The Best Foods for Mediterranean Diets

A Mediterranean diet is based upon the dietary habits of populations bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Though the countries differ in dietary specifics, they tend to promote similar principles, many of which promote cardiovascular wellness and overall health. In addition to emphasizing healthy foods, Mediterranean cultures encourage food enjoyment, dining with loved ones and low to moderate wine consumption. For best results, seek specified guidance from a qualified dietary professional.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are prime suppliers of antioxidants -- nutrients that help your body defend itself from infections and disease. Mediterranean countries, such as Greece, place great emphasis on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, consuming an average of nine collective servings per day. Basing your diet on fruits and vegetables increases your nutrient and fiber intake and leaves less room for processed snack foods. To reap ample antioxidant benefits of a Mediterranean diet, incorporate colorful fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks routinely. Varieties particularly rich in antioxidants include berries, red grapes, citrus fruits, tomatoes, spinach, kale, broccoli, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts and squash.

Healthy Fats

Mediterranean diets contain primarily healthy fat sources, such as olives, olive oil and nuts. While these unsaturated fat sources promote heart health, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your fat intake to 25 to 35 percent of your total daily calories per day -- less than typical Mediterranean diets include. Mediterranean diets also encourage regular intake of cold-water fish and less red meat than average Western-style diets. Cold-water fish provide omega-3 fatty acids -- essential fats associated with improved heart health and brain function and reduced inflammation. One way to begin adopting a healthy Mediterranean-style diet would be to replace butter and margarine with plant-based oils, such as olive oil, and replacing high-fat red meat and processed meats with fish routinely.

Fish and Seafood

Fish and seafood play a significant role in Mediterranean diets. Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, flounder, halibut and herring, provide rich amounts of omega-3 fatty acids---healthy fats associated with positive heart health and brain function. As rich sources of vitamin D and calcium, fish and seafood also promote positive bone health. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish, fatty fish in particular, at least twice per week. Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids include albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring and lake trout.

Poultry, Eggs and Dairy Products

Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, eggs and dairy products, such as yogurt, also appear regularly in most Mediterraneans' diets. While not as prevalent as fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, eggs and dairy products are consumed in moderate amounts and eggs are consumed zero to four times per week, according to the American Heart Association. Healthiest options within these foods include skinless turkey and chicken breasts, egg whites and low-fat milk, yogurt and cheeses.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are grains that have retained valuable nutrient, fiber and protein content during processing. As a result, whole grain foods have a more positive impact on your blood sugar levels, digestive system and cardiovascular health than refined carbohydrate sources, such as white flour and sugar. Grains in Mediterranean diets are usually consumed in whole form and contain few unhealthy trans fats. This is one potential reason Mediterranean cultures tend to have healthier cholesterol levels than American cultures. To reap maximum benefits of whole grains, replace enriched breads, pasta, rice, cereals and baked goods in your diet with whole grain equivalents. When purchasing prepared foods, check ingredient lists on food packaging to ensure that whole grains, such as millet, whole wheat, oats, spelt, barley or brown rice, are listed as main ingredients.

Raw Food Mediterranean Diet

Selecting from myriad diets that involve low calorie, low fat, heart-healthy, low-sugar, longevity and other features is challenging. Yet, one diet stands out that includes all of these attributes. The Mediterranean diet is a widely studied diet that has multiple health benefits for people throughout the world. A raw food Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating plan that resembles the Mediterranean diet. Consult your nutritionist about a plan for you.

The Mediterranean diet is based primarily on traditional eating patterns of people from Greece, particularly from the island of Crete, prior to 1960, according to research by Artemis Simopoulos, M.D. published in the "Journal of Nutrition". Although many countries border the Mediterranean Sea and share similar foods, the Greek diet differs in type and amount of fats, proteins, carbohydrates and micronutrients. You can incorporate recipes from other cultures and apply them to the foods in the Mediterranean diet.

A raw food Mediterranean diet is an adaptation of the traditional Mediterranean diet. The dietary behavior of Greeks focuses on a high intake of fruits, olives, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, cheese, fish and moderate amounts of wine. These foods have many nutritious and health-promoting and protective substances that include antioxidants and essential fatty acids. A raw food Mediterranean diet includes uncooked and unprocessed fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains. You may also eat sprouted legumes, nuts, seeds and grains, such as mung bean sprouts, almond sprouts, sunflower seed sprouts and wheat berry sprouts. A raw food Mediterranean diet, however, does not include raw fish.

The most compelling part of a raw food Mediterranean diet is the numerous health benefits that include reduced risks of heart disease and diabetes and increased longevity. The Cleveland Clinic notes that increasing scientific evidence demonstrates a traditional Mediterranean diet reduces cholesterol and risk of heart disease, in part due to the emphasis of olive oil with its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and avoidance of unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats. The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with increased longevity among the elderly.

Consuming a raw food Mediterranean diet limits foods that contain essential nutrients, such as vitamin B-12, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin B-12 is required in minute amounts and is found in animal based products, particularly shellfish, fin fish, red meat, poultry and dairy. Iron from plant-based foods is less efficiently absorbed than iron from animal-based products. A raw food Mediterranean diet does not include omega-3 fatty acids from fish, the source for eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. However, you can eat walnuts and other plant-based foods that contain an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid.

Mediterranean Diet Breakfast Food

The cuisine of Italy, Greece, Spain, Morocco and other sunny countries along the Mediterranean Sea may inspire you to expand your breakfast options beyond toaster pastries or dry cereal. A Mediterranean breakfast emphasizes generous portions of whole grains and seasonal fruits or vegetables, with smaller amounts of milk or yogurt and occasional servings of cheese or eggs. Olive oil, seeds, nuts, fresh honey, herbs and spices add heart-healthy fats, sweetness and flavor to your morning meals.

Fresh, unprocessed foods rich in complex carbohydrates are the mainstays of the Mediterranean diet, a healthy eating plan based on centuries-old culinary traditions. Plant-based foods -- including fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and olive oil -- form the foundation of your daily diet, with fish, yogurt, milk, cheese, eggs or poultry occupying smaller portions of your meals. The Mediterranean diet limits red meat to several servings per month. From the wide variety of healthy foods included in the Mediterranean diet, you can create simple breakfasts with an abundance of nutrients, tastes and textures.

The Mediterranean diet has earned a reputation as an eating plan that uses ancient dietary patterns to increase longevity and improve cardiovascular health. With its emphasis on fresh, minimally processed foods, low-fat complex carbohydrates and unsaturated fats, the Mediterranean diet reflects nutritional principles that promote overall well-being and prevent chronic disease. The proportions of food groups in a Mediterranean breakfast correspond with the Mayo Clinic's guidelines for a balanced morning meal. A breakfast that includes a whole-grain bread or cereal, a form of lean protein, a dairy product, a seasonal fruit or vegetable and a plant-based fat will give you sustained energy, improve your concentration and help you control your weight and cholesterol levels.

Breakfast Basics

Staple breakfast foods on the Mediterranean diet include whole-grain breads and cereals, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt, milk, eggs or fish. Nuts and seeds add heart-healthy fats to your breakfast. Choose from a variety of deeply pigmented fruits used in Mediterranean cuisine, including apricots, oranges, figs, plums, grapes, berries, apples and pears. These fruits provide vitamins A, C, folate and potassium, along with antioxidant compounds that may protect your body against heart disease and cancer. Breads and cereals provide complex carbohydrates and fiber for energy and healthy digestion. Low-fat yogurt, milk and fish offer protein and calcium. The polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in olive oil, walnuts, pistachios and almonds may improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Sample Menus

For a classic Mediterranean breakfast, you can cover ripe apricot halves with Greek yogurt. Drizzle the yogurt with honey, sprinkle with chopped pistachio nuts and serve with whole-grain toast. A cup of warm, whole oats or brown rice with milk, cinnamon, almonds and raisins or dried figs offers a hearty, nutritious morning meal. For a portable breakfast inspired by the flavors of Mediterranean herbs, try a sandwich made of rosemary focaccia bread with a thin layer of soft goat cheese, fresh tomato slices and basil leaves. A high-protein breakfast might include one whole egg and one egg white scrambled with spinach and finely chopped scallions. For energy-producing complex carbohydrates, serve eggs with whole-grain toast and a cluster of red grapes.

When you remove butter and margarine from your breakfast table, you can reduce the calories, cholesterol, saturated animal fats and trans fats in your morning meals. Trans fats, the partially hydrogenated fats found in many margarines and other butter substitutes, may lower your "good" cholesterol while raising your "bad" cholesterol. As you transition to a Mediterranean diet, replace butter or margarine on your morning toast with light olive oil, a tablespoon of honey or a spoonful of fruit preserves with no added sugar. As a colorful Mediterranean alternative to buttered toast, try a toasted whole-grain roll spread with a light layer of low-fat ricotta cheese. Top the soft cheese with fresh blackberries, sliced strawberries or a layer of fig, currant or apricot spread.

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