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By Madelyn Fernstrom

The Mediterranean Diet is an amazing eating plan, according to loads of scientific evidence. It's recommended for longevity, weight loss, stopping heart disease and diabetes, and more — the message is clear about the real-life benefits of going Mediterranean in your diet.

If you're trying to follow the Mediterranean diet, you need to do more than just load up on nuts. Today

But what exactly is it? 

The overall food recommendations are based on decades of study from several European countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, primarily Greece, Italy, France and Spain. However, it's not just loading up on nuts and olive oil. A common mistake: When people add the ingredients, instead of swapping, they actually end up putting on weight. 

The concepts are easy to list, but can be hard to follow over the long term. If you can incorporate even one or two of these basics, you'll feel the rewards.

1. Replace butter with olive oil and other unsaturated fats (like canola oil).

2. Increase plant-based foods, including a variety of fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen, cooked or raw), whole grains and legumes (1/2 – 1 cup serving), and nuts (1 handful/day)

3. Cut back on red meat consumption (up to 2 times a week).

4. Increase consumption of eggs, poultry and fish (2-4 times a week).

5. Include low-fat dairy products daily (plain yogurt, feta cheese, parmesan cheese, milk).

6. Swap herbs and spices like garlic, oregano, basil and cinnamon for the salt shaker.

7. If you enjoy alcohol, include up to a 5-ounce serving of red wine daily (white, if you prefer).

These are guidelines and are meant to be followed regularly, but don’t fall into a rigid mindset. There are times we all make some indulgent swaps, like a buttery cake, or marbled red meat. That's still part of healthy eating, when consumed as a special treat, not daily.

The difference between weight maintenance and weight loss is total calories consumed. Learn to barter, and trim 150 calories a day to drop about a pound a month. If you trim around 500 calories a day, you’ll lose around one pound in a week. 

If you find you’re gaining weight on this plan, revisit your total calorie intake, and make some cuts. Healthy foods can be calorie dense: a tablespoon of olive oil and butter both contain 120 calories.