When you think of going on a diet, you probably start to worry about how hungry and bored you’re going to be while following a plan. Yet all the experts are saying this diet or that program will help you lose weight, burn fat, and keep your heart in excellent shape. What’s so great about heart-healthy diets, anyway? Do they really work? It depends on whether or not you’re willing to try one out. If you’re ready for a big but worthwhile lifestyle change, the Mediterranean Diet might be the right choice for you.
In 2017, the Mediterranean Diet was ranked No. 2 in the U.S. News & World Report’s best diets overall, just behind the DASH diet. Not only is this diet good for your heart, but it’s also proven to be extremely effective for large numbers of people. The best part about this diet is that it’s not difficult to follow. There aren’t strict rules for when and how much you should eat. No food groups are completely off limits. There is no membership fee. You don’t have to track your intake if you don’t want to, either.
All you have to do is learn which foods experts recommend you should eat the most, and which ones you should eat the least. You can then apply this knowledge to your daily eating habits. Let’s take a closer look at what the Mediterranean diet is all about.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
People who live in regions of the world like Italy and Greece are known for living longer than those who live elsewhere. Those residing in these Mediterranean regions also tend to contract fewer chronic diseases, like heart problems. That’s why so many, experts and non-experts alike, claim this diet is one of the best you can try. Take a look at the many benefits of this omega-3, fiber, and whole grain-rich way of eating to see for yourself.
- You’ll have a healthier heart. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, those at higher risk of developing heart disease and related issues can benefit significantly from the Mediterranean diet. The diet includes a variety of healthy fats and carbs, which keep your heart in its best shape possible.
- You’ll have fewer metabolic problems. Research has suggested those who closely follow this diet for an extended period of time are better able to manage issues related to metabolism, including but not limited to obesity, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure.
- You’ll engage in regular physical activity. The Mediterranean diet includes regular exercise as an important component. Exercise can reduce stress, improve your sleep quality, put you in a better mood, and help you burn fat and build muscle while you continue to fill your body with the foods that keep it healthy.
- You won’t get bored. This diet emphasizes adding healthy varieties of flavors to your food without increasing your salt and saturated fat intake. There are very few whole foods you shouldn’t eat on this diet. While you’ll have to cut back on your processed food intake, it’s likely after a few weeks that you won’t even miss it.
This diet isn’t as hard to follow as you might think. Take a look at the guidelines and see for yourself. You might already be eating a number of the foods suggested — it’s just a matter of choosing the best options possible in each food group.
The Mediterranean diet does not tell you when to eat or exactly which foods you should have on any given day. However, there is a general set of guidelines that are simple to follow. Adjusting to a new diet can seem complicated, but if you take these new rules to live by one at a time and incorporate them gradually into your meals and snacks, you’ll find it’s not as challenging as you first thought it might be.
Populate your plate with plant-based foods
The benefits of plant-based foods are widely studied, and great indicators that you should eat more plants regardless of which diet you decide to adopt next. Plants are free of saturated fats and only contain healthy, natural sugars that are essential for energy and overall health. Plant-based foods also tend to be high in fiber, which is good for digestive health.
Fruits and vegetables are the most important staples on a Mediterranean dieter’s plate. However, they aren’t the only plant-based foods you can eat to reel in the benefits. Beans, chickpeas, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are also extremely healthy examples of foods that don’t come from animals. You don’t have to go totally vegetarian on this diet, but the majority of what you eat — about three quarters of your plate at each meal — should come from plants.
Replace the salt shaker with something better
A consistent, high sodium intake eventually raises blood pressure, which can severely damage your heart. While you might not think you’re sprinkling that much salt into that pot of boiling water or onto your baked potato, it adds up more quickly than you realize. Besides, sodium is added to most processed foods to add flavor and extend shelf life. If you’ve never taken a close look at a nutrition label, check the food packages in your fridge and pantry and look at how much sodium is in each one. As a frame of reference, experts recommend you consume no more than 2,300 milligrams in a single day.
The Mediterranean diet doesn’t just swoop in and say, “No more salt” and force you to eat flavorless foods for the rest of your life. Instead, it suggests a much healthier alternative: herbs and spices. Everything from pepper to basil to garlic and thyme can add unbelievable flavors to your meals without raising your blood pressure to unreasonable heights.
Replace the primary sources of fat in your diet
Sometimes, we throw a lot of shame at people who like to eat bread. While it’s true that white breads and other refined products are severely deprived of beneficial nutrients, whole grain products — as long as they aren’t heavily processed — are actually good for you. Often, it’s what we spread onto these breads — or the things we choose to dip them in — that pose greater health risks. When it comes to bread, you should already know the major culprit: butter, and its not so healthy partner in crime, margarine.
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