As registered dietitian nutritionists, we’re big fans of the Mediterranean diet, and it is abundantly clear to us why a Mediterranean lifestyle is touted as a plan for healthy aging[i]. As a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, and moderate wine consumption, it has been shown to help keep our minds sharp as we age[ii], and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke[iii]. Even more, a Mediterranean lifestyle also emphasizes how we live and eat, preferably being physically active each day and enjoying the company and community of family and friends[iii]. While we can’t all pack up and move the Mediterranean coast, here are eight tips to apply the Mediterranean lifestyle to your own life, wherever you live.
Eat a diet rich in plant-based foods. Fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains—these should be your diet staples. And please don’t relegate them just to dinner! Challenge yourself to include fruits or vegetables at each of your meals and snacks. We have a few ideas here and here.
Use healthy fats—like olive oil, avocados and nuts. The Mediterranean diet is rich in plant-based fats like extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts and seeds. Sauté or roast vegetables in olive oil, and add nuts and seeds to oatmeal, granola and salads. Like all things good, moderation is best.
Eat red meat only occasionally. Eating red meat is okay occasionally. Just try to limit your portion size to four to six ounces—about the size of a deck of cards. Think of meat as more of a condiment, and not the focus of the meal.
Eat seafood regularly, preferably twice a week. Fish and shellfish are a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet. Try to eat at least two 3.5 ounce servings of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon, tuna and sardines) each week[i].
Include a moderate amount of dairy products daily. Dairy products like Greek yogurt and feta cheese are good sources of calcium and protein. When you’re eating cheese, just try to limit your portion size to one ounce—about the size of a pair of dice. It’s easy to get carried away!
Drink red wine, in moderation. Drinking wine, preferably with friends, is another ritual of the Mediterranean lifestyle. The American Heart Association recommends not to start drinking if you do not currently drink, and to consume no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women[ii].
Be active! People who live a Mediterranean lifestyle walk regularly, and activity is a natural part of their daily life. Even if you don’t like to ‘exercise,’ find activities—dancing, jumping on a trampoline, gardening—that you enjoy and do a little bit every day.
Enjoy meals with the people you love. Research on Blue Zones—those communities with the longest-lived people—shows they make their loved ones a priority, take an active part in community life, and are passionate about life. They also eat together, sharing experiences and food around the table.
[i] Annals of Internal Medicine. 2013; 159(9): 584-591. (Samieri, et al.)
[ii] Epidemiology. 2013; 24(4):479-489. (Lourida et al.)
[iii] The New England Journal of Medicine. 2013 February 25. [Estruch, et al.]
[iv] American Heart Association recommendations for fish and omega-3 fatty acids, updated Feb. 21, 2014.
[v] American Heart Association recommendations for alcohol consumption, updated March 14, 2014.