Celebrate the Mediterranean Diet in May

Written by Lori Bumbaco, MS, RDN, CSO, LDN, Oncology Dietitian

Year after year, experts rate the Mediterranean way of eating as one of the best in the world.  The good news is that it doesn’t matter where in the world you live, we can pursue a Mediterranean way of eating and living.  The Mediterranean Diet is a valuable piece of cultural heritage that, from simplicity and variety, has resulted in a complete and balanced combination of foods, known to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Fresh, local ingredients, cooking methods, shared meals, celebrations and moderate physical activity make this lifestyle one of the healthiest in the world. 

The Mediterranean Diet is not a single diet.  Instead, it is based on the traditional eating patterns of those living in the Mediterranean region.  The cuisines of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea are diverse, however they have similarities with the food they enjoy.  They enjoy a high consumption of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans and lentils.  They also enjoy nuts and moderate amounts of fish, yogurt, and cheese.  Red meat, saturated fat, and sweets are limited.  The primary source of fat is olive oil.   

If you are curious to get started on the Mediterranean Diet, try the following tips: 

  1. Eat lots of vegetables. From a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes topped with crumbled feta cheese to healthy pizzas, vegetables are vitally important. Cancer experts recommend that we fill half our plate with them.
  2. Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, add small strips of sirloin to a vegetable sauté or garnish a pasta dish with diced prosciutto. As a main course, eat three ounces or less of chicken or lean meat.
  3. Enjoy a high fiber breakfast. Start the day with fiber-rich foods such as fruit and whole grains that keep you feeling pleasantly full for hours. Layer oats, yogurt and fruit, or mash half an avocado and spread it on whole grain toast.
  4. Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish including mussels, oysters and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.
  5. Cook a vegetarian meal one or more nights a week. Build these meals around beans, whole grains and vegetables, and heighten the flavor with fragrant herbs and spices.
  6. Use recommended fats. Include healthy fat sources in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados.
  7. Enjoy some dairy products. Eat Greek or plain yogurt without added sugars as a savory dip or sauce. A small amount of a variety of cheese adds flavor to the Mediterranean Diet. 
  8. For dessert, try fresh fruit. Choose from a wide range — from fresh figs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Save sweets like cookies and ice cream for a special treat.