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8 Tips and Tricks to Implementing the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a phrase that’s been a part of the wellness world for years. We know it’s healthy. In fact, studies tell us it’s one of the most sustainable diets out there.  

But what is it really? 

Let’s take a look … 

The Mediterranean diet is an ancient way of eating that has been followed by many for years. It incorporates not only food groups, but also qualities of life that all should reflect on. The bottom of the food pyramid (the foundation) suggests being active and enjoying meals with others as a key component of this lifestyle.

The next core component of the Mediterranean diet is its daily intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts/seeds, and extra virgin olive oil. This diet is mainly plant-based and relies heavily on the intake of whole foods. 

Fish and seafood represent the next category –– consuming these foods about 2 x a week is recommended.

In a smaller category, dairy products and poultry are listed. These foods are to be consumed in moderation, from once a week to small portions daily.

Finally, the top of the pyramid consists of red meats and sweets. As these foods fall into the smallest category of the food pyramid, they should be consumed occasionally, but not regularly.

On the outside of the food pyramid, water and red wine are listed. Make sure you stay hydrated, but also feel free to enjoy a glass of red wine a few times a week. 

If you follow a more traditional western diet –– fear not! Although this may seem a bit out of your comfort zone, it’s a sustainable lifestyle that you can attain. 

Think of the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle choice, not a “diet.” Try not to sweat the small stuff, this way of eating is meant to be enjoyed! 

Below is a step-by-step guide of how to savor meal time with your loved ones and implement the Mediterranean diet into your life.

1. Make the produce aisle your new best friend

  • Fresh, frozen, canned produce, it doesn’t matter the style just make sure you stock up! 
  • Shop for what’s in season, utilize your local farmer’s market, and don’t be afraid to try new things. You may even consider a farm box delivery or joining your local CSA. 
  • When it comes to canned and frozen produce, look for ones with no added salt and avoid buying vegetables in any kind of sauce.
  • Freeze extra produce and add it to your smoothies.

2. It’s time, switch to whole grains

    • If wonderbread is still your vice, time to kick that loaf to the curb! Purchase whole grain bread, and be sure to look for the “100% whole wheat” seal of approval. Buyer beware: just because it’s brown and has wheat in the title, doesn’t mean it’s actually made of whole grains. Look for 20% fiber on the label.
    • Wheat pasta and brown rice may taste different at first, but give them a chance.
    • If you plan on buying processed snacks, the fewer ingredients the better! Keep an eye out for whole wheat versions of your favorite snacks or try something new. 

      3. Toss, coat, drizzle, pan-fry, and bake with extra virgin olive oil

        • Say it with me, “I will replace all oils with extra virgin olive oil.” You got this, go ahead and kick other oils and butter to the curb. 
        • Extra virgin olive oil has so many health benefits (link), and it’s incredibly versatile, shelf-stable, and flavorful.
        • It can be used in cooking, but it is also really great on its own. Try making your own salad dressing with it or drizzle it over avocado toast. 

          4. Don’t be shy with healthy fats, consume them daily

            • Some healthy fats include avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, extra virgin olive oil.
            • Avocados are great –– they can be used in so many ways. Add them to salads, toast, sandwiches, smoothies, eggs, or eat them whole with a pinch of salt and pepper.
            • A handful of nuts is a great, filling snack that requires no prep time at all. Have them with a small piece of fruit for a complete snack.
            • In the fall, when pumpkins, squash, and gords are abundant, harvest the seeds, lightly coat them with extra virgin olive oil, and bake them in the oven for a crisp and nutritious snack.

              5. Dive into the seafood section

                • Fatty fish like salmon is a great place to start. It’s a delightful filet that is very easy to cook. Garnish it with lemon, salt, and pepper.
                • Canned tuna packed in extra virgin olive oil is a great pantry staple.
                • Go all in and make a seafood cioppino! You can add any seafood of your choice, clams, muscles, shrimp, etc. 
                • Add cooked shrimp to a fresh salad, pasta, or even a taco.

                  6. Use meats and poultry as a condiment

                  • Meat is typically the star of any dish. Well –– it’s time for meat and poultry to step out of the spotlight by using these foods sparingly. 
                  • Add a small portion of beef or chicken to a vegetable soup
                  • Add some prosciutto to a collard greens side dish, this potent and salty meat will add tons of flavor.

                    7. Incorporate dairy and dairy alternatives in moderation

                      • Have cheese as a snack with nuts and fresh fruit.
                      • Feel free to substitute cow’s milk with almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, etc. These alternatives will work in baked goods, smoothies, or in your cereal.
                      • Enjoy greek yogurt with berries for breakfast a few times a week.

                        8. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh, whole foods

                          • Gravitate towards dark chocolate. Eat it by itself or melt it and drizzle it over fresh fruit. Look for a 70% minimum. 
                          • Look for sorbet with fruit as the first ingredient.
                          • Make oat balls with oats, nut butter, chocolate, chia seeds, and coconut.

                          If you are the type of person to go all in –– these tips are a great place to start. For those of us a little more attached to our traditional diets, try implementing these tips one at a time. Small changes can be very powerful, go at your own pace, and, most importantly, take your time and enjoy what you eat!

                          Written by Chloe Morrill
                          Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio.