5 Key Ingredients that Make the Mediterranean Diet Healthy

The Mediterranean Diet has long shown to improve health, reduce the risk of heart disease, keep you slim and even add years to your life. Key changes or additions will give you the same benefits. Stay away from processed foods, and eat as close to the source as possible, get daily exercise, limit red meat and you’re well on your way to Mediterranean-style health. Try these foods to make the most of your new, healthier lifestyle.

1. Fruits and Vegetables

Mediterranean residents eat an average of nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Mostly purchased from farmers markets or produce stores, fruits and veggies are usually eaten when in season, for the most flavor, and therefore, less need to cook them to death. Minimally processed or heated veggies yield the most vitamins and pack the antioxidants needed for longevity and health. Even better, get a variety of veggies and fruits in different colors to make the most of the vitamins that you consume every day. Start each dinner with a  salad made with leafy greens, red tomatoes, bright orange peppers or carrots, purple onions, radishes or beets and a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar. For major health benefits, go meat free two days a week. Get your protein from beans and lentils, and make hearty veggies like roasted tomatoes, eggplant and broccoli the large portion of your meal.

2. Fish and Seafood

Most American grocery stores have a huge meat counter and a small fish counter, which mirrors the American diet: tons of meat, not so much seafood. Fish, shrimp, and shellfish is low in calories, but high in healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to stick to sauteed, grilled, roasted or steamed varieties, so you don’t undo the health benefits with deep fat frying.

3. Olive Oil

Hydrogenated oils and saturated fats are a big no-no for the Mediterranean Diet. The majority of fat used is olive oil, generally being the only source of fat in their diet besides food sources like fish, nuts and cheese. Olive oil can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and even has antioxidant effects, since it is a plant-based food.

4. Oregano and Basil

Spices like oregano and basil give big flavor to your food without the sodium of table salt or added fat from oils. Add dry or fresh spices while you’re cooking and sprinkle cooked foods with fresh parsley, shredded basil or chopped rosemary for huge punches of flavor.

5. Whole Grains

Most people think pasta, rice and bread when they think of the Mediterranean. Small portions of whole grains and fresh (not processed grocery store breads that stay around for weeks) breads contribute to the diet, and make for healthy eating. Try to incorporate only whole grain carbohydrates into your diet at proper portion sizes.

People who eat according to the Mediterranean Diet keep portions in check and even have a glass of wine each day for even more antioxidants. Limit full fat dairy foods, and exchange them for low-fat cheese and milk. Just as importantly, enjoy slow meals with family and friends, so you linger over meals, filling up on conversation, not fatty foods!

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