiber—necessary for helping you feel fuller longer and aiding digestion.
Before making any changes to your diet, always talk to your doctor. Make sure it’s okay for you and then make changes slowly if necessary. Every small step is a positive one when you’re doing it for better health. Experiment with recipes, find new vegetables, try fresh herbs and work out what you like. In time, you’ll be a Mediterranean diet expert and maybe a little healthier too.