I've followed the Mediterranean diet for years. Here are 8 things people always get wrong about it.
- I have followed the
Mediterranean dietfor years, and I've heard a lot of misconceptions about it.
- It's not really a typical, restrictive
dietand it's definitely not low-fat or cheap.
- Red wine is meant to be drunk in moderation and the same goes for eating meat and cheese.
I have followed the Mediterranean diet for years, and I've come across a lot of myths and misconceptions about it along the way.
A traditional Mediterranean diet encourages a balanced way of eating with plenty of vegetables, citrus fruits, whole grains, beans, seafood, and a little red meat. It's even been voted the best diet in the world for the fourth year in a row and touts benefits related to heart health and energy levels.But I'm oftentimes confronted with questions about the diet, and whether it's even a diet at all.
Despite its name, it's not really a diet
The Mediterranean diet isn't really a diet - it's a
But the Mediterranean way of eating promotes a balanced diet made up of vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and poultry. In this sense, the Mediterranean diet instead refers to the style of eating and type of foods encouraged - not a restrictive weight-loss program.Inspired by Mediterranean traditions of leisurely meals and small plates, this way of eating also encourages individuals to really enjoy their food and eat it slowly.
Not all Mediterranean countries follow this way of eatingThe Mediterranean diet predominantly focuses on the cuisine of Greece, Spain, Morocco, and Southern Italy.
The Mediterranean coast covers many countries, and not all of them follow the same food-related practices. For example, Northern Italy uses far more lard and butter in cooking than Southern Italy, which prioritizes olive oil.
And I'm sure even the healthiest of Mediterranean people still enjoy a Big Mac from time to time. I certainly do.
The Mediterranean diet is not low-fat, but that's not a totally bad thingMost Mediterranean recipes encourage healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish. According to the University of Michigan's health library, an average of 30% to 40% of the calories consumed in the Mediterranean diet can come from fat.
This diet is typically lower in saturated fats, often found in cheese, yogurt, and red meats. Cheese and red meat often make appearances in this eating style - I, for one, adore feta and halloumi cheese - but saturated fats are served in small portions and paired with plenty of vegetables and grains.
Yes, this eating style can heavily rely on olive oil
Olive oil has a beautiful flavor and is a traditional ingredient in Mediterranean cooking. But I've seen plenty of people criticize the sheer amount of olive oil used in this eating style.You can use alternative oils, like flaxseed or sunflower, which are much higher in polyunsaturated fats but have nearly the same amount of calories. Personally, I recommend extra-virgin olive oil as a less-processed option that also retains the traditional Mediterranean flavor.
This eating style welcomes wine, but only in moderation
One of the Mediterranean diet's big selling points is that you can drink red wine while following it because it's good for your heart.An occasional glass is OK, but this way of eating definitely doesn't encourage lots of alcohol consumption.
Sure, red wine can have antioxidant properties and benefit your heart
It's not all pasta, pizza, and cheeseWhenever my Mediterranean lifestyle pops up in conversation, I'm asked questions like, "So you just eat pasta and pizza? How is that a diet?" Pasta and pizza are included in some Mediterranean recipes, especially ones originating in Southern Italy, but these dishes come in small portion sizes, dressed with olive oil and plenty of veggies. For instance, a Mediterranean pasta side dish is only about half a cup and the carb-loaded recipes are often paired with salads and roasted vegetables.
I'm not a huge fan of pasta, anyway. As for pizza, I much prefer a puff-pastry tart over a greasy pepperoni slice.
It's OK to eat nontraditional Mediterranean ingredients and find substitutes
It can be tricky to follow this diet if you're not in the Mediterranean region and you will likely need to find alternatives for traditional ingredients and ways to use nontraditional favorites.For example, avocado isn't traditionally part of the Mediterranean diet but I still incorporate it into my Mediterranean-style recipes daily.
It'd also be ideal for me to have fresh fish every day on this diet, but tinned or frozen seafood is about as fresh as you can get in the rural English countryside. I find ways to make it work with plenty of veggies and Greek-style toppings.
It can get expensive, but there are plenty of ways to save money
The Mediterranean diet can take a hefty chunk out of your weekly food budget but there are plenty of ways to save money while following this way of eating.
For example, I use beans and lentils as my primary protein source. When I have pricier ingredients, like fresh fish and red meat, I use a small amount paired with lots of quinoa, chickpeas, and veggies.It all depends on how you eat, shop, and prepare food.
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