Starting the Mediterranean diet? Here’s what you need to know to fully enjoy the benefits of this delicious and effective way of eating.
The Mediterranean diet is known for its numerous health benefits including heart health, protection from certain types of cancer, protection from Alzheimer’s, protection from depression, weight loss and many more. It is considered the gold standard of diets not only because of its benefits, but also because it is delicious, easy to follow long-term and sustainable for the environment. Because of all the attention it has received, there may be a few things you may have heard- some may be true and some may be false- and have certain expectations of how this way of eating works. So, let’s clarify any misconceptions you may have.
1. It is not a free for all diet with no restrictions.
You may have read that there is no one specific Mediterranean diet usually followed by a generic description. Well, that is not true, studies have found specific eating patterns in Greece and Southern Italy and that was what the original Mediterranean guidelines and pyramid was based on. So, you will be following an eating plan based on certain principles. Some examples include red meat once a week, extra virgin olive oil as your main source of fat, consumption of cheese and yogurt (no milk), no processed foods etc.
*For a Mediterranean guide click here >> The Complete Guide to The Authentic Mediterranean Diet
2. You will be consuming a generous amount of olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet is not a low-fat diet. Many people seek out the Mediterranean diet thinking it is like one of the other low fat “healthy” diets out there. It is not like those other diets. Yes, there are plenty vegetables in this diet, but there is also plenty of olive oil. Don’t be afraid of it, trust me. The fat coming from the antioxidant rich olive oil is what makes this diet palatable, easy to follow for the rest of your life and will help you to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight.
3. You will be eating vegetables as a main course.
One of the obstacles that I have noticed in those new to the Mediterranean diet is accepting the concept of having only vegetables for a meal. The Mediterranean cuisine is rich in vegetable only dishes that are meant to be consumed as a main course along with some bread and cheese. This is truly the secret of the Mediterranean diet; by eating a large plate of vegetables cooked in olive oil you will get 3-4 servings in one meal and feel satisfied. There is no need to accompany those vegetables with meat, chicken or fish. Also, it is important to note that these vegetable casseroles are not meant to be used as a topping over rice or pasta either, they are accompanied with just a bit of bread.
*Click here for vegetable entrees recipes >> Vegetable entree recipes
4. You will NOT be spending a lot of time in the kitchen.
Another misconception people have is that you have to make these complex Mediterranean dishes with dozens of ingredients. The reality is much different. The Mediterranean diet is characterized by its simplicity. As a busy person and a mom, I can tell you that I do not spend a long time in the kitchen, most of the vegetables dishes for example that I mention above require minimal prep and then they just simmer for 40 minutes and they are ready. Plus, they taste much better the next day, and last 2-3 days.
*For shortcuts click here >> 10 Mediterranean Diet Shortcuts for Busy People
5. You don’t have to eat fish or other seafood as often as you think.
Many people are worried that they will have to eat a lot of fish. This can be challenging as either they are not used to cooking it or they can’t find fresh fish. The reality is that ideally you want to eat mainly fatty fish twice a week. That fish can be canned or preserved in some way. In fact, that is what people living in Mediterranean mountainous areas did, they did not have access to fresh fish all year, so they had cured fish.
*For fish and seafood recipes click here >> Fish and seafood recipes
6. You will be replicating a diet followed by real people 50-60 years ago.
The Mediterranean diet is NOT a diet that researchers made up, it is a naturally occurring diet. In other words, real people followed this way of eating that was developed based on the circumstances of life at that time and on the availability of certain foods (including wheat, dairy, eggs), and studies have shown that it is a very beneficial way of eating. Some concerns I hear from people who want to follow this diet is the fact that it doesn’t accommodate certain fads or notions of what a healthy diet is. So, to clarify this diet does include wheat, eggs, gluten, dairy. HOWEVER, and that is a big however, the foundation of this diet is made of vegetables and olive oil which do not contain any of the above ingredients, so yes you can adjust this diet if needed, but in terms of expectations we need to remember where this diet came from, and why these foods are present.
7. There is sugar in this diet.
When starting this way of eating, many people are surprised when they see a recipe for a dessert. Again, I must say this was a diet of real people, so yes, they did have desserts but only on special occasions (holidays, birthdays, weddings, baptisms), a dessert was not in their daily routine. In fact, sugar was a luxury item to be used for these special occasions. In my new cookbook I have included a chapter with desserts to be enjoyed occasionally.
*Click here for some Mediterranean desserts >> Mediterranean dessert recipes
You can check out additional resources here at olivetomato.com and for more in-depth information you can check out my new cookbook and guide which includes detailed information and guidance, 100 delicious recipes, a 14-day menu plan plus instructions on how to make your own menu plan.
Click here for more information and sample recipes from the book! >> The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Beginners
Photos by Elena Paravantes © All Rights Reserved