Wine? Chocolate? Extra virgin olive oil? Sign me up! The Mediterranean lifestyle has made a significant impact around the world—both on flavor and health. A wide range of health benefits have been credited to this eating style, including lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, a healthy weight, and even brain protection.
Best of all, this way of eating is not just a “diet”—it’s a lifestyle. The Mediterranean diet is about eating foods that are grown locally and seasonally, enjoying more whole plant foods, savoring your meals with good company, and participating in physical activity. No wonder it’s linked with all sorts of benefits!
One of my favorite things about a Mediterranean diet is that it’s based on plants. Take one look at the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid from Oldways and what do you see? You’ll find a huge basis of whole plant foods in the pyramid, which makes up the core of the diet.
Here are my top 6 tips to savor a delicious, wholesome, plant-based Mediterranean diet
1. Load your plate with vegetables. Vegetables are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. Be sure to include a variety of seasonal veggies—root vegetables in the winter, radishes and asparagus in the spring, beans and tomatoes in the summer, and squashes in the fall. Fill at least half of your plate with raw and cooked veggies. That means you should include soup and a salad at dinner, or two types of cooked vegetables at a meal—you get the point. Just pile them on!
2. Add a plant-based protein source, such as beans, nuts and seeds. These foods are full of protein and nutrients, without adding cholesterol or saturated fat to your meal. Plus, they are classics in the Mediterranean Diet, which does not include high amounts of red meat.
3. Focus on healthy plant fats from avocados, nuts and seeds, and olive oil. These sources of fat are heart healthy—packed with MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids) and PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids). They also have lots of nutrients and healthy phytochemicals.
4. Power up on whole grains. Whole grains contain substantially more vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber than processed grains. Be brave and try a variety of grains as part of your Mediterranean diet exploration, such as farro, bulgur or amaranth.
5. Season your foods with fresh herbs and spices. By using fresh herbs and spices, you can decrease the amount of salt you use when flavoring a dish. And all of those fabulous herbs and spices are a classic calling card for a delicious Mediterranean diet.
6. Enjoy fruit for dessert. A classic Mediterranean dessert is a simple collection of local fruits, such as dates, persimmons and figs. How yummy is that? Apply this tip in your own region by enjoying seasonal fruits that grow in your locale.
Here is a sample of a simple yet delicious plant-based recipe
On my trip to Pantelleria, a beautiful island off the southwestern coast of Italy, I fell in love with the rustic, authentic Mediterranean food, which featured plant foods grown locally on the island. This simple potato salad, infused with flavors of olives and capers, was served at almost every meal. The heart-healthy fats found in extra virgin olive oil are a key feature of the Mediterranean diet and provide a mountain of health benefits.