By Monica Evans, clinical dietitian at CHOC
If there’s one diet that most dietitians agree is healthy and good for the whole family, it’s the Mediterranean diet. Chock-full of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts, the Mediterranean diet has all the makings of nutritious and sustainable way of eating. Research in adults has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, some cancers, as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. In children, the abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the diet provide important vitamins and minerals that help support growth and development.
Here are some Mediterranean diet basics to get you started:
- Center most of your meals on plant-based foods rather than a heavy protein food, like meat. The typical American meal is often created around a higher-fat meat. Switching that meat to a vegetable, bean or whole grain can deliver a healthy dose of fiber and take away the unhealthy saturated fats that can eventually lead to heart disease.
- Eat more beans! Red meat is discouraged in the Mediterranean diet, but when you’re craving something similar, try beans. They are full of protein and fiber and are low in fat.
- More fish please! Seafood is high in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids and protein. Another benefit of fish is that it typically takes less time to cook than chicken, turkey or beef.
- Replace butter with olive oil, which contains monounsaturated fat and can help reduce LDL (or bad) cholesterol levels.
- Have nuts as a snack or add them on to meals. Small amounts of nuts can help keep you full throughout the day and give your body a hefty dose of heart-healthy fats.
- Limit red meat consumption to only a few times per month. Beef, lamb and pork are typically high in saturated fat and the Mediterranean diet discourages consuming them often.
- Enjoy low-fat dairy. Dairy products can be high in saturated fat, but choosing lower-fat milk and cheese products allows you to receive the same essential vitamins and minerals important for growth and development without the high levels of unhealthy fat.
The best way to incorporate a new way of eating is to do it slowly and intentionally. Analyze your family’s diet and identify foods that you could easily swap out for healthier, more Mediterranean diet-friendly foods.
Easy ways to incorporate the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle:
- If you like cucumbers with ranch dressing, try dipping cucumber in hummus
- Instead of serving spaghetti with buttered garlic toast, cook whole grain spaghetti served with bread dipped in olive oil and minced garlic
- Swap beef tacos with tortilla chips for fish tacos with black beans
Try homemade trail mix with nuts and dried fruit for a snack
Mediterranean-friendly family recipes:
Easy Hummus Recipe
- 1 15 oz can garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp water
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp salt
Place beans, garlic, lemon juice, oil, and water into food processor. Blend to desired consistency. Season with cumin and salt. Enjoy with whole grain crackers or fresh vegetables.
Adapted from crunchycreamysweet.com
Fig & Honey Yogurt
- 2/3 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
- 3 dried figs, sliced
- 2 tsp honey
Top yogurt with fig slices and honey. Enjoy!
Recipe via eatingwell.com