I absolutely love this quote by Registered Dietitian, Jane Thacker:“I think the toughest thing I do as a dietitian is to get people to look at food differently than what we’re used to in the United States. In Europe, people don’t eat a frozen dinner in front of their TV; their meals are very social,” she said. “Food is a celebration of life — the tastes, the smell, the laughter, the bonding. Food means so much more to people than sustaining our bodies through calories.”
Where is the Mediterranean Diet typically consumed?
The Mediterranean Diet is typically consumed by populations in the Mediterranean region. This consists of areas such as Spain, Italy, France, Greece, and parts of the Middle East.
Composition of the Mediterranean Diet
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Nuts – Around a small handful a day. Even though nuts are high in fat, they are mostly polyunsaturated fats and not saturated fat. Avoid salted, candied, and honey roasted nuts.
- Fish – Around 1-2 times/week. Fatty fish such as mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, albacore, tuna, and salmon are rich sources in omega-3 fatty acids. Anti-inflammatory omega-3’s have been shown to lower triglycerides and improve heart health.
- Low-fat cheese and yogurt
- Red wine in moderation – The anti-oxidants in red wine (not white wine) have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Moderation is defined as one glass of red wine per day for women and two glasses per day for men. A standard glass of red wine is 5 oz. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can be detrimental to your health.
- Oils (especially olive oil) – Unlike butter, 0ils are high in monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fats and contain very little saturated fats.
- Low intake of red meats – Red meats are typically high in saturated fat.
- Regular physical activity
Potential Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Some of the reported health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet include reducing the risk of:
- Overall mortality
- Cardiovascular disease mortality
- Cancer mortality
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
If you want to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet, read a literature review I wrote for an undergraduate nutrition class.
Mediterranean Diet 5 Day Meal Plan
If you are considering implementing the Mediterranean-style into your diet, follow this weekly meal plan. This meal plan was developed by Janis Jibrin MS RD and Tract Olgeaty Gensler MS RD.
• Fluffy Pancakes
In a bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups low-fat yogurt (any flavor), 1 large egg, 1 cup whole-wheat or buckwheat pancake mix, and 3/4 cup fat-free milk. This recipe make 5 servings (each serving is 4 small pancakes). Have 1 serving now and pack away 4 individual servings in the freezer for upcoming meals. Serve with 2 tablespoons light maple syrup, 1 cup fat-free milk, and 1 cup fresh strawberries.
• Chickpea Salad
In a bowl, combine 7 1/2 ounces (half a 15-ounce can) canned chickpeas (rinse in a colander for 2 minutes to remove excess sodium and drain well; save other half for Tuesday’s snack), 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1/4 cup chopped white onion, 1/4 cup chopped green pepper (save the rest of the onion and pepper for dinner), 1 tablespoon sliced black olives, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, and 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar. Mix thoroughly. Serve mixture over 2 cups romaine lettuce leaves.
• Crackers and Dip
Spread 1 Wasa crispbread cracker with 2 tablespoons hummus. Serve with 1 fresh plum.
• Chicken Kabobs
Slice 4 ounces raw chicken breast into small chunks to skewer on a kabob stick. Marinate at least 30 minutes to overnight in 1/4 cup fat-free Italian dressing. Slice remainder of white onion and green pepper from lunch into chunks; set out 10 grape tomatoes. Alternate pieces of marinated chicken, onion, pepper, and cherry tomatoes on skewers and grill. Serve with one 6-inch whole-wheat pita pocket, toasted over the grill. Spread pita with 2 tablespoons hummus. Finish with 1 cup fat-free milk mixed with 1 tablespoon strawberry drink mix. For added refreshment, freeze the flavored milk into a Popsicle mold the night before and enjoy this as a healthy dessert! Make 3 Popsicles and save the remainder for Tuesday’s and Sunday’s desserts.
After dinner, make the chickpea spread for Tuesday’ snack.
- Daily calorie total: 1,469
- Fat: 25 g
- Percent of daily calories from fat: 15%
- Saturated fat: 4 g
- Percent of daily calories from saturated fat: 2%
- Carbohydrate: 209 g
- Percent of daily calories from carbohydrates: 64%
- Fiber: 35 g
- Protein: 81 g
- Percent of daily calories from protein: 22%
- Cholesterol: 120 mg
- Calcium: 1,150 mg
- Sodium: 3,005 mg
• Yogurt Granola Parfait
In a clear, wide-mouth glass, layer 6 ounces light fruit-flavored yogurt with 1 cup raspberries and 2 tablespoons low-fat granola. Begin with a third of the yogurt, a third of the fruit and then a third of the granola. Continue until all ingredients are layered.
• Vegetable Pot Pie
Heat 1 Amy’s Vegetable Pot Pie or 1 Swanson’s Chicken Pot Pie according to package directions. Serve with 10 grape tomatoes.
• Chickpea Spread
Make this spread in advance and bring it along to work. Recipe makes 2 servings. Have half the recipe today and save the rest for Wednesday’s snack. Use remaining chickpeas from Monday’s lunch (half a 15-ounce can). Mash the chickpeas lightly in a bowl with a fork. Mix in 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1 clove minced garlic, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. If desired, add 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin. Mash all ingredients together thoroughly or, if a smoother spread is desired, use a food processor to blend the ingredients. Bring along 1 cup broccoli flowerets and 1 sliced red, orange, or yellow pepper for dipping.
• Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich
Slice a 6-inch French baguette roll (3-inch diameter) in half lengthwise. Sprinkle the halves with 1/3 cup 33% reduced-fat shredded mozzarella cheese and bake in toaster oven at 250 degrees for 4 to 6 minutes, until cheese is just beginning to melt. Meanwhile, slice 2 large red tomatoes in 1/2-inch slices. Remove baguette from toaster oven, sprinkle with a little dried basil and dried oregano if desired. Top with tomato slices. For dessert, serve 1 frozen strawberry milk Popsicle left over from Monday’s dinner (8 ounces fat-free milk mixed with 1 tablespoon strawberry drink mix, then frozen).
- Daily calorie total: 1,548
- Fat: 41 g
- Percent of daily calories from fat: 23%
- Saturated fat: 18 g
- Percent of daily calories from saturated fat: 10%
- Carbohydrate: 246 g
- Percent of daily calories from carbohydrates: 62%
- Fiber: 26 g
- Protein: 58 g
- Percent of daily calories from protein: 15%
- Cholesterol: 71 mg
- Calcium: 991 mg
- Sodium: 2,487 mg
• Chive and Goat Cheese Frittata
- 8 large eggs
- .5 cup(s) milk
- .5 teaspoon(s) salt
- .125 teaspoon(s) coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 2 tablespoon(s) chopped fresh chives
- 2 teaspoon(s) margarine or butter
- .5 package(s) (5 1/4-ounce package) goat cheese, or 3 ounces shredded Fontina cheese
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In medium bowl, with wire whisk or fork, mix eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Stir in diced tomato and chopped chives.
- In nonstick 10-inch skillet with oven-safe handle (or wrap handle with heavy-duty foil), melt margarine or butter over medium heat. Pour in egg mixture; drop spoonfuls of goat cheese on top of egg mixture. Cook 3 to 4 minutes until frittata begins to set around the edge.
- Place skillet in oven. Bake 9 to 10 minutes or until frittata begins to set and knife inserted in center comes out clean.
Make half the recipe. To save on cholesterol, use 2 whole eggs and 4 egg whites or 1/2 cup egg substitute. Your taste buds won’t know the difference! Serve half of the frittata now and refrigerate the rest for Thursday dinner. Serve with 1 cup fat-free milk.
• Turkey and Artichoke Sandwich
Spread 2 slices of whole-wheat bread with 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise and stuff with 4 to 6 artichoke hearts, 1/3 cup shredded 33% reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, and 3 ounces sliced turkey breast. Serve with 15 baby carrots and 1 cup green or red grapes.
• Chickpea Spread
Use remaining chickpea spread from Tuesday’s snack. Bring along 1 sliced cucumber to dip.
• Mediterranean Grilled Sea Bass
Make half of recipe and reserve half of that for Thursday lunch. Increase your vegetable intake by serving half a bag of baby arugula leaves with this meal (save the other half for Thursday). Serve with 1 ear of corn and 1 cup cooked sugar snap peas topped with 2 teaspoons trans-fat-free light margarine. For dessert, have 1 frozen fruit juice bar (limit 80 calories for the bar).
- 2 lemons
- 3 tablespoon(s) olive oil
- 1 tablespoon(s) chopped fresh oregano leaves
- 1 teaspoon(s) ground coriander
- 1 1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
- 2 whole(s) (about 1 1/2 pounds each) sea bass, cleaned and scaled
- 1/4 teaspoon(s) ground black pepper
- 2 large oregano sprigs
- Prepare charcoal fire or preheat gas grill for covered direct grilling over medium heat.
- Meanwhile, from 1 lemon, grate 1 tablespoon peel and squeeze 2 tablespoons juice. Cut half of remaining lemon into slices, other half into wedges. In small bowl, stir lemon juice and peel, oil, chopped oregano, coriander, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels. Make 3 slashes in both sides of each fish. Sprinkle inside and out with pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Place lemon slices and oregano sprigs inside fish cavities. Place fish in 13″ by 9″ glass baking dish. Rub half of oil mixture over outsides of fish; reserve remaining oil mixture to drizzle over cooked fish. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes.
- Lightly grease grill rack; place fish on hot rack. Cover grill and cook fish 12 to 14 minutes or until fish just turns opaque throughout and thickest part flakes easily when tested with a fork, turning fish over once.
- To serve, place fish on cutting board. Working with 1 fish at a time, with knife, cut along backbone from head to tail. Slide wide metal spatula or cake server under front section of top fillet and lift off from backbone; transfer to platter. Gently pull out backbone and rib bones from bottom fillet and discard. Transfer bottom fillet to platter. Repeat with second fish. Drizzle fillets with the remaining oil mixture. Serve with lemon wedges.
- Daily calorie total: 1,543
- Fat: 50 g
- Percent of daily calories from fat: 29%
- Saturated fat: 14g
- Percent of daily calories from saturated fat: 8.4%
- Carbohydrate: 169 g
- Percent of daily calories from carbohydrates: 43%
- Fiber: 24 g
- Protein: 110 g
- Percent of daily calories from protein: 28%
- Cholesterol: 599 mg
- Calcium: 958 mg
- Sodium: 3,507 mg
• Fluffy Pancakes and Fresh Raspberries
Serve fluffy pancakes from Monday’s breakfast with 2 tablespoons light maple syrup, 1 1/2 cups raspberries, and 1 cup fat-free milk.
• Mediterranean Grilled Sea Bass
Serve remaining sea bass from Wednesday’s dinner over rest of baby arugula leaves.
• Vegetables and Sweet Sour Cream Dip
Mix 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream with 1 tablespoon light maple syrup and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. (One 8-ounce fat-free sour cream will take you through Thursday’s and Friday’s snack.) Dip 10 grape tomatoes and 1 cup fresh string beans in this sweet, creamy dip.
• Frittata and Baklava
Have rest of frittata from Wednesday’s breakfast. Serve with 2 cups baby spinach leaves, topped with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and 1 cup fat-free milk. Have 1 slice of whole-wheat toast topped with 2 teaspoons light trans-fat-free margarine. For dessert, have one 2-inch-square piece of baklava, a traditional Greek pastry with flaky fillo dough and walnuts. Athens Brand Frozen Baklava Pastry is available in many groceries nationwide. It’s a great choice since the portions are tiny, and no baking or heating is required. (Have 2 squares if choosing Athens brand.)
- Daily calorie total: 1,532
- Fat: 56 g
- Percent of daily calories from fat: 33%
- Saturated fat: 18.8 g
- Percent of daily calories from saturated fat: 11%
- Carbohydrate: 153 g
- Percent of daily calories from carbohydrates: 40%
- Fiber: 29 g
- Protein: 98 g
- Percent of daily calories from protein: 26%
- Cholesterol: 600 mg
- Calcium: 1,288 mg
- Sodium: 2,700 mg
• Creamy and Crunchy Yogurt
Serve 6 ounces light yogurt, any flavor, in a bowl topped with 1 cup high-fiber cereal such as Kashi Good Friends. You can choose 100 calories of any cereal, such as 1 cup Cheerios or a heaping 1/2 cup of Raisin Bran. Top with 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts.
• Vegetarian Pita Sandwich with Greek Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
Mix together 1/2 cup plain light yogurt with 1/2 finely chopped cucumber, 1/2 minced garlic clove, and a shake of salt and pepper if desired. Spread half of yogurt sauce (save remaining sauce for later use) on one 6 1/2-inch whole-wheat pita and fill with 5 halved grape tomatoes and 1 cup string beans. Serve with 1 cup (about 23) fresh cherries.
• Crackers with Sweet Creamy Spread
Mix remaining 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream (from Thursday’s snack) with 1 tablespoon light maple syrup and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Spread between 6 squares (2 1/2 inches) graham crackers, any flavor.
• Mediterranean Sweet and Sour Chicken
- 2 teaspoon(s) olive oil
- 8 small (about 2 pounds with bones) skinless chicken thighs
- 1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
- 2 clove(s) garlic, crushed with press
- 1/2 cup(s) chicken broth
- 1/4 cup(s) red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoon(s) cornstarch
- 2 teaspoon(s) brown sugar, or to taste
- 3/4 cup(s) (about half 10-ounce package) Mission figs, each cut in half
- 1/4 cup(s) salad olives, (chopped pimiento-stuffed olives)
- 1 bag(s) (5 ounces) baby arugula
- In nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Add chicken and sprinkle with salt; cook 17 to 20 minutes or until chicken is browned and juices run clear when thickest part of thigh is pierced with tip of knife, turning chicken over once. Transfer chicken to plate. Add garlic to skillet and cook 30 seconds, stirring.
- Meanwhile, in cup, with wire whisk, mix broth, vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar.
- Stir broth mixture and add to skillet; heat to boiling. Boil 1 minute, stirring until browned bits are loosened from bottom of skillet and sauce thickens slightly. Stir in figs and olives; return chicken with any juices to skillet and heat through.
- To serve, arrange arugula on 4 dinner plates. Spoon chicken mixture over arugula.
Make one fourth of the recipe. Serve with 1/2 cup cooked brown rice topped with 2 teaspoons light trans-fat-free margarine. Enjoy 4 ounces of wine with dinner.
- Daily calorie total: 1,579
- Fat: 36 g
- Percent of daily calories from fat: 20%
- Saturated fat: 4 g
- Percent of daily calories from saturated fat: 2.3%
- Carbohydrate: 226 g
- Percent of daily calories from carbohydrates: 55%
- Fiber: 24 g
- Protein: 80 g
- Percent of daily calories from protein: 20%
- Cholesterol: 169 mg
- Calcium: 709 mg
- Sodium: 1,786 mg