Greek Salad with Toast

Old World Diet For a New Year

Plant-based protein foods

Plant-based proteins

I’m sure you’ve heard of the recent popularity of the Mediterranean-style eating pattern in the United States.  It is based on the ancient food consumption patterns of the Mediterranean region.  However, do you know what makes this eating pattern so popular?

To begin with, the health benefits are impressive.  It has been associated with lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.  In addition to the health benefits, it is really not a structured “diet,” but rather a natural approach to healthful eating that can be easily personalized and adopted for a lifetime.

The Mediterranean-style eating pattern is primarily comprised of plant-based foods and seafood.  The main protein sources are legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, poultry, and seafood.

Steps for building a Mediterranean-style eating pattern:
  • Plan for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins like legumes, nuts, and seeds to be the main components of your meals.
  • Consume seafood at least twice a week.
  • Use olive oil as your main source of fat.
  • Include poultry, eggs, and dairy, especially fermented dairy like cheese and yogurt, frequently in moderate portions.
  • Season foods with herbs and spices.
  • Red and processed meats should be eaten occasionally, about once a week.
  • Sweets such as baked and frozen desserts, candy, and sweetened beverages should only be eaten on special occasions.
Olive Oil, herbs, spices

Start with olive oil to build a healthier plate.

This eating pattern emphasizes olive oil as the main source of fat because it is one of the healthiest fat sources.  It also prioritizes seafood for its healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Poultry, eggs, and dairy should be eaten regularly in moderate portions for the variety of nutrients provided.  Red meats and sweets should only be eaten occasionally.

Adopting a Mediterranean-style eating pattern is all about increasing frequency and serving sizes of more healthful foods and reducing frequency and serving sizes of less healthful foods.  This can be done with simple food substitutions.  For example, if you eat red meat three to four times a week, make sure it is lean, and replace one meal with seafood and the other with poultry.  Use olive oil and olive oil-based spreads in place of primarily saturated solid fats such as butter, lard, and stick margarine.  Choose products made from whole grains, such as whole wheat, whole oats, and brown rice, rather than products made with refined grains.  A simple switch from products made from refined to whole grains provides more nutrients as well as important dietary fiber.  Build a healthier plate by making small changes over time.

Consider adopting a Mediterranean-style eating pattern for a lifetime of improved health and wellness.

There is no limit to your creativity in making food substitutions. Click here to see the UF/IFAS Extension’s fact sheet The Mediterranean Eating Pattern to learn more about this healthful way of eating to promote wellness and reduce risk of disease.