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6 surprisingly simple ways to follow a Mediterranean diet

What the Mediterranean diet isn't: "allowed" and "avoid" lists; instead this diet is about food, family and feelings.
/ Source: TODAY

There are countless diets available today — it can be hard to even start to think about which one might be right for you. Should you try keto? What about the Whole 30? And how does a low-carb diet work?

Well, have you ever thought about trying a diet that is more of a lifestyle shift? The Mediterranean diet represents a culture just as much as it does a cuisine and has been followed for centuries. It's not about what's allowed or avoided — this plan was practiced by people who relied on seasonal foods, keeping in mind their budgets and their family’s health.

The stars of the Mediterranean diet are:

  • Fresh produce
  • Healthy fats (like nuts, avocado and olive oil)
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Lean dairy
  • Some wine

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Previous reports have shown that following the Mediterranean diet can lower your risk of heart disease, preserve brain health and lower your overall risk of chronic diseases. Recent research presented at the European Society of Cardiology annual meeting in Rome went as far as saying this diet might even surpass the value of certain cholesterol-lowering drugs in reducing heart disease.

The study's researcher, Professor Giovanni de Gaetano, found that those who follow a Mediterranean type of meal pattern were a third less likely to die early, compared with those who consumed a more Western diet, which we know as being based on a foundation of highly processed foods, steaks the size of plates and sugary soft drinks as the beverages of choice.

What does it take to get the benefits of a Mediterranean diet? These five tips will help you make your menu more Mediterranean on a daily basis:

1. Make your grains whole.

Try whole wheat breads and cereals, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta instead of the white types. As the Mediterraneans do, explore ancient grains and seeds like quinoa, chia, amaranth, bulgar and buckwheat. Combine these grains with veggies and dried fruit as side dishes or try them as hot cereal in the morning.

Coconut Banana Quinoa Mug Breakfast

2. Veg out and eat fish.

Try choosing fish instead of meat a few days a week or go meatless and let grains, beans, veggies and fruit take up most of the real estate on your plate. Fatty fish, rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, sardines and tuna, are common on Mediterranean menus.

3. Swap fats.

It’s time to stop being fat phobic and learn about the healthy sources of fat: Include nuts, seeds, avocado and oils as your fat sources and read labels to help you avoid harmful trans fats and limit saturated fats.

People who live the Mediterranean lifestyle cook with deep, rich olive oils and they add nuts to salads. Try a few avocado slices on your next turkey sandwich or spread mashed avocado on your toast with eggs instead of butter.

It's important to note that these foods are high in calories, and following the Mediterranean lifestyle means eating them in moderation.

4. Do dairy.

Low or non-fat dairy products provide calcium, potassium and hunger-squashing protein. Greek yogurt, a staple in the Mediterranean diet, is enjoyed all day, whether it’s at breakfast or it’s incorporated into recipes at lunch, dinner and snacks.

According to the dietary guidelines for Americans, we should be consuming around three servings of dairy a day, including sources like cheese, Greek yogurt and milk.

5. Raise a glass.

Enjoy wine in reasonable quantities as part of a meal — not just as a recreational beverage. When it comes to wine, you need to know your own limits about how much to consume. When you're not drinking wine, make water, whether from the tap, bottled or sparkling, your beverage of choice.

6. Be picky about processing.

If you’re eating fried foods, prepared foods and highly processed foods that have ingredient lists that take you longer to read than your emails, it's time to make a change. Instead, go for foods that contain ingredients you can recognize.

Remember that none of the above foods are magical, and if you need to lose weight, you’ll have to watch portion sizes, even of the good stuff.

Mangia, mindfully!

For more healthy living advice, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN is the Founder of and author of Read It Before You Eat It. You can find her on Twitter @eatsmartbd and Instagram @bonnietaubdix.