If your 2022 resolution is to eat better, feel better, and achieve better health, the Mediterranean diet may be your perfect choice. Rich in monounsaturated fats, whole grains, fatty fish, beans and legumes, the Mediterranean diet is a popular dietary pattern that is not only nutrient dense, but easy to adopt and stick to long term as well.
Just started the Mediterranean diet? Here are ten foods to help you stay on track!
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is perhaps THE centerpiece of the diet and is easy to add to virtually every meal and snack. A 2022 study found that the more you add, the less your risk of death from several diseases. Authors found that ½ tablespoon or more per day led to a decreased mortality risk. Use olive oil in salads, over vegetables or as a replacement for butter on whole grains.
Nuts and seeds are a perfect snack on the diet and walnuts have an added benefit — they are a great source of plant-based omega 3 fatty acids and have been found to help boost gut health. Walnuts are a nutrient-dense addition on top of steel-cut oatmeal or used in pesto on top of bean-based pasta.
Beans and lentils provide plant-based protein in the diet and also contribute to the diet’s impressive fiber content. A study in the BMJ found that replacing animal protein with plant-based proteins could reduce the risk of heart disease. Use lentils as a replacement for meat-based burgers alongside sweet potato fries and cauliflower buns.
Fruits and vegetables not only sit towards the base of the Mediterranean diet pyramid, they also contribute to the majority of phytonutrient rich color in the diet. A 2021 study found that color is king when it comes to reducing the risk of cognitive decline. Enjoy blueberries (fresh or frozen) as a nutrient-rich dessert, or alone as a snack.
Wild salmon as a healthy animal protein
A key point to the Mediterranean diet is the reduction of saturated fats (from red processed meats, dark meat poultry, full-fat dairy, butter and coconut and palm oils) and replacement with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Wild salmon consumption is encouraged as a healthier source of animal protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Salmon can be grilled or baked and used as a main dish, or can come from a can to top salads and grain bowls.
Garlic for a reduced risk of cancer
The allium family is well represented on the Mediterranean diet. In addition to garlic, this includes shallots and leeks. Multiple studies show that consumption of allium foods may help to reduce the risk for certain cancers, including colorectal cancer, a cancer that has seen an increase in diagnosis in younger individuals. Garlic can add abundant flavor to sauces and dressings in its fresh form, and as a replacement for salt in its powdered or granular forms.
Oregano as an anti-inflammatory agent
Roots and herbs provide colorful, antioxidant-rich additions to Mediterranean meals and snacks. They are also a star contributor to the diet’s anti-inflammatory benefit. Studies show that spices and herbs have also been used for medicinal purposes for centuries and may have benefits to multiple health ailments. Use oregano in marinades, in pasta dishes such as whole-wheat pasta and tomato sauce or on top of bean-based soups.
Mushrooms for a mental health boost
Fungi may not be what you first think of when you consider the Mediterranean pattern, but as a plant, it’s a perfect addition. Mushrooms are a type of fungi that have been associated with not only better gut health (acting as a prebiotic), but also a reduced risk of depression as well, according to a 2021 study. Mushrooms are a great addition to vegetarian tacos or paired with onions to top your plant-based lentil burger.
Fennel, a versatile plant that has a licorice type taste has been found in one study to potentially reduce the severity of postmenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and sleeplessness due its component of phytoestrogenic components. Chopped up, the leaves of the fennel bulb make a great topping to cauliflower crust pizza.
Quinoa for an amino acid boost
Though technically quinoa is part of the spinach family, it’s often utilized as a whole grain in Mediterranean dishes. In addition to its high versatility in everything from plant-based burgers, to chocolate bark, quinoa is also a complete protein as well. That means it contains all nine essential amino acids the body cannot make on its own. Quinoa is perhaps the perfect base for grain bowls.
In addition to these foods, stress management and plenty of physical activity are also essential components to a Mediterranean lifestyle.